- "My big sister went to Gabon in 1993. One day, I was at home when a
man came to the house, saying that he had come on behalf of my
sister," said Zenabou, now 18 years old.
The man explained to the family that Zenabou's sister wanted the then
eight year old Zenabou to join her in Gabon. She would be sent to
school and well looked after there, he said.
"My poor mother!" exclaimed Zenabou. "If she had ever imagined that
her own daughter could abuse her confidence like that, she would
never have sent me to live with her in Gabon!"
Soon afterwards, Zenabou was setting out for Gabon with a load of
other trafficked children.
"I can't remember how many of us kids there were, but we were quite a
few. We headed out for Gabon by boat."
"I remember there was a two week stop over in Nigeria where we were
only given one meal a day. We arrived in Gabon tired out and hungry,"
Zenabou thought all would be well when she got to her sister's, but
the promised school enrolment never materialised.
"For four years I did the housework for her at her place. Then in
1999 [when Zenabou was 12] I began my martyrdom in Gabon." Zenabou
was set to work at the market.
"I would get up at 3 a.m. every day to pack and fry fritters ready to
sell by 10 a.m."
"Everyday I would make 30,000 CFA [US $60] but never had any of it
for myself. They told me once that money was sent home to my parents,
but that was a lie," she said.
"One day on doing the accounts when I got back from the market, it
was clear that there was 100 CFA [20 cents] missing. I didn't dare
say anything even though it was me that took it [to buy food] - I was
so hungry - but I knew I would be punished."
"I was beaten black and blue by my sister, even a chicken thief would
not have deserved such a hiding!"
It was after that beating that Zenabou vowed to get home.
One day in the street she heard that the Togolese embassy was helping
children like herself to get repatriated.
After explaining her situation at the embassy, the Togolese
ambassador intervened on her behalf and Zenabou's sister was forced
to buy her a plane ticket home.
Zenabou is now back in Sokode and learning dressmaking at PASEORSC -
the local NGO that traced and reunited her with her family.
- Peace Corps Director Gaddi H. Vasquez announced today that the Peace
Corps will officially suspend its program in the African nation of
Gabon effective August 31. The decision comes after a 2-year review
of operations that showed significantly higher costs to support the
volunteers in Gabon relative to other Peace Corps programs in
"The Peace Corps regrets the necessity to suspend the program in
Gabon after a 31-year partnership with its citizens. More than 1,460
Americans have respectfully and honorably assisted the people of
Gabon as Peace Corps volunteers through a long history, dating back
to 1963 when the first group arrived to build schools in rural
areas," said Director Vasquez.
All Peace Corps volunteers in Gabon completed their primary projects
in the sectors of health and HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention,
education, and environmental education. As of July 5, all Peace Corps
volunteers had completed their service and left the country.
Factors contributing to the program suspension include the high cost
of the Gabon program, weighing in at over three times as much as the
average Peace Corps program in Africa, and a scarcity in finding host
country counterparts to work with the volunteers and ensure their
transition into the community an element that is critical in the
volunteers' success. In addition, a 2003 Inspector General report
documented safety and security costs of $1 million that would be
necessary to keep the program operating successfully. The Peace Corps
will continue to assess the situation in Gabon and will look at the
possibility of re-entry in the future.