Insight into Labor Trafficking: An Interview with the D’Souza Family
The D’Souza family came to our country to live the American Dream but ended up living a nightmare, a nightmare of labor trafficking. They were brought to our country by a restaurant owner who promised a better life, but the realities were nothing of the sort. Harold and Dancy D’Souza with their two sons, Bradly and Rohan, were forced to live in a one bedroom apartment and work in a restaurant receiving little or no paychecks to pay off non-existent, never-ending debts until they finally got out of their situation and got help.
Q: Since your story went public through FOX 19 and the media in July 2013, has your life changed? If so, how?
A: Dancy- After the story went public there were a lot of people who did not know that labor trafficking existed, and there is a lot of people who came up to us and said ‘wow we didn’t know you went through all of this and we didn’t know this happened over here.’ Just a sense of awareness being brought to people who didn’t really know it happened over here and not just overseas; that it happened here. Plus, it was a sense of exoneration to an extent because the feeling is that you are made to feel like a criminal or that you are illegally here, although we were not, but we were made to feel that; so that feeling of being exonerated from that. It’s not complete, but a little sense that we were able to make people aware, and that there was some sort of satisfaction.
A: Harold- We were very reluctant after the feature on the TV, but we were very scared, but we had a lot of reassurance from Jessica [one of End Slavery Cincinnati’s founders and case manager for the D’Souza’s]. There were a lot of wrong allegations and trauma from the situation, and I had no clue what he did to me, and he tricked us into the situation. He made my wife sign checks and a lot of wrong stuff, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. We have been going to our parish, we were raised Roman Catholic. People at CCHMC will come and tell him that they are so shocked that it happened to you, and we had no clue that this happened in Cincinnati; and that was my main objective. Our main objective is to help people going through this situation. It’s just sad, but I don’t know how to put [it]. People still don’t’ get it, but people know that it is happening; that we lived in this situation, and that so many have. I just keep on telling my wife and myself that in this journey we made it to the finish line or are on our way, and so many people have.
Q: Can you give an update on Bradley and Rohan? (School, work, friends, etc.)
A: Dancy- Bradley is at the University of Cincinnati ‘18, and is really excited about college. He’s in Lindner School of Business, and having a real fun time adjusting to college life. Rohan is a sophomore at Sycamore HS, 10th grade. He enjoys his high school experience. [He] plays tennis and hopes to make the team again this year; [he] was on JV last year and they won the all district doubles championship. They are having a really good positive experience with school and friends. They also, combined, have done 3,000 hours of volunteer work. They have been getting the presidents gold pin for the past four years for volunteer services. This spring they got the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission award for youth in the community. We are really, really proud and excited about that.
Q: Harold, are you still working at Children’s Hospital? What are your duties there?
A: I started on September 15, 2008 and got [an] entry position in materials management as a supply chain associate, and then was promoted as senior supply chain associate in the Emergency Department. I think it’s a blessing in disguise for me that God has a plan, and after working at Children’s, I think a lot of my grief and wounds have got healed. Looking at the kids, grief shared is grief reduced. It is a very slow process for me, to be honest; it’s been 10 years 8 months, and working at Children’s is like working community service. It’s not a job for me. I love it, it is a passion. I still feel like I’m in the production line, assembly line, helping the doctors and nurses to heal. I’m a drop in the ocean, but I still feel like I’m helping. I respect my job; I got, every year, certificates or awards for being on time. I love it. I got the job through Cincinnati Works; it’s a great place. They try to make people self-sufficient. They give computer and career development classes. I also take classes on public speaking, listening skills, [and] communication at CCHMC. I’m in the progress to get back on track, and [take] a lot of computer classes because I didn’t know anything about computers. I hadn’t touched a computer when I was in India at all. I have certificates in Microsoft Office; I enjoy doing that. I’m still a student of learning. This is a very huge cultural shock being in the United States.
Q: Dancy, what does a typical day look like for you?
A: A normal day would be kids going off to school. They have to get up early, and the school bus comes at 6:30, so at 6:25 he [Rohan] has to be out the house. The older one commutes, so he goes early in the morning too. I volunteer at the junior high; we have “Make a Difference Day” where we make sandwiches. We make about 250 sandwiches that go down to daily bread. I also help at the high school. At 6:50 I open the bookstore on Mondays. I am also co-chairperson at St. Xavier Church, Social Action Commission, we do the soup kitchen every month; [volunteer with] Churches Active in Northside (CAIN); and the Interfaith Hospitality Network. The kids have boy scouts, and Rohan has tennis, so I take him there and back. I keep myself busy. Two hours a week I help out with the Council on Aging.
Q: What advice do you have for someone who thinks they might be in a labor trafficking situation?
A: Dancy- When we were in the situation, it took us somebody to point out to us that we were in the situation. You don’t’ realize it because of the cultural differences. Until someone points out to you that this is not the right way to do things; that you should be paid for working. So when you realize you are in a labor trafficking situation, my advice would be to reach out. Not everyone here is [trying] to deport you, or torture you, or get you arrested, or report you to the INS and stuff like that. If you can, and realize you’re in the situation, you’re best bet is to reach out for help. We didn’t have the 24 hour hotline, but now that it is around and you can reach out to it, you can be helped. Here the police are here to help you, but coming from a different country your perspective of [a] law enforcement agency is completely different, so we didn’t know that we could reach out to law enforcement for help. That’s what I would advise. Reach out for help, and there’s a lot of resources to help you.
A: Harold- They made us feel like slavery, or forced slavery, is your fate or destiny and that you are a criminal. The sad part is that when we were on TV, and the part with exoneration, because they made me feel wrong and [like] a criminal, and that there was a constant threat on us because they made us feel illegal. This went on 365/24/7. Your mind stops working and you become a vegetable, and when you work that many hours you just can’t think. The best thing is to call to hotline and have the local number. I just want to tell Americans and law enforcement agencies that they are here to help. Had it been 6 years back I would have been very scared to talk to you also. When I saw a police car I would run away. [Feeling] constantly scared is there, [and] that fear has to go. I think the law enforcement agencies are good, and they are not here to deport you; they want to help you, so that courage and assurance is much needed. I always had a fear I would go to jail or get deported, which was [the] wrong perception. It took a long time to get the courage to talk to people like Erin and Jessica. There is a need for basic needs, and the support system helps you get them. I was sick and scared to go the hospital, because I was scared to get deported, because I didn’t have my ID [and] social security card. Imagine that for one day and you’ll be scared to go out. There is a lot of detail that goes into this, that goes into the daily life. The mere fact of failure that they will not make it takes a lot of courage to rescue yourself. [Call] the hotline number and reach out to law enforcement agencies. My personal experience is they are the best people; very honest and respectful, and there to help you.
Q: Are there any resources or ways that another organization could have helped you, but you haven’t been connected to those services?
A: Dancy- Basic necessities, food, clothing, shelter. You look for resources. We didn’t know we could reach out to institutions and different agencies that actually support people. We were guided to a program in our community to help with rent, once a year, and food, monthly. The catholic charities helped once our case was taken, and we tried to reach out to JFS, but they did not entertain our case because we didn’t have ID’s and social security numbers, and stuff like that. There were some agencies who actually, at least, gave us the time of day and heard our situation, but then there were some who wouldn’t because of paperwork they required. The police department was really helpful. The labor department was very helpful, and heard us and investigated. There are these agencies, but it takes a lot of time for them to understand the situation and take action upon it, and by the time the action actually took place it was too late. There was a lot of evidence missing, so our case was diluted because of the amount of time it took for us to rescue ourselves and the agencies to act upon our situation.
A: Harold- We could not communicate, people couldn’t understand. We rescued ourselves so we were running and most of the evidence was diluted, and had we got proper help from Jessica or Erin at that time, the situation would have been different. Because of the wrongs with banks and money, everything was taken, and priorities change. There was no food and we were starving, and when you’re starving your mind doesn’t work. I really didn’t think I was going to make it to the next day. I trusted in God. I still thank the community of Cincinnati that aided the survival of our family. The Sycamore School District and our community helped us, and that’s why we help with the soup kitchens. We are so touched. The community helped us a lot, up until we got connected with Jessica in 2007, so from 2003-2007. Since we got connected with ESC I learned that we have ownership, and I want to help the community and pay [them] back because the community has helped us so much. People just being polite to us, giving us a small hug, or giving us bread and milk, or even our pastor just praying for us. That made a huge difference. It might not cost you much, but it means a whole lot to us. A sense of freedom is something very great. God gave us freedom, why [did] these people take it away from us?
Author: Michelle Kay
November 27, 2013