Mangaluru: About 16-years-ago, a young Mangalorean living in Vadodra in Gujarat nurtured the great 'American Dream' like millions and dared to tread the path that led to realisation of the dream. However, on landing in America, his dreams shattered like a castle of cards.
A nightmare that it had turned into being, Harold D'Souza, an M.Com graduate holding also a Labour Law degree was reduced to being nothing more than a modern-day slave. A job offer of $75,000 that had made him leave his homeland was only a mirage and he soon found himself working for about 18 hours a day at a local food joint in Ohio under distressful conditions including non-payment of salary. When he could not cope up with his unchanging reality, he did what many don't- he decided to not quit. Today, that one decision of not quitting has put him up in a position that enables him to work tirelessly to make a difference in the lives of millions of Indians like him who fall prey to 'merchants of American Dream'.
Harold D'Souza is a survivor, spokesperson and an advocate, co-founder of Eyes Open International, a founding member of the National Survivor Network. Most importantly, he was appointed by former US President Barak Obama as the Member of the United States Advisory Council on Human Trafficking in 2015 and he continues to serve in the Council even under incumbent US President Donald Trump.
Close to two decades ago, a man who was just another face in the crowd, one of the million victims and a dejected father who could not buy a snow jacket to keep his child warm in the freezing US winter is today a tall example of hope and perseverance.
Talking to Newskarnataka.com about all the hardships that he faced on personal front fighting the ogress of labour/human trafficking in the US and about the plans he has in mind to help people who are in the same situation, D'Souza said that educated, uneducated, rich, poor, you can be anybody and still go through what he experienced.
"When I landed in the US, I felt it was a dream come true, but I soon realised that they showed us the moon and gave us the dust. The perpetrators very well know the background of their victims and the network of Labour/human/ sex traffickers is a well-laid one. It is an industry worth several million dollars and each of the perpetrator is a millionaire," he said.
Talking about the difficult times in the foreign land and episodes of how his perpetrator left him completely bankrupt and put him in invisible shackles, D'Souza said that very soon he realised there was no escape. "Neither my wife nor I was paid a cent for the work we did. When we spoke about the same, they would threaten us of deportation, imprisonment etc. This often kept us away from revolting till the day the perpetrator threatened me of dire consequences. That day I decided to fight back and luckily I survived. Many do not speak up and a few who speak up do not survive," he said adding that a chef who worked at the same restaurant took him to the federal building downtown, where the couple filed a back-wages claim with the Labor Department.
"My case was never treated as a case of human trafficking. When I decided to fight, some threatened to even take away my children-Bradley and Rohan. All this was happening when Ohio had not yet passed its human trafficking laws (which came up in 2012)," he said. Ultimately he won the case, but the restaurant owner declared bankruptcy thereby avoiding paying him back.
A man who once felt like he had failed as a father, husband and as a provider and someone who had lost his voice and freedom found a platform to become the voice of millions in 2015 when he was appointed to the US Advisory Council for Human Trafficking by the then US President Barack Obama. Serving his second term now, he is the only Indian in the Council and is the longest-serving member too.
D'Souza said that many Indians land in the mess only because of a lack of awareness about how to go about entering the US. "If you enter the US legally, you are in heaven. Come prepared, know the recourse you can bank on and most importantly do not go through any agents," says D'Souza, who has taken his advocacy a step further with a new book (Frog in the Well) and a trip to India, where he hopes to talk and spread awareness among the people. “It’s better to be safe than sorry and prevention is better than cure," he believes.
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