Every year the US Department of State produce a Trafficking in Persons Report that asses the efforts done by governments around the world in combating human trafficking. Together with this report, the Department of State honors individuals who have distinguished themselves in the service towards this goal.

Although the award has been in existence for many years, there has never been a Kenyan recipient until now. Sophie Otiende has in 2020 been honored as a recipient of the Trafficking in Persons Report Hero award as the first Kenyan. Sophie call herself a feminist, poet, teacher and survivor of human trafficking.

At HAART we have always known that Sophie is a hero, but now others are starting to take notice. The award is given to Sophie for her work at HAART and in in recognition of her leadership role in the development of victim assistance infrastructure, resources, and practices in Kenya to ensure human trafficking survivors receive the best possible care, and her unwavering efforts to raise awareness of human trafficking in local communities.

At HAART, Sophie spearheaded the assistance to victims of trafficking, responding to crisis whenever necessary and building a department, training staff and setting up a shelter for HAART and in the process being responsible for the rehabilitation and reintegration of hundreds of victims of trafficking since she started in 2014.

While serving survivors of trafficking has been her first priority, she has also led the development of several manuals for training vulnerable people on this vice. She said that it is not enough for stakeholders like the police to understand the issue, but also for survivors themselves. This is based on her own experience which she expressed in her acceptance speech:

“I know being able to name the crime is empowering and for someone like me; it gave me language and tools to not only complete my healing process but also begin to fight for other survivors.”

She is currently a board member and survivor advisor at HAART, where until recently she worked as a Program Consultant. While at HAART, she was responsible for assisting more than 400 victims of trafficking since 2014 and helped identify victims both within and outside of Kenya.  In her role as advisor, she continues to provide critical support and guidance to HAART’s victims’ assistance program.

In her acceptance speech she furthermore spoke about what comes next, which is a continued fight to end human trafficking:

“On this day, I am especially grateful for the many heroes like my grandmother Roselida Opot whose activism lives on through me, my family and friends who provided support on my journey. As Maya Angelou said, I come as one, but I stand as 10,000. The work that we have done so far is a result of teamwork, partnerships and support. On behalf of each person being honored as a TIP Report Hero today, we call upon everyone to dream of and work together toward a world free of human trafficking.”

With the covid-19 pandemic there are many survivors like Sophie who are suffering and Sophie is using her new platform to fight for them and to raise money for HAART’s campaign Let us have a future.

Please go to haartkenya.org/donate if you want to support survivors of human trafficking during the pandemic.