June 9, 2017

My Journey to Making a Difference

Evan Robbins

Life is full of surprises. Sometimes, even an ordinary act can take you on an extraordinary journey. My life changed in 2006 when I did something I did every day—I read an article in the New York Times. The story I read about a trafficked child in Ghana had a special impact on me. No doubt, this article spoke to me because the boy, Mark Kwadwo and my daughter Maya were both six years old. However, this story moved my students as well. Indeed, Kwadwo’s story would move anyone concerned with the plight of innocent children.
The lives these children suffered through broke my heart. They are forced to get up before sunrise and work all day long on treacherous fishing boats on Lake Volta. They row, bail water from the bottom of the boat, throw nets in the water and then pull them out. If the nets get caught, the children have to dive in the water to untangle them from the branches. Many children get caught in the nets and drown.
I started working with my students to raise money for an organization called International Organization for Migration (IOM). This organization had a program to rescue and rehabilitate child slaves. We were very successful in our efforts and raised enough money to fund the rescue of five trafficked children. We developed a relationship with the IOM anti-trafficking agents from Ghana and one of them even came to America to speak to my students. He then encouraged me to go on a rescue mission, so in 2010, I traveled to Ghana to witness and participate in the rescue of these five children. It was amazing to observe the transformation that takes place when a child is freed from trafficking. The children were incredibly resilient; within a few hours they went from being stone-faced zombies to smiling, sweet children. After seeing this firsthand, I knew I had to do more.
Soon after my return, I began the process of establishing a 501(c)3 charitable organization, Breaking the Chain Through Education. I had no clue what I was doing or what I was getting myself into. One thing was clear; I had to work to end the trafficking of children. I gained confidence and realized that we could collaborate with IOM to solve problems that arose. I returned to Ghana every year with my family and members of our board. We learned more about the complexity of the problems and continued to brainstorm and fundraise. Over time, we hired a social worker to support our children as they reintegrated into their communities. We realized the need to care for some of the children long-term. We built a school and teacher housing. We’re constantly coming up with new ways to help these children (like boarding school, vocational training and apprenticeships).
I never anticipated that we would have rescued 71 children in Ghana and that Breaking the Chain Through Education would become my third child. Doing this work has been both deeply rewarding and an awesome responsibility. We feel so proud to help restore these children’s lives and ensure that they have a better future. I couldn’t imagine my life without working to help others.
I’ve read that the person who benefits the most from a charity is the one who gives. I like to think that I’ve helped these children more than they have helped me. However, nothing beats the feeling of having these children jump into my arms when I visit them in Ghana.

Evan Robbins is the founder and CEO of Breaking the Chains through Education and is a history teacher at Metuchen High School. He is the father of junior Maya and Ariana ‘14.

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