Evelyn Chumbow and Martina Vandenberg
DescriptionEvelyn Chumbow (35) talks with her friend and mentor, Martina Vandenberg [no age given], about her experience as a victim of human trafficking. She remembers how her lawyer encouraged her to share her testimony and fight for other victims, and reflects on how her advocacy has grown since then.
Subject Log / Time Code
- Evelyn Chumbow
- Martina Vandenberg
Recording LocationVirtual Recording
Partnership TypeFee for Service
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00:00 Sold. Today's date is Tuesday, April 13th. 2021. I'm in Washington DC. The name of my recording partner is Evelyn chumbow and everyone is my friend.
00:15 And my hero and my inspiration.
00:20 Thanks for Tina.
00:24 Oh, my name is Evelyn chumbow IM 35 years old. Today's date is April 13th, 2021 and my recording partner as a friend, and sometimes I call her, mommy, cuz you always have every little thing. She's like my Mary Poppins. You know, I always remember her for Dad and I also remember the first time we met, so she's we're working buddies, but she's she's a family to me right now cuz she do her family. So I've and I've known her for such a long time. I don't even remember the year, cuz that's how I felt. And I'm grateful that it's my recording partner. So so Evelyn. You are one of the leaders in the human trafficking movement, one of the Survivor Leaders with such a strong voice. So, can you talk about
01:17 How human trafficking has affected your life. Is such a horrible crime and he said he can Prime. And, you know, again, my situation started from me being a child in Cameroon, which is central Africa, French and English. And I was so fascinated by a lot of television shows that I watch, you know, The Cosby Show Fresh Prince of Bel-Air 90210 star America in the eyes of the show's. I want it tomorrow Will Smith. I keep saying that and Martina knows that. I keep saying, I've been praying for her to get me Will Smith, but it's, it's not working, but I but I just, I just thought when I was told that I was coming to America. I was so excited. I thought that America was just going to be just like this.
02:17 He shows that I mentioned, you know, I I I saw no wrong and for my parents it was for me to get a great education and become a great person but never never did. I think that I will come to the US and become a victim of Labor's traffic him precisely. I'm domestic servitude. Oh, you know, a lot of people also can say modern-day slavery and never did that once things that my own Uncle also sold me.
02:48 Two of my trafficker, but it came. I came to the US in the mid-90s and my traffic was also was also cameroonian and I worked from cooking and cleaning those pool from age, 9 on till I. Guess you can sit, you know, 7:10. I usually say 21 now because you're not also got into foster care other things, you know, but yeah, so no school from that is taking care of two kids, cooking and cleaning slept on the floor, you know, if you think of like slavery, I feel like my story is similar to like slavery back back then, because again, I was being physically and mentally abused and I have scars that stays with me forever.
03:48 What has happened to me? And it happens not only to me but to Towson to so many and especially innocent kids, you know, that I'm forced to work in farms at homes, in warehouses in so many other places. And I'm grateful. Martinez, six me at Salida, but I think there's other leaders. They do, you know, there's so many, many other leaders. The ones that have that that you know, they've lost their lives due to the the situation that they the face as victims of trafficking, Sol. And how did you escape? So, again, you know, I see no traffic in his, you know, what are we mention earlier is such a big, big business, is my traffic to use one passport and brought six of us to the US again within. I did not know that I came to the US illegally because, you know, we have
04:48 Police issue with illegal immigrants. I never knew that I came here illegally to the country and
04:57 My traffic has brought another girl.
05:00 And that girl happens to be my cousin, you know why? She was a little bit older, she came into the house and she saw the abuse that I was facing, you know, and so how is there were times that I didn't eat? I will not let you know. I was like, literally, imagine an America where we see all these commercials with food, but there was no funeral of my cousin. So I mean, you like near to death and stuff like that. So she helped me escape. She had her reason for coming to the United States cuz she was older. So she used auto paternity and she helped me escape. I went to stay with another family member, but the family member was it took advantage of me and helped make me also take care of her own daughter. The only difference she was not, she was not beating me.
05:50 You know, she was not choosing abusive towards me, but she just also took advantage of the situation. So I escaped from her and I went to a church.
06:01 So I went to a Catholic Church in Silver Spring, Maryland. I'm at with a priest and I just told his priests like, have been in this country. All these things are happening to me as a woman. And so I don't know what's going on. I show him my bruises. I told him, I want to go to school, or I want to go back home. And from there. He introduced me to Ocala charity. I told my story, that's when I met so many different people back then. I didn't know again, A lot of times as victims of human trafficking. We don't know that we are victims, you know, so I did not know. I was a victim of human trafficking. So I was told that I am a victim from the story that I described to them and
06:46 I got into foster care.
06:49 It's a long story. I should know what Tina, if the one details when you escaped were the things that were most helpful to you. When you escaped having someone that I could trust, that can be open with that. Give me a reason, not to be afraid. And that person was my lawyer. You know, Melanie on heart, you know, the way so many other people at that time, that I did not really know who was for that time. You know, it's a sad, my age. Now that I know who was, who, who was my lawyer, who was the, you know, the investigator, the FBI and things like that. But back then, I didn't know. But this one person just stood out, you know, the way she she and I know she was doing her job, but to me it seemed like it was more.
07:49 A job, she did it with compassion. You know, she did it with with caring and reassuring me that everything was going to be okay, you know, so
08:01 I always speak highly of her, because
08:05 It as a victim of human trafficking charge has been taken away, you know, and it's so hard to be able to trust people because think about it. I skipped from my traffic cuz I went to a family member and she took advantage of the situation, you know, I need goes on like people just keep taking advantage of you. So it was so great to see someone that you can trust and know you can't open. You can tell this person. Everything. You know, I'm going to cry when I talk about it cuz it just goes back. So, you know, but you know, you going to make me cry, you know, but yeah, they have someone you can trust because I even remember, you know, there was this person, this man is I think, you know, law enforcement FBI. He was so mean to me. He scared me to the point that I do not want to talk. I did not want to share my my experience cuz he was accusing me of wanting to stay in the country and wanted to be green card. But then this woman, you know, Melanie on her was like
09:05 You know, she was a child and gave me a reason to be able to open up and be honest, you know, so, yeah, and how old were you when you met Melanie and your lawyer? So I should know when I explained my story, a lot of the times people have to bear with me and understand that. Again, my stories just like slavery. I didn't keep up with my years of age. Do things like that. I knew you, know, something like the only time I knew was summer is when it's hot when it's cold, as when it was that scene. Again. I was not, I was in the house, you know, and
09:47 I knew I was born in November 18th, you know, but I just wasn't sure what the year was. I really wasn't sure. You know, and but I may marry Melanie. I was there. I was 17 going to 18, you know, and I should know, but Tina, you know, very well, I go crazy for my birthday because when I finally know what my real birthday was, my age was I don't care about anything. I was just my birthday. You don't want. Just give me a shout out, you know? Because it is important because it was so many incidents that happened during my life that I would have been dead.
10:24 You know, but to make it another year.
10:29 I don't care whose birthday is it. I just had to bring that person.
10:34 Please have some great reward by Depeche Mode, there was one, you know, so even when you much and I remember like when you were one of the reason I got into that trust women conference and it was my birthday. I will tell you and but you made it, you made it work and it was so. So your birthday is so funny. She's my recording partner and we share the same birthday month, you know, so that if you see, that's how we connect at Scorpios 17 about to be 18, but you people have to understand again. For someone like me in my situation. I didn't really keep up with my years in age and, and things like that and you know also, but yes, so everyone I'm glad you know, how old you are now and I'm glad that we celebrate no matter where we are.
11:34 It was wonderful. What happened after you escaped? What happened? In your case to go to trial? What would happen if my process was very long, you know? Yes, we went to trial, and my story also was one of the many human trafficking cases. That was investigated all the way back. So Cameron, you know, it's funny cuz I, I have pictures right now, that I look at, when my prosecutor and my investigators, then when the camera Underwear women, you know, no offense. I love you, man, but it's just like the women in my kids. They were like, they are one of the reason I just like, Yes, Beyonce, We Run the World women. Yes, I'll let you know.
12:23 Little vice president, so yeah, but this world some coffee, you know, I'm amazing women because they did that case. They did it with passion, you know, like again not a lot of victims of human trafficking, get sold to have
12:42 So, have the people that I had, I was definitely lucky and blessed cuz they would have just do their job. But the fact that they went to Cameroon. I remember one of the investigator. I mean, not know, she wasn't investigation with the prosecutor. Her name is Amy Poehler, she brought back a picture, you know, pictures of my mom and dad and she gave them to me. I would have some, somebody else would have shredded it, but she gave me those pictures and she say yet just think about it. I haven't seen my parents from age 9, onto 17 18 and
13:20 Nobody was thinking about that, you know, so yesterday the case went to try was investigated and I also helped, you know, it's also good sometimes when I asked a victim of that time cuz I that time I was still victim, you know, I told them everything, I give them whatever they needed, but there was one thing that sometimes I wish I hope you has changed. I believe he has changed that I had to take off my clothes cuz I get my traffic was.
13:49 Beat me a lot. Like I have to take off my clothes and she will beat me for water like me. Like, I have bruises all over my body. You know, I'm, there was one of my punishment. I stand up from, like, 10 p.m. To like 5 a.m. No sleep, you know, so I had to take off my clothes for the prosecutor's the investigator to kind of look at my body. You know, now that I look at the history of slavery and a lot of our history. I just like, oh my God, you know, they were, they were looking for you know, yeah, which I understand, you know, they were doing, they were doing their job. And yeah, so did they do it? They did investigate it. I told them the truth and it was great to the house. You know, I said, you know, not all lawyers are great, but I have some great ones and you don't like my pro bono lawyers, you know, so I had some great ones so much.
14:49 Lawyers for the Memories, you know, it's just went through this really difficult experience and you, and you testified to get your trafficker and you put your traffic or behind bars, but then how did you become such a powerful leader in the, in the movement?
15:11 I mean, I will answer your question, but I want to go back to let you know, that. During the trial that was one of the most difficult thing that I had to do. I I mean because you had you get to see the person again, you know, so which is why it was so good to have my pro bono attorney that Melanie on her that I mentioned before because you just keep in mind that she I remember she gave me like a ball because I was like, I cannot do this and they're like, you can do this. I'm like, because you don't understand this person to me. It was like, it was like the devil because she said, so many hurtful things Not only was she beating me physically, but verbally play the words that you use the insult, you know, you know, they say words are very powerful and they stick the me to this day.
16:01 So going to try that was like the most difficult thing that I had to do in a lot of victims of this situation, especially, let's see if it was gang-related. They don't want to do that, you know, because again, my family members there were threats back in my countries that were a lot of thread. So,
16:21 Going to try was one of them was difficult thing that I ever had to do, you know, and I did it. I was trying, you know, that you have to look at someone when you talk into the present, but I couldn't I'll told him this ball Melanie. Gave him me. And looking at this woman. I'm like, I can't do it. I cannot do it, but I did it, and I was ready for it to be over. So, but back to your question.
16:48 Oh, I should know many survivors after they've been through what we I have been through. A lot of them do want to be Advocate. A lot of them, don't want nothing to do with it because of the experience and I should I didn't we just keep coming up, you know, like it getting my story was very huge because there were other victims that she also had brought to the country, and I do remember Melanie. That was a. I think it was a news ABC person who wanted to talk to me about my story and I'll tell you now, I can't do this. I just want to be done with it and Melanie said something to me.
17:33 You have to share your story because people need to know that this is happening and it is wrong. You didn't do anything wrong because a lot of times, we feel like we did something wrong, you know, and we don't want the person to go to the prison but she's like, no, you have to and it's like, I don't want. So, you know, I'm not ready for this, but she did not force me. She said, okay, just think about it. But if you want, you can make a lot of difference. You can help a lot of people, you can teach people about the situation and I thought about it and remembering like I said, my story is so long that I'm just like trying to cuz we don't have enough time. We can be here for days and you're not, don't worry. I'm working on the book, but
18:22 Thinking about what Melanie said, I remember how I came into the country, even in Cameroon my traffic to parents, they had a mansion.
18:32 They had its to me, looking at it. Now. It looks like a plantation, you know, you know, they also had become my uncle. Took me to my tropical parents house and I will never forget this conversation. You know, that's what it said. Be careful. What you do around kids. My the, my traffic from mother was like, isn't she a little bit too young for the job? I'm thinking, what job are they talking about? I'm going to matter Will Smith what y'all talkin about. So, he should turn around. And, like I said, we're wealthy cameroonians. They were wealthy. They had a big house, get it. And when I got to the house is so nice, and they have, boys and girls that will work in cookies. Someone is carrying water cleaning and everything like that. I just that stick to me, but it didn't seem happy.
19:29 Didn't seem happy. So what Melanie told me that I also remember, how can, you know, when I went to this house and Melanie is right. Let me speak up. That's why it's not an easy thing to be a leader in this movement as a survival either, you know, because you get a lot of threats, but I said, Melanie is, right. I said, let me speak of, especially as an African. I wanted to speak up. I wanted to share my experience because you do have a lot of Africans that this situation happened to them, but they are so afraid to speak up because of the backlash to get from the community. No support and knowing that no, they were trying to help too dumb. It's like this person was just trying to help you but that's how and it is also abused. And I was like, yeah, I'm going to speak up. I'm going to talk about it.
20:21 I need you starting up, just make sure my, my experience for people to know that this is wrong. And yes, America is great is wonderful, but there's no such thing. As you can just see where Smith walking down the street.
20:35 You know, Brandon from 90210 walking down the street. And, you know, there's no such thing like that. Like, you know, I wanted, you know, people in the motherland to know that. Hey, let's not be so into the television, Michael Jackson can really turn into a tiger or lion, you know, it's all fiction. So I was like, and it's wrong, it was wrong. Like I said, you don't have scars that stays with me forever. Like this one's car right here. My son asked me the other time, you know, I cried when I told him, what happened. I am. I had to be honest with my son, you know, but still not quite understanding yet, but I decided I'm going to speak about as much as I get back last year, not a lot of support from the community, but this is wrong. And he has to stop the effects. Everybody doesn't matter black Asian white. It doesn't matter. But
21:34 My community in particular is to dumb is like, it should be normal, which is not and I'm so grateful for having Melanie encouraging me to speak out and did not a thing. You know, and for making all the different work on policies, where were you? My Tina, you know, coming up with different ways to help the next victims they still? Yeah. So the one of the things that you did Evelyn was go to Africa, you went to Cameron. Yeah. So again, like I said, My Story, you know, I came as a child affect me so much in a way that even now as an adult, I still
22:22 I still feel the trauma. So.
22:27 I haven't seen my family the first time I went to Cameroon. So the first time was 2012. I worked really hard. And the reason I wanted to go to Cameroon was because I was in school, you know, and it was just too much, you know, the trauma haven't really dealt with the trauma and a lot of things. But it's in better. So, you know, I need to go home at work really hard. I was working as a security guard, you know, save up some money, you know, my older brother, was he, I call him, I call my older, brother's name is Francis Trimble. He's like my Liam Nelson, you know, like if you watch the movie Taken so my older brother's like my, Liam Nelson, because my brother literally went and beat up my uncle, I was like, where's my sister, you know, and, you know, even when I was in my traffic has house, my brother was the only one that called me and I just remember just crying to my brother, you know, so he might not
23:27 All this, we might have our little issues, but I always hold him there to my heart. Like, you were the only one that called to see how I'm doing. And all I could do was cry.
23:40 I went back home. My brother says, time to go home. He helped me to go home. I went back to Cameron 2012, after eighteen years of being in the country. Of course, a lot of my family members thought I was dead, you know, cuz again from H9 until I went back home at 8:27. So a lot of my family members thought I was dead. It was a surprise for my mother. So she like literally at the airport just came and hug me and was kneeling down asking for forgiveness. You know, it was a joy. I have answers that were touching my face. Like, is she real, you know, my older and somebody but things were different and Melanie was, right. I keep bringing Melanie's name off because it's like she's like,. Well might not be the way you remember. Things were bringing.
24:37 Thanks, and it's a song that I was listening and I don't think I ever told you this, Tina, but when I was going back for the first time to reunite with my family, this is song by P Diddy. He changed his name so many times but I think it's because some girls and the song is called. I'm coming home. Coming home. Tell the world. I'm coming home. I was on the app. I was like on the car. My friend was taking me to Dallas Airport and then it just hit me that I remember Dallas. Airport thinks I'm making sense with my traffic come pick me up going and like the memories just keeps flashing, you know, and I was listening to that thing. I was crying and the TSA guy was I why are you crying? What? You don't understand?
25:25 Give me my password again because I didn't get you. No, I said, traffic in person is a TVs that I've been in the country for so long, but you know, I wasn't still an American in my passport. Do, you know, I forgot we work on that. They refuse to give me a camera on your passport. They said I wasn't cameronian well.
25:48 So, melanocytes just become a u.s. Citizen, you know, and you can go to your country. So I had to wait another five years again, but I did all the right. I follow the rules. Do you know I follow the rules. So sorry, for some people that think that is illegal immigrants. Don't follow the rules. I did. Okay. I play by the rules, but I went home.
26:10 But I went to my primary school.
26:14 I wanted to talk to these kids and I was just, I bought like coaches juice and this one cat, I asked the kids. I'm going to do you want to go to America or to London?
26:28 Almost all the kids put your hands up, only two, and I asked us to why don't you want to go to America with the London? They said, oh because they want to be a president who want to be. I called it. I gave them $20 each and then why you gave her money? That's why I started my story. I said, I'm not saying that it's nothing wrong going. In America wins America, go to London, but it will be nice. If you wait when your little bit older. This other programs, this like student exchange programs a student visa or things like that, about your summer, because I was in the same position as you guys if someone come and say they want to take you to America, don't just say yes, you know, so I explained my story, the dog and show them my scars and I told them that I was in that same class the same thing.
27:25 You know, I just explained. So that was the first time reunions nice for the second time. I should know there were some girls that were traffic from Cameroon to Kuwait. And I work with, you know, Katie Ford freedom, for all organization. And the goal was this girls that were trafficked from Cameroon to Kuwait. I know trafficking in the middle, is his very rough. They came back home. I should you know, I said that it would be nice to have them get like job, start a business, you know, how something doing? Not to feel like you need to go to other country. So I Chief what they need to achieve.
28:14 Well, yeah, that was it. Right? I want. Yeah, I'm going to come on. Just Twice. First time. Reunions second time. 2016. Went to help out other victims, survivors of trafficking from Cameroon to Kuwait.
28:31 So Evelyn, you have had like such an enormous impact on the human trafficking movement in the US and you served on the White House counsel.
28:41 Talk about what it was your serve on the White House Council and to make policy at a national level as a Survivor. You know me. I keep it real. All it was was great honor cuz I was serving under the first ever, African-American. So when I saw, you know, the name and he called me and it was, it was such a great honor. I was a pleasure, I was draining but I was happy. I was so impressed, especially with the US. They just have to want to fight this fight to want to end this fight, you know, and who won the survivors to be part of this fight and to make that different. So, serving on the US, average, your console.
29:32 What's a great honor to work on this different policies? Because I also get to learn how the government works in the US. And that was so help me. So every experience that I I, every job that I take, or anything that I put my hand, so is also learning process for me.
29:52 Evelyn as a as a leader in the movement like what do you? What do you feel is like the most important contribution that you've made said the most important. It's made sure my experience.
30:08 And share my experience and standing from with my story and helping and the other one will be just working on the different policies that we worked on. Why what's up, why you cancelled? And also my times when I was lobbying and also just work with so many Congress and Senators on the issue and then wanting to make a difference. And there's so many as you know, but I would say the important one also is to also be in this wonderful boards that I'm on, you know, the human trafficking legal system board, you know, which you or the funder, you know, founder of I was very honored that you asked me to serve on that board and then the free the slaves bored. And I was very honored that you guys have Survivor that you see survivors as one.
31:02 As you know, important in the movement and you know, you want to learn from them. So
31:09 So Emma and I have to stay one of your most powerful moments that I am up for it, 800 people and you said,
31:26 I'm tired of telling my story. I don't want to seem to see. I just need a job trafficking. Survivors need jobs has managed to really change the conversation. So what, what is it about survivors needing jobs? And and what what is it that you view as to survivors greatest needs in this environment? One? Because because of that conference I said, I wanted a job. I landed a job at one of the biggest firms, you know in the world Baker, McKenzie Law Firm, you know, you know,
32:18 This has been so many, there's been so many, but for me has to go to the key word is surviving survivors, needing job and have an understanding of life or Society, you know, because even me when I said, I needed a job, I was grateful, but this Law Firm brought me in. I also know that is something else that I needed. It was something else that survivors, need that resume financial literacy, you know, so many things because it gave me a life Hood was taken away from them, a life was taken away from there. So it's everything. You know, like, I know, you don't know if we don't know about taxes. We don't know about. You know, document this document resume in all of that. So it's like, we need survivors need to be funded, to be able to establish. A lot of these things that is, that is part of society. Basically, you know, but
33:19 And Ellen, one of the, one of the other really powerful things that you did was, I remembers being at the Department of Justice and watching you on the stage with Eric Holder attorney, general and and release him speaking truth to power. So what what do you think needs to change in the human trafficking movement? Know I'm a person Works, a great. What's a powerful? But action speaks louder than words, you know, so there have been some changes. I'm grateful for me and you have been part of that changes and I thank you for that. As you know, me. I'm a person of history and, you know, one of my people that I might have so much Harriet Tubman live been so much work, work that has been done to a bus least. You know that body slavery in 1860.
34:16 65. But it will be great if we can just history always repeats itself. I see you as an abolitionist. Tina, I see myself as an abortion and all the survivors. I see us as a new generation of all the shoes and we have to keep working together. Be truth and just keep sticking but action action speaks louder, you know, we can have things in papers. We can have things than work. But if you remember Harriet Tubman went back, you know was getting people out was moving them out and that's what I want to see. That's what I want us to say. I want us to be in a place where you know, especially other countries, you know, I'm grateful that there's still a long way to come when it comes to the fight of ending human trafficking. I'm so grateful for the US using survival voice is putting us in in government, buildings to work on policies, want to make the different. I hope the same can go for other countries.
35:16 Adapt to this way of listening to the survivors to help with the changes but action, I would say my what is action for this morning and you are a woman of action. I think you are you are a modern day, Harriet Tubman. I appreciate, you know, like I said, we all have to work together, you know, I'm history, is repeating the stuff. If you think about the Civil Rights Movement, you know the speech, you know, MLK, Dr. Kimmy, you know, it was all black white Asians. They all work together. We might have our different issues in our community, but we all care about the fact that we want to end human trafficking and we have to do that together and we have to continue
36:08 You know, March and to me as you know, Martina I get so.
36:14 It hurts me a lot to think to say this, but I just don't understand why that the most men like us the movement to end. You know, human trafficking does not get as much funding as other movement has
36:32 Because this pains me a lot because it's like this boys and girls are kidnapped and forced to work for free. They being abused sexually mentally that working in farms children at that. So why do we not get as much funding in this movement than other Movement? We are human beings. This could be your brother. This could be your sister. If you watch the movie Taken it happens, and it's still happening there, you know, so I just prayed the world can really open his eyes to this issue and have fun. A lot of organization, like yours and other organizations that are fighting to end this issue.
37:16 Because survivors and the victims didn't need this funding. So we really have to talk about that.
37:27 One of the.
37:30 Most recent contributions that you've made is this panel that you did with a Survivor group racism and we're in stir such a moment with George Floyd and black lives matter and all of the discussions about racism. So can you just talk a little bit about about racism and the human trafficking movement in action and just keeping it real, as smart as I also believe in the unity. I've also seen a lot of, you know, that kind of discussion was amazing movie, keeping it real and
38:21 Again, I'm African, you know, African black. However, you want to do, you know people once identified but I feel like in this movement. There are a lot of Africans that I've been there not, you know, that this happens to a lot but the World Turns a blind eye we can take. For instance the issue that happened in Libya. Africans were actually being auctioned off and it was like live video, you know journalist and I was so disappointed with the movement. I'll continue to speak my mind on that light.
38:55 Didn't didn't look into this situation didn't fight for this situation. And that really hurt me that brought like I didn't leave food for days cuz I saw that video and as I well slavery still going on and the world is turning a blind eye and racism is still going on. And, you know, covid. Like I said, I should know me Kovach has an impacted. A lot of people is a whole new world, but let me tell you the victims and survivors of human trafficking. He has impacted the most
39:30 Imagine right now. There's a victim crying out for help. But because of the whole new world they can probably get the help that they need and for survival, like me that was locked up in the house for such a long time, you know the trauma the pain. Things just keep coming back. So Lord. I made it to 2021 without taking my life.
39:56 That's an amazing thing and that goes for other survivors as well. Evelyn, you are a complete inspiration and it's an honor to work with you and you're my partner for life.