One of the city's only homegrown NGOs is calling the community to their dinner and dance.
27 Million Voices (27MV) was a non-government organization founded in 2008 by Allison Fedorkiw, after a number of her trips to West Africa as a student development worker. She was made aware, while in places like Ghana and the Ivory Coast, that the biggest part of the world's cocoa / chocolate industry was centred in that region and a large amount of it was supplemented by slavery. Most of the slaves were children, kidnapped from all over West Africa or bought from families under false pretenses or duress.
These stolen and mistreated children do the hard work to grow and harvest the cocoa. The stuff is then sold to chocolate companies, all of whom have direct knowledge of the working conditions in the cocoa fields. They make the chocolate bars and other candy treats that are sold on store shelves in Prince George and everywhere. The violence, anguish and terror inflicted on these abused children, extorted families and whipped communities allows the chocolate companies to profit from smaller prices at Prince George cash registers than if they had to pay fair wages and have safe working conditions obtaining their main ingredient
The term "blood chocolate" was derived to describe this industry.
The fight against this preventable social affliction comes to Prince George on Nov. 3 at the 27 Million Voices third annual gala dinner and dance.
So far, the group has saved up about $30,000, according to 27MV board chair Christos Vardacostas. They have spent the past two years researching the NGOs in that region already working to help the blood chocolate children. They are in the final stages of partnering with one called Challenging Heights whom they expect to provide with small amounts of funding on a test basis, ramping up in the future as success is proven.
"We've been tiptoeing forward to make sure it is done right," Vardacostas said. "Our board has worked very hard, and our founder Allison in particular. She has been a very effective face of the organization and a key to our fundraising. Her passion to help these children, and educate her community, and her experiences researching this cause in West Africa was the impetus for 27 Million Voices."
The name comes from the United Nations estimate of how many around the world are subjected to the crime of human trafficking.
"Our mission is focused on the West Africa region, but we all recognize that human trafficking goes on all over the world in various forms," Vardacostas said. "People are commodified, in their sexuality or their labour to make a product, and children are forced into these hardships every day.
The gala fundraiser takes place Nov. 3 at the Coast Inn of the North with a dinner based on international cuisine, music by African influenced band Umoja, and dancing to the world beat stylings of DJ Faz. There will also be some information presented on the root concerns motivating the 27MV members - all of them local, all of them volunteers.
"When you have 70 per cent of the world's cocoa coming out of that one region, and potentially thousands of children indentured to that industry, it compels us to act," Vardacostas said. "We are the consumers of that chocolate. Take a look at those chocolates used as fundraisers for local children's organizations, and the chocolates you buy your own family for Halloween and Christmas. You don't want to adversely affect a child somewhere else by doing things for the pleasure of our own."
One of the first things anyone can do is focus chocolate purchases to items bearing the Fair Trade logo, said Vardacostas.
To learn more, and support these development efforts in West Africa, support the gala with a donation to their silent auction, a sponsorship, or buying tickets for the dinner and dance (discounts for tables of eight). Call 250-981-1635 or email ch...@27millionvoices.org for more information.