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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Former Lebanon slave speaks to UF about her life, escape

Courage, hope and faith.

These are values that abolitionist and former slave Beatrice Fernando spoke about at Hillel at UF on Thursday night.

Fernando was tricked into slavery in 1980 through an agency that claimed it would get her work as a housekeeper.

She grew up poor. She lived with her family in Sri Lanka in a home the size of a bedroom.

The walls were made of strips of fabric, and the roof was made of coconut husks her mother put together.

The only thing that was solid was the cement floor, she said.

She only completed 12th grade because she said she was in a hurry to grow up.

"My mother said education was the only way to get out of poverty," Fernando said. "But did I listen? No."

At 23, she was still living at home and now had to take care of her son. Her husband left shortly after he was born.

In order to support her son and her parents, she decided she should find a job.

She found an agency in Lebanon that said it would get her a job as a housekeeper.

She was required to work for two years in Lebanon and then would return home with "a bag full of money," she said.

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She ended up being selected to work for a woman who she said gave her a bad feeling. She begged her agent to let her work for someone else, but he told her the woman was very rich and she was lucky.

She worked hard as a housekeeper.

At first, she was fed table scraps, but then she was fed nothing at all.

"After the family was asleep, I would go through the trash and eat that," Fernando said.

She was beaten every day. Her head was repeatedly slammed into the wall. She was beaten so badly she lost consciousness.

"I woke up in a pool of my own blood," she said. "That night I found the courage within me to do whatever I had to do to get out of there. It was up to me to survive."

She decided to either escape or die trying. She launched herself off the fourth floor balcony and 21 days later woke up from a coma, paralyzed.

Three years later she was able to walk and came to America. She said it is up to college students to help eliminate slavery by standing up against it.

"This is our country," she said. "These are our children. You are the future. You take the stand and say no."

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