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Thursday, May 06, 2021

A former Sri Lankan slave will speak about human trafficking today.

Beatrice Fernando will speak at 7 p.m. at Hillel at UF. Human Rights Awareness On Campus and nine other student groups co-sponsored her speech, for which she will earn ,2,000.

Fernando, originally from Sri Lanka, moved to Lebanon in 1980 to get a job to support her son, who was still living in Sri Lanka, she said.

When she arrived in Lebanon, she was forced to surrender her passport and was unable to leave.

She was forced to work without pay for more than 18 hours a day and was beaten regularly, she said.

"When people think of slavery, they think of what existed over a thousand years ago," Fernando said. "They don't think it can exist today."

Fernando was forced to stay in Lebanon eight months before she finally escaped by jumping off a balcony on the fourth floor, which paralyzed her, she said.

"After you become a victim, you can't erase that," she said. "You have to live with that stigma forever."

She made it back to Sri Lanka and was eventually able to walk and function normally.

She later decided to come to America.

She now lives in Merrimac, Mass., and works at the Nivasa Foundation, which raises awareness of human trafficking.

Fernando said human trafficking is the second largest trade crime in the world.

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"It's like a virus," she said. "It changes colors and names and forms."

She is coming so UF students will understand that human trafficking is a real issue that still affects people around the world, said Jessica Ponn, president of Human Rights Awareness On Campus.

"I have to tell people that it is going on now," Fernando said. "The more people that are aware it's going on, the more people who can fight against it. We have to get together to fight this."

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