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NONFke fiction
Reads its all true

The incredible true story of a modern-day slave

and her fight for freedom BY KRISTIN LEWIS



Scholastic Scope SEPTEMBER 3, 2012



What are the physical and emotional

effects of slavery on its victims?


stood at the sink in the

elegant kitchen of a fancy
Southern California home. She was barely tall
enough to reach the counter. Elbow-deep in soapy
dishwater, she methodically washed the plates,
scrubbing off bits of food and carefully rinsing them
under the faucet. When she finished washing and
drying, she stood on a chair to put the dishes away.
Seems like an ordinary chore for a 12-year-old
girl, right?
But washing dishes was not just an ordinary
chore for Shyima, something she
did before watching TV or doing her
homework. It was one of an endless
series of chores she did all day long,
every day of the year.
Shyima was a modern-day slave.


This is the
house in
where Shyima
was enslaved.


to read more. SEPTEMBER 3, 2012


Stealing a Life
Nearly every
culture on nearly
every continent on


Earth has had slaves.

Slavery has existed
since the beginning
of recorded history.
Indeed, the citizens
of Mesopotamia,
where the first cities
were built, enslaved
those they defeated
in battle.
In the United
States, more than
12 million Africans
were forced into

Shyima says the Ibrahims constantly berated her. Nothing was ever clean enough for [Motelib], Shyima
says. She would come in and say, This is dirty, or You didnt do it right, or You ruined the food.

slavery from 1619 to

1865. Slaves helped build many of

says Kevin Bales, who runs an

our early government buildings,

organization called Free the Slaves.

including the White House and

According to Bales, there are as

the U.S. Capitol. It took a bloody

many as 27 million slaves in the

Civil War and a constitutional

worldabout 50,000 of them in

amendment, passed in 1865, to

the U.S. Slavery is like someone

outlaw slavery in the U.S. for good.

is mugging you and stealing your

everywhere. Yet more people are

enslaved today than at any other
time in history. Many are children

life, he says.


Kevin Bales

For four years, Shyima, 12, had

and young teenshauling bricks

been living a nightmare. She was

in India, harvesting cocoa beans in

not allowed to go to school. She

their outfits for the next day. Each

West Africa, or weaving carpets in

was not allowed to have friends or

morning, she woke the kids, got

Pakistan. They are in restaurants,

go to the movies or play sports or

them ready for school, and cooked

factories, mines, homes, and

go to the doctor when she was sick.

breakfast. In return, they called her

on farms. Although their plights

Instead, she was forced to work as

shaghala (servant) and stupid.

are different, what they have in

a maid in the home of Abdel Nasser

common is this: They are held

Ibrahim, his wife, Amal Ahmed

cleaned the enormous house. She

captive and forced to work.

Motelib, and their five children, in

vacuumed, made the beds, dusted,

Irvine, California.

and did laundry. Once, she tossed

Slavery is about the loss of free

will; its about coming under the

Shyima often worked 18 hours

During the day, Shyima

her own clothes into the washing

violent control of another person

a day. Many nights, while the

machine. When Motelib found out,

who is going to exploit you,

family slept, she stayed up ironing

she slapped Shyima. She told me


Scholastic Scope SEPTEMBER 3, 2012


Today, slavery is illegal

Slavery is
like someone
is mugging you
and stealing
your life.

my clothes were dirtier than theirs,

All that changed when Shyima

that I wasnt allowed to clean mine

turned 8. Thats when her mother

child. Shyimas family firmly

there, Shyima remembers. After

decided it was time for Shyima

believed that she would have a

that, she washed her clothes in a

to help out. Shyima was sold to

better life with the Ibrahims.

bucket and dried them outside, by

the Ibrahims, who at the time

the trash cans.

lived in Cairo, Egypts capital. (In

Victims of slavery are controlled

Egypt, selling children is illegal but

by the physical and emotional

They were wrong.

Into the Darkness

From the start, Shyima


power of their captors. The

thing by taking on a less fortunate

The arrangement was simple:

desperately missed her family

Ibrahims threatened Shyima

Shyima would live with and work

and didnt understand why she

that if she told anyone about her

for the Ibrahims. In exchange, they

couldnt go home. Then came

situation, she would be beaten by

would pay her family $45 a month.

the news that the Ibrahims were

the police. They forbade her from

The price that Shyima paid,

going anywhere alone. Sometimes

however, was immeasurable. Being

they even locked her in her room.

a slave meant that she would live

How had this happened to her?

Cut Off From Everyone

Shyima was born in Alexandria,
Egypt. She lived with her parents

moving to America, and that she

was going with them.
Complicating the situation was

in loneliness, cut off from everyone

the fact that Shyimas parents

who cared for her. It meant that

had borrowed money from the

every day, she would be treated as

Ibrahims for medical expenses.

if her life had no value.

The only way to repay the debt,

said the Ibrahims, was to let

Yet for poor families like

and 10 brothers and sisters,

Shyimas, domestic servitude often

sharing a small one-bathroom

seems like the best option for their

home with three other families.

children. As servants, children

Shyima into the United States as

They slept on blankets on the floor.

are at least guaranteed food to

a maid, but that did not stop the

They had no money for dentists or

eat. Some employers, like the

Ibrahims. Each year, thousands

doctors or school. But though life

Ibrahims, even see themselves as

of children are smuggled into the

was often hard, Shyima felt loved.

benefactors who are doing a kind

U.S. to work. They come mainly

Shyima go to America.
It was against the law to bring

from China, Mexico, and

West Africa.


Human trafficking, as
it is called, is the fastestgrowing criminal industry
in the world. More than


Jim McMahon/Mapman

Fewer than 500,000

500,000 to 5 million
More than 5 million
No slavery or no data

(includes all of Russia)



trafficked worldwide every


yearas many as 17,500 in

The Caribbean

Note: All numbers are estimates.

Slave labor used
both internally and exported
Mainly a receiver of slave
labor and products
SOURCE: (2012)

800,000 people are



the U.S. No one knows the



exact number because once

here, they disappear like

Shyima did, hidden behind

locked doors, invisible to

*On this map, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America
represent a region. Africa and the Middle East also represent a region.

the outside world.

Shyima arrived SEPTEMBER 3, 2012


in California on August 3, 2000.

Admit the Truth

he contradicted himself. Yes, he

The Ibrahims opulent house had a

The Ibrahims tried to keep

beautiful fountain with two angels

Shyima a secret, but eventually

spouting water. The bathrooms

their neighbors became suspicious.

why that distant relative wasnt

were marble, the furnishings

Finally, in 2002, an anonymous

going to school. Ibrahim explained


caller reported that something

that he hadnt enrolled her yet.

sinister was going on in the

A few moments later, he went to

sleep in one of the grandly

Ibrahim housea young girl

get Shyima. He threatened that if

appointed bedrooms. Her

seemed to be living in the garage.

she said anything to the police, she

Shyima would not, however,

room was the garagea tiny

That call changed Shyimas life.

windowless room with no heating

One April morning, a police

said, a distant relative.

The detective wanted to know

would never see her parents again.

The detective wasnt fooled. He

or air-conditioning. Soon after she

detective knocked on the Ibrahims

questioned one of the Ibrahims

arrived, the only light bulb burned

door. He wanted to know if any

children, 12-year-old Heba, about

out. The Ibrahims never bothered

children other than the Ibrahims

Shyima. Shes, uh, my uh . . .

to replace it. And so Shyima lived

were living in the house.

Heba stammered. Shes like my

in darkness.

Nasser Ibrahim said no. Then

cousin, butshes my dads

daughters friend. Oops! The other


From Slavery to Freedom

Frederick Douglass (right) was a powerful and
insightful voice in the struggle to end slavery in the
United States. His many brilliant writings and

way. Okay, Im confused.

The detective immediately took
Shyima into protective custody.

A New Life
As Shyima was driven away

speeches are still celebrated today. This is an

from the Ibrahims forever, she was

excerpt from his autobiography The Life and

petrified. She spoke no English. She

Times of Frederick Douglass about his escape

had no idea what would happen to

from slavery in 1838.

her in this mysterious land that she

knew little about. Frightened, she

found myself on free soil. . . . A new world had

opened upon me. If life is more than breath, and
the quick round of blood, I lived more in one
day than in a year of my slave life. It was a
time of joyous excitement which words can but
tamely describe. In a letter written to a friend

lied to the police interpreter, saying

exactly what the Ibrahims had told
her to say.
As the investigation continued,
the shocking details of Shyimas
life tumbled out. The Ibrahims
claimed Shyima was part of their
family, describing the time they

soon after reaching New York, I said: I felt as

all went to Disneyland. In fact,

one might feel upon escape from a den of hungry

Shyima hadnt been allowed on

lions. Anguish and grief, like darkness and rain,

any of the rides. They had brought

may be depicted; but gladness and joy, like the

her along to carry their bags.

rainbow, defy the skill of pen or pencil.

Slowly, Shyima came to

understand that what had been
done to her was wrong. At one


Scholastic Scope SEPTEMBER 3, 2012

The Granger Collection

I have often been asked how I felt when first I

$76,000, the amount she

would have earned at
minimum wage. They
went to prison and were
later deported.

Who I Want to Be
On December 15, 2011,
Shyima stood in a packed
room in Montebello,
California. She was
dressed in a stylish black
top and pants. In her hand
was a tiny American flag.
Her nails were perfectly
manicured, her hair and

Shyima earns her


makeup flawless. There

was little trace of the

point, officials arranged for her

opportunities, a life. She was soon

frightened young girl who was

to call her family back in Egypt.

adopted by Chuck and Jenny

rescued from the dark nine years

She told her parents what had

Hall. (They have since taken


happened and that she wanted

her to Disneyland many times.)

to come home. They kept telling

Remarkably, Shyima not only

in perfect English, her hand raised

me that [the Ibrahims] are good

graduated from high school at age

to take the oath. To support and

people, Shyima remembers.

18despite having never been to

defend, she continued, her eyes

That its my fault. That because of

school before she was rescued

glistening, the Constitution and

what I did, my mom was going to

but also went on to college. Today,

the laws of the United States.

have a heart attack.

she dreams of becoming a police

Shyima Hall, 22, had just

officer or an immigration agent,

become an American citizen.

After that conversation, Shyima

made a decision: She wanted to

working to help victims of human

stay in the U.S. and start a new life.


And that is exactly what she did.

I solemnly swear, she began

I can be who I want to be

now, Shyima told reporters after

As for the Ibrahims? They

the ceremony, smiling broadly.

pleaded guilty to involuntary

And that is the most important

started going to school. For

servitude and forced labor. The

part for me . . . that I can be who I

the first time, she had friends,

judge ordered them to pay Shyima

want to be.

Shyima learned English and



Write About Slavery

Kevin Bales says that slavery is like someone is mugging

you and stealing your life. What does he mean? In what ways does this apply to Shyima Hall and
Frederick Douglass? Use details from A Child Slave in California and The Life and Times of
Frederick Douglass in your answer. Send it to SHYIMA CONTEST. Five winners will each
get Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson. See page 2 for details.
Get this
Online SEPTEMBER 3, 2012