It is not a time to watch depressing things. There is enough going on in the outside world to be sad about that we don’t need to also spend our time watching grief filled television. The Rescue List, part of PBS’s excellent POV series, seems to understand that. Depite its sometimes horrifying and heartbreaking subject matter, it shows that even in such darkness there can be light.
In the African country of Ghana child trafficking is a reality for many. Poverty and other reasons leads to some parents or family members selling kids off to others for small amounts. Those people then take the kids and force them into a life of labour and abuse.
Directors Alyssa Pedele and Zachary Fink’s film brings us into that world. On the Volta, a manmade lake, in Ghana there are people who earn their living fishing. The dark side of that is that their fishing income is earned off the backs of young boys. Young boys who have been purchased from their poverty stricken families. This lake, which is a source of life due to the water and fish for many is also a place of horror for some young boys.
These young boys are not there by choice. Hardly fed and wearing filthy clothes they are forced to fish and untangle nets from dawn to dusk. They earn no money; this is slavery. They are young as many start “working” here when they are younger than 10 and contiue through their teen years.
The Rescue List focuses on a man, who had been trafficked himself, who undertakes to rescue as many of these boys as he can . When he gets them from their boats in the water or convinces those who own them to surrender them, he brings them to a hidden safehouse in the Ghanaian forest. There they will be safe for the first time in many years.
Kwame has recscued many boys like Peter and Edem. We follow these two as they go to school, wash clothes, play soccer, and undertake some counselling sessions with two social workers. They have lived the lives of slaves for as long as they can remember. Now, it is time to heal and recover. If that is possible. Then maybe go home.
The film shows the friendships that these young boys cling to while undergoing the abuse. Friendships that become so important to them that they are hesitant to leave their friends despite the lure of being rescued. When they have settled into the safehouse/school they give the social workers and Kwame the names of those friends left behind in the hopes that they too can be rescued and reunited.
Loads of sad moments here. Sad moments as you understand how awful these young boys’ lives have been. How at such a young age they have been made to suffer. Your heart breaks during scenes like when 12-year-old Edem stands on the shore saying a prayer for his friend Steven, who died while trying to untangle a net. 17-year-old Peter wants his friend, Teye who is still fishing, rescued. He is the only real friend he has known and wants safety/school/a future for him as well.