The social media power photographer Brandon Stanton and his wildly popular blog, Humans of New York (HONY), have continued to go global. This past month, Stanton took his talents to Pakistan, where he photographed (and later posted to his blog) heart-wrenching images of men, women, and children — from a twentysomething whose father was killed in a suicide bombing in 2003 to an abused single mother battling Hepatitis C to a young man struggling to support himself and his two sick brothers fighting cancer and polio. The Pakistan images went viral (thanks in part to HONY's 14-million-plus Facebook followers). They also shed light on an issue the country is facing that is not readily covered in the media: forced bonded labor — a frighteningly common type of modern-day slavery. Throughout the country of Pakistan, an estimated four million people have been tricked and forced into working at brick kilns, usually in exchange for a small loan.
A meeting with one woman, Syeda Ghulam Fatima, a social advocate whom Stanton describes as "a modern-day Harriet Tubman," particularly stands out. Stanton writes: Fatima has devoted her life to ending bonded labor. She has been shot, electrocuted, and beaten numerous times for her activism. Quite literally, she places herself between the workers and their owners. The organization she leads, the Bonded Labour Liberation Front, is small but determined. It is working to set up Freedom Centers throughout rural Pakistan so that every bonded laborer has access to advocacy and legal aid. To help Fatima reach her goal of, as Stanton puts it, "providing education, legal assistance, and rehabilitation" to these workers, Stanton created an Indiegogo campaign that aims to raise money for the cause (he notes that Fatima's organization currently functions on a very limited budget). Within the past four days, over $2.2 million dollars have been donated.
“This was motivated by nothing more than genuine compassion and a desire to empower a woman who’s devoted her life to freeing people trapped in modern slavery,” Stanton said in a recent post. And, as heartbreaking as Fatima's story is, it's incredibly moving to know how powerful social media (despite all its negatives) can be in improving the lives of people around the globe. Although Stanton often profiles people who are struggling victims of a deeply flawed society, the stories of individuals like Fatima — those who are fighting day after day for their people — are especially gripping. In the final post of his Pakistan project, Stanton notes the overwhelmingly negative mentality that outsiders have towards the country and its people. In order to help dispel this kind of thinking, Stanton is doing what he does best: telling as many stories as possible, because they all matter.