There are heroes, and then there are real heroes. In The Rescue List, documentarians Alyssa Fedele and Zachary Fink follow the work of Challenging Heights founded by James Kofi Annan and its work rescuing children sold into slavery along the shores of Lake Volta in Ghana, West Africa.
Lake Volta is the largest human-made lake in the world. Abundant with fish, thousands of children are forced into child labor succumbing to slavery and physical abuse of fishers through most of their childhood. The Rescue List documents the rescue efforts of Challenging Heights by following two boys, Edem and Peter.
“…documents the rescue efforts of Challenging Heights by following two boys, Edem and Peter.”
The Rescue List starts with the rescue. Former child slave, Kwame trolls the shores of Lake Volta looking for boys working the fishing nets. Here Kwame finds Peter maintaining the nets with some older boys. Suspecting Peter is not related to the others, Kwame forcibly rescues Peter leaving a letter for Peter’s master explaining his intentions.
Upon his arrival at the rehabilitation center, Challenging Heights, Peter is given a hot meal, bed, education, and most important safety. The center supports 600 children at one time with the ultimate goal of returning the kids to their home or village.
Years separated from family, subjected to hard labor and abuse causes irreparable damage to any child. Counseling and rehabilitation are vital for reintegrating children back into society, which brings us to Edem. Enslaved at 7-years-old Edem is reserved and unable to talk about his experiences with his master. Over time with the assistance of the center’s social workers, Edem opens up about what happened with Steven, his only friend who worked alongside him as a slave as well.
No master ever enslaves just one child; there is always another. The list in The Rescue List refers a growing list of children to rescue. At the center, investigative work takes place by interviewing kids getting the location where they were held, the names of their masters, and the names of other children enslaved with them. In the case of Peter, there is his friend Teye.
“No master ever enslaves just one child; there is always another.”
Once there is a list of children and locations, Kwame walks from village to village speaking with the village chiefs and negotiating the release of these children. The goal of this mission is to find and rescue Teye.
On average a child spends a year at Challenging Heights, and then each child is evaluated for returning them to their families. The return is the most engaging moment of the film. Kids are reunited with mothers bringing up feelings of abandonment. Then who’s to say they won’t return to slavery upon their return.
As a documentary, The Rescue List is top notch from the bravery of the rescuers, the trauma and joy of the victims to the apprehensive return home. The access that Fedele and Fink have to the center, the kids, slave masters, and families is remarkable. The power of this film is that it’s all real.
The Rescue List (2018) Directed by Alyssa Fedele and Zachary Fink. The Rescue List screened at the 2018 San Francisco International Film Festival.
4.5 out of 5 stars