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ICC NOTE: Slavery is not over in Sudan . Slavery is a terrible reality for children presently in Darfur , but for years also in the Christian South, children were kidnapped and taken to the North as slaves. Many were Islamized and given an Arab name.

Filmmaker chronicles human slavery in Darfur

FRED KELLY

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Charlotte Observer 5/22/06 – As Cindy Castano shows visitors pictures from her latest trip to Africa , the images reveal the horrors of slavery.

Pictures of children who have been kidnapped, forced to herd cattle and beaten with sticks are part of a documentary film Castano is producing about a human rights group’s efforts to help free child slaves in southern Sudan.

The images offer a close-up glimpse into slave trade and atrocities in Sudan that have drawn attention locally and worldwide.

Castano, a Charlotte filmmaker, followed relief workers from Christian Solidarity International, a Switzerland-based human rights group, as they worked to win freedom for 386 children and adults by offering slave masters medicine for cows.

She plans to complete the documentary this summer.

Last month, 12 of the rescued boys told relief workers they were kidnapped so young that they don’t remember their parents. When slave masters freed them in exchange for cow vaccine, Castano recalled, the air filled with “shouts of hallelujah.”

“It was an extraordinary moment,” she said. “It was literally their first taste of freedom.”

In 1997, Castano was working as an investment banker in Switzerland when she first heard about modern-day slavery from acquaintances who worked for the United Nations.

“I was shocked,” she said. “I felt incredible sorrow.”

At the time, Castano recalls, she lived in an expensive home overlooking a vineyard, drove a Mercedes Benz and traveled the globe, staying in five-star hotels and resorts.

But she quit her job and decided to make the documentary films after she met Christian missionaries working to free slaves in Sudan . One woman’s family had been killed in front of her and others were poor, but Castano said she was struck by how happy they seemed.

“Everything (in my life) was nice and pretty, but it was superficial,” she said. “I looked into my future and I saw unhappiness.

“I figured if you use wealth to help others, it’s a greater wealth.”

`They are people, not an issue’

Castano filmed as human rights activists worked with Sudanese groups to gain the release of slaves in cattle camps. Cattle are a prized possession in Sudan .

After they were freed, some told missionaries how they were mistreated. One told them he had been dragged by a horse as a punishment for upsetting his master.

“One boy had malaria, but he kept working because they thought they would be killed,” Castano said. “If they lost a cow, they could lose a finger (as punishment).”

Less exposure has been given to the slavery than the violence in Darfur , where allegations of genocide have captured worldwide attention. Many of the women and girls are used as sex slaves, while others are forced to herd cattle or perform other agricultural tasks, said John Eibner, one of the missionary workers that Castano followed for her documentary.

“I will never forget the fear and anxiety written across the faces of the slaves when we first set eyes on them.”

While clicking through pictures on a desktop computer, Castano said she hopes the film will bring the public’s attention to the tragedy.

“There are a lot of people who don’t have a voice,” she said. “They are people, not an issue.”