It is an extraordinary moment. John Eibner has just completed a transaction with the Sudanese slave trader.
Dressed in chinos, hiking boots, and a T-shirt, the unlikely American slave buyer from Christian Solidarity International (CSI) addresses those he has just liberated.
"I am pleased to report that my negotiations with the trader were successful and that you are all free to go home to your loved ones," Eibner tells them.
Through a translator, the group listens as Eibner regales them with the story of an American teen-ager who sold his car and gave the money to CSI so that they could be freed. Similarly, a schoolteacher in Aurora, a Denver suburb, has raised more than $50,000 for slave redemption.
Eibner explains that some American students were studying slavery and emancipation in school when they read a newspaper article on slavery in Sudan.
"The children raised money by washing cars and helping their mothers," Eibner says. "Some of the money that Barb Vogel and her students raised paid for the freedom of you here today."
Most of the information seems to wash over the dirty, tired group. Even in the shade, the temperature under the hot African sun hovers at around 85 degrees, and there is no water in sight.
Most of the women and children look scared, confused, unsure of whether they are allowed to begin their journey home. So they sit quietly listening to Eibner.
Slavery: An Old Scourge Revisited
Slavery is not a foreign concept to anyone here or to the rest of the million-member Dinka tribe. Arab traders from the northern part of Sudan regularly enslaved the Dinkas until the practice was outlawed by British colonial rulers.
More than a million Sudanese have died in what is now Africa's longest war. Southern black Christians are fighting for autonomy from the Islamist Arab government in Khartoum. The Southerners claim the government is trying to monopolize Sudan's wealth and impose Islam on the Christians.
According to reports from the State Department and the United Nations, Khartoum encourages soldiers to take slaves as payment for combat.
CSI says there were tens of thousands of Dinka slaves in northern Sudan. Eibner says Dinkas are the most vulnerable because their land straddles the frontlines of the civil war that divides the country between North and South.
A diplomat, speaking to CBS News on the condition of anonymity, suggests that CSI's cash has helped fuel the slave trade even as the group has tried to stop it.
The Swiss-based CSI has made more than a dozen trips to the area since 1995. With each trip, the number of slaves increases. When the charity began buying slaves several years ago, there were just a handful. On their latest clandestine trip, CSI bought the freedom of more than 1,050 slaves.
A Slave Comes Home
Angath Yel Anei has no idea how old she is or even her birthday, but she can remember exactly how long she has been a slave. She says it was six years ago when raiders invaded her village and took her away from her husband and three small children.
She was forced to walk hungry for days until she was finally bought by an Arab farmer and pressed into domestic servitude. She turned down her master's advances for days before she was forced to become his sexual slave.
Anei's story is almost identical to other enslaved women. Rape, sexual mutilation, and beatings are all commonplace for Dinka slaves.
But through the ordeal, Anei says she wondered about her family every single day of her captivity. Was her husband killed by the raiders? Were her children enslaved as she was?
As she begins her half-day walk home, Anei wonders about her new freedom. With an illegitimate Arab baby in her arms - the son of her former master - she is terrified of what her husband will think.
Up the road, a man comes out of a tiny mud hut with no roof. As Anei gets closer, she recognizes her husband, Mel Wek Jongluel. Their eyes meet, and they run together and hug. Jongluel picks up the child and hugs him to his breast as if he were his own.
Anei's smile lights up what could have been a tragic scene.
In the small village of Malual Kon, few have enough food. A drought, followed by floods, has washed away any hope of a decent crop. Anei learns that her three children have been sent away to a more prosperous village. The villagers are now totally dependent on food drops from the United Nations program, Operation Lifeline Sudan.
Anei says that despite being hungry, she is happy to be home, even without a roof on her hut and enough food to eat. Her neighbors have heard the raiders are still in the area, and Anei says she can't help but wonder how long she will be free and whether her nightmares will evr end.
Written by Sarah Carter
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