The summer before I entered sixth grade, my family relocated to Montreal, Canada from Israel. I was only ten years old and scheduled to enroll in an all French Jewish day school. There was only one problem. I did not speak a word of French.
Half way through the first semester, the general studies teacher, Madame Entebbe, assigned a science project that needed to be completed in self-selected pairs. I remember dreading the inevitable moment when I would be the last one left without a project partner. After all, who in their right mind would want to pair up with the immigrant? About half way through the pairing process, I heard the scratchy voice of a popular boy yell out “Madame, I would like to work with Eliav.” With me? Why would he do that? He knew he was in for more than his fair share of work. I was elated by the kind gesture and I went home that day excited to tell my parents that I had made a friend. That friend was Steve Maman.
It is now thirty years later and Steve Maman still lives in Montreal with his wife and children, where he runs an international collectible automobile business. For now, that business enterprise is on hold. There are no new cars entering the showrooms, no flashy exhibitions being set up and for the time being, there are no grandiose auctions to attend. Steve is now consumed by a new passion — a passion driven by the same empathy he displayed as a ten year old. Steve is a human trafficker. Yes. You read correctly. Steve is fully immersed in the rescue of Christian and Yazidi children that have been captured by ISIS fighters during its onslaught of large portions of what was once known as Iraq.
With extensive business contacts in the Gulf States, Steve came across an opportunity to rescue girls captured during the invasion of the northern city of Mosul. Unable to turn his back on this unique opportunity, Steve proceeded with the first “transaction” with the assistance of deeply embedded intermediary brokers.
Aptly nicknamed “The Jewish Schindler”, Steve, is the founder and President of CYCI (The Liberation of Christian and Yazidi Children of Iraq). With trusted liaisons on the ground, CYCI has successfully purchased the freedom of young women and children that have been subjected to rape, torture and other unspeakable abuse.
In collaboration with the Kurdistan Genocide office, the rescued women and children share the gruesome details of their captivity through a catalogued set of videos and notes. This well structured approach has received support of Zainab Bangura, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, as well as from Canon Andrew White, Vicar of Baghdad. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney, Canada’s Minister of National Defense and Minister for Multiculturalism have also taken interest in CYCI’s important work.
To date, CYCI has financed and facilitated the rescue of over 120 women and children. Initial grassroots funding from the Montreal Jewish community has now expanded to an international network of global support. However, notwithstanding the growth in funding, opportunities to liberate captives still continue to outpace available financial resources.
This shortfall in resources means that while the western world is up in arms about a dentist who hunted a lion, it remains largely indifferent to the plight of thousands of innocent victims of systematic, callous brutality. This crisis is not the first to occur during the digital age. In fact, the War in Darfur, which claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands non-Arab Sudanese was well documented and reported between 2003 and 2006. What makes this crisis unique is that not only are the atrocities being committed well reported, even more repugnantly, ISIS has used the very tool that should awaken the world from its heartbreaking apathy — the internet — to advertise its brutality and recruit additional oppressors.
Thankfully, the same empathetic ten year old, Steve Maman, who brought a smile to my face thirty years ago, is proving to be a paragon of decency and humanity in his relentless pursuit of freedom for Christian and Yazidi children. For further information, go to CYCI’s website.