By Dr. George Belitsos
Mark Little, the founder of RAGAS, has received the Member of Order of the British Empire Award as announced on her Majesty the Queen’s 2022 New Year’s Honors list. The award recognizes Mark for his tireless service fighting human trafficking and modern slavery for the past two decades. For those of us Rotarians who reside in nations outside the UK, we cannot fully recognize the size and meaning of this very exclusive honor bestowed by the UK Cabinet Office and Queen Elizabeth II. In Mark’s own words, “It was a shock, but a very pleasant one because the award also publicized the fact that modern slavery exists and that there are activists who are attempting to do something about the situation.”
While the MBE Award recognizes Mark Little’s volunteer work supporting organizations that are fighting the scourge of HT/MS, it also recognizes his work in driving this global issue within Rotary. Mark began his HT/MS battle in 2001 after watching a TV documentary. Within four months, he traveled to India to visit two of the child slave rehabilitation centers featured in the documentary. Over the next few years, Mark made similar trips to India, Nepal, and Thailand. Mark described his early volunteer work as follows. “I have visited numerous child slave rehabilitation centers, safe houses and trafficking shelters to ascertain what is needed at those centers and initiated many anti-slavery projects which involved prevention, rescue, rehabilitation and reintegration of survivors back into their own homes.”
The photo below shows Mark Little riding on a bus purchased with money he raised to transport victims from safe houses to job training, schools, and medical clinics.
As a member of the world’s largest service organization, Mark recognized that Rotary, (with clubs in over 90 nations), had the potential to organize and lead the global fight against human trafficking/modern slavery. Mark began to champion the HT/MS issue within Rotary. Despite five years of pushback (2004-2009) and several significant roadblocks as a result of trying to promote modern slavery as a major humanitarian problem to be tackled by Rotarians, Mark was not deterred. Mark said, “On the advice of former RI President Bhichai Rattakul, the only course of action left was for me to set up a Slavery Action Group within Rotary, with a view to eventually gaining the approval of the RI Board as a Rotarian Action Group. Consequently, an Action Group of Rotarians Against Child Slavery was formed just before the RI Convention in Birmingham in 2009. The very first signature of support which we received at that Convention was from former RIBI President Gordon McInally, who will be RI President in 2023/24.” Mark believes that McInally will be a great supporter of the RAG when he takes office. Unfortunately, in the earlier years of this millennium, Mark was often advised by senior Rotarians that grappling with modern slavery was a social and political issue, not a humanitarian one to be taken on by Rotary International.
Mark served as RAGAS founder and board chair for ten years when he was succeeded by the current chair, Dave McCleary. Mark continues to contribute as an emeritus member of the RAGAS board. Mark recently wrote, “I will still be doing my best to continue to help RAGAS to persuade RI to consider “modern slavery” as an important humanitarian issue for Rotarians to consider combating. Indeed, in the next few weeks, I shall be persuading my own Norwich St. Edmund Rotary Club to once again agree to a Petition which will support Resolution 21R-28 which was submitted by District 6000 (Iowa, USA) to the Council on Resolution last year. On November 1st, 2021, that Resolution was agreed by the Council that it should be forwarded to the RI Board for consideration and hopefully approval at its February 22nd-24th 2022 meeting.
Have you seen a copy of George’s specimen draft Petition? I plan to persuade other Rotary clubs to also agree to submit a Petition directly to the RI Board. The more Petitions, supporting Resolution 21R-28 and pressuring the RI Board to approve the Resolution, the better.”