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2022 Assembly

 

Damaris House – May Newsletter

 

My dear friends,

This year, May has been for us the month of Orthodox Easter, providing us with the opportunity to gather together and celebrate with the presence of past participants who came with their children to join us in celebration. We would like to express our gratitude to O.U.R. Rescue, the organization that sponsored our festive meals and allowed us to experience some cherished family moments once again. Additionally, we had the chance to remind our beneficiaries of the significance of Easter and share with them its message.

Another piece of wonderful news is that three of our girls have begun job training after successfully completing phase I of the Recovery Program. This transitional phase prepares them for future employment and brings them closer to independence. It is also a time for them to save the money needed for the next phase of transitional housing. Meanwhile, the rest of our girls continue their training in the skill development program, and all of them have progressed to the level of worker, no longer being trainees. This training enables them to earn an income and make plans for their future as well.

Your tangible support is always greatly appreciated, and we rely on it to sustain our work, meeting not only the daily needs of our girls but also preparing them for a promising future. The cost of the job training program amounts to $12,000, equating to $1,000 per month. Additionally, during this period, we acquire supplies for the Skill Development Program such as leather, clay, jewelry materials, and fabric, which amount to $1,000. I cannot emphasize enough that every gift, no matter how small, is incredibly valuable and can make a significant impact.

Thank you for considering this prayerfully.

Please join us in prayer for:

  • The success of the job training program for our girls.
  • Continued provision for the construction of the safe house.
  • Overall protection and safety for the ministry.

Love in Christ,
Dina

RENATE Co-President, Ivonne van de Kar speaks to Vatican News at Talitha Kum Assembly – Religious Orders Against Human Trafficking: Exploitation Happens Everywhere

 

You can access the article here: https://www.vaticannews.va/de/welt/news/2024-05/menschenhandel-talitha-kum-ordensnetzwerk-renate-interview.html

(Photo credit: Vatican News)

Religious orders are at the forefront and well-networked to combat human trafficking, which often occurs directly and unnoticed in society. Currently, the global network Talitha Kum is meeting in Sacrofano near Rome, and we spoke with some participants.

Svitlana Dukhovich, Deborah Lubov, and Christine Seuss – Vatican City

Ivonne van de Kar, from the Netherlands, is one of the two vice presidents of the European Network of Religious Communities Against Human Trafficking (RENATE). In an interview with Vatican Radio, she praises the action plan of the German Bishops’ Conference against human trafficking and urges everyone to remain vigilant about supply chains in their personal purchasing behaviour. RENATE is the European Network of Religious Organizations Against Human Trafficking, one of the numerous institutions united under the Talitha Kum network, which was founded 15 years ago by nuns. Ivonne van de Kar emphasizes that human trafficking occurs everywhere in all societies, even if we often do not want to acknowledge this:

“Everywhere. It’s hard to believe, but it involves exploitation, sexual exploitation, but also in factories, in a shop… People are exploited everywhere, and it is very important that we are aware of this and that we tell each other about it (at events like these, Ed.), but also inform others, and it is very important to know what our fellow sisters in other countries are doing, what others are doing, and what they are fighting against. And that, I believe, is the most important reason we are here, to learn from each other and to hear what is happening in Lebanon or Zimbabwe or Australia. Human trafficking exists everywhere, it is a bit different everywhere, but it exists everywhere, and people are exploited everywhere.”

Listening Back

“Human trafficking exists everywhere, it is a bit different everywhere, but it exists everywhere, and people are exploited everywhere.”

Mostly, it is women who fall into the ruthless machinery of sexual exploitation, but children and men are also vulnerable—no one is truly safe if they are in financial distress, fleeing, or in other difficulties. It’s not just about forced prostitution. Van de Kar finds it especially important that regular consumers become aware of their consumption habits and look closely at where a product or service comes from:

“So, when you buy a new blouse, where does it come from? Where was it made? Which children worked on it? Or when laundry is done in my church, which organization does it for our church? Who does it? Who are these people and where do we buy our supplies for the church? Are they perhaps migrants, do they receive a normal income? Can they live on it? Where do they work? Where do we buy our own stuff? As a church, as a person, and as an organization? People are exploited here with us, but also when we buy something produced in China or Taiwan.”

In this context, van de Kar also praises the action plan against human trafficking presented by the German Bishops’ Conference in December 2022 after two years of joint work with the Santa Marta Group. With nine specific recommendations, the consulted experts provide guidance on how human trafficking can also be combated at the political and law enforcement levels.

“We have heard about this action plan from the German Bishops’ Conference, and we are also using it in Europe because it is so important,” underscores van de Kar: “Where does exploitation occur, and where can something be done? It is not always far away. Sometimes it is very, very close.”

From Victim to Helper

Kris, our second interviewee, can only agree with this. She is a survivor of human trafficking who originally came from a wealthy family but was lured off a train as a naive teenager and forced into prostitution in a major American city. She is also attending the 2nd General Assembly of Talitha Kum in Sacrofano, north of Rome. Kris has become a sought-after expert in the field. She currently serves as the executive director of the Justice Project KC, a nonprofit human rights organization in Kansas City, Missouri, and provides support to women and girls in poverty. She is also a member of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Anti-Trafficking Coalition and the Kansas Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Advisory Board.

“There needs to be a shift in language from victim to survivor to achiever because when people are labelled as victims, it changes their self-image.”

“As someone who survived sexual exploitation and now works with other affected individuals, I really believe the world must unconditionally accept and love these people,” she asserts in an interview with Vatican News. She also calls for a change in how survivors are perceived: “There needs to be a shift in language from victim to survivor to achiever because when people are labelled as victims, it changes their self-image,” says the expert, who has herself endured dark times as a sex slave in the middle of an American city.

Participants at the 2nd General Assembly of Talitha Kum

Male Victims Slip Through the Cracks

There needs to be more “inclusivity” for the many victims, “including our trans victims” who face “a lot of hatred,” as well as “for men and boys who sometimes slip through the cracks.” Society as a whole needs to be “less biased,” “put aside their prejudices,” and “help others achieve justice for themselves,” the expert demands. Looking ahead to the Talitha Kum General Assembly, where religious, especially nuns, and committed lay people from around the world dedicated to combating human trafficking come together, Kris emphasizes that she would like to see a specific focus at the next event:

“I would like them to address the ‘demand,’ the buyers, because they want to tackle the causes. There are many causes, but one of the main ones is that people are still willing to buy other people.” With a wink, she also argues using an ancient economic principle: “If people don’t buy, it’s much harder to sell. I mean, that’s basic capitalist theory. If you don’t have buyers for your product, it’s much harder to sell the product. That’s what I would like to see.”

“If you don’t have buyers for your product, it’s much harder to sell the product.”

However, this requires a lot of awareness, especially among men and boys, that it is wrong to “commodify women and girls as mere toys for men.”

Furthermore, Kris emphasizes the necessity of promoting “the equality of women at all levels, in all phases, in all countries, and everywhere” and always striving for greater equality: “Especially law enforcement must address the demand, and where I live, this is already happening. And when these traffickers are legally and financially penalized, they often withdraw, and that makes a difference. We’ve seen that in my part of the world.”

A Global Network

The Talitha Kum network includes religious, laypeople, young activists, and survivors of human trafficking. The International Union of Superiors General (UISG) established the network in 2009. Talitha Kum aims primarily to offer assistance to boys and girls, women and men affected by human trafficking and to raise awareness of their situation.

Member networks—there are sixty in total—are represented on all continents in 107 countries. Recently, Talitha Kum has established subregional hubs, particularly in Asia and Africa, and in 2023, new networks were founded in Togo and Puerto Rico.

Talitha Kum: Towards a discerned future – a gathering that counts.

 

Author – Brian O’Toole

I was one of the 148 Delegates from over 70 countries that attended this 2nd Talitha Kum Assembly that marks 15 years of Talitha Kum (TK). I was attending as one of the 6 delegates from RENATE, the Religious in Europe Networking Against Trafficking and Exploitation.  The guiding theme of the Assembly was “Journeying Together to End Human Trafficking: Compassion in Action for Transformation”. 60 Talitha Kum networks were represented in Rome, and it is significant to mention that there was a strong youth and lay contingent present to help discern the next steps for Talitha Kum for the next five years.

In the weeks and months in the lead up to the Assembly I was committed to and attended several online preparation seminars and trainings as a group facilitator at our table. We were tasked with facilitation of the “Conversation with the Spirit” as a way of collective discernment given the listening and input that had been prepared for us for each day. Upon meeting our group, we were given some time to spend together, to introduce ourselves, to speak of our work, our hopes, and perhaps too of our expectations for the sessions ahead. We had been asked to bring something from home that would be representative of where we come from. I brought a “sliotar” – a hurling ball, which in and of itself created some interest. I later gave it to Bill, from the USA as a gift going home. He seemed particularly taken with it.  The opening ritual involved all placing those representative and well-chosen items in a sacred space that would be a centre piece for the duration of the Assembly. We were invited to reflect on the symbols as a testament to our diversity, our identity and our experiences, bringing the spirit of those whom we accompany to this gathering.

Sr. Abby Avelino, opened proceedings by inviting us to share and to listen to the voices from the grassroots that would be heard during the week. She reminded us to embrace the TK identity, and to work to strengthen the TK network, explaining that this was a unique opportunity for “dialogue that would allow for emerging strategies by joining forces.” 

Pope Francis reminded us of the moral imperative to fight and act to end Human Trafficking. He told us that “freedom is not a privilege but a right.” TK is a global force for liberation that honours, advocates and supports all volunteers, “each life reclaimed is a testament to faith in action.” This Assembly was presented as an opportunity to rekindle our collective resolve to forge stronger bonds in new and ongoing work.

As part of the welcome, we were told to trust and respect all that we bring to this gathering and to know that all in the room are working to dismantle the structures that facilitate Human Trafficking. In advance of our attendance each of the networks was tasked with the completion of a significant piece of work and 56 of the 60 attending networks had completed this work meaning that we were never more ready than we were at this point to begin to set out the plans for the next 5 years that will in turn, feature in the plans of all the networks attending. It was clear from the beginning that the view and perception of the local work was to feature strongly at the meeting of networks.

The conversations we were to have were inspired by significant contributions that had been strategically planned during the week. One early input introduced us to the neo-liberal economy, a bit wordy, you might say, but essentially it places profit above the person, it’s about unfettered economic growth at the expense of the dignity of those working. It’s about a race to the bottom in terms of rights for those who have the least. We are all familiar with the concept of the widening gap between the richest and poorest, and we are aware that this gap is widening. Additionally, as the rich become richer, the poor are becoming even poorer and sometimes this can lead to an inevitable desperation, creating conditions that are ripe for the trafficker where the pull factors are so appealing, given that the desperation for so many can be just one of the motivating push factors. We were told of the significant increase in online trafficking since the Covid19 Pandemic. We are witnessing the emergence of enabling technology that facilitates increased abuse at a distance and at a remove, meaning that the perpetrator can act with greater impunity. Migration is now a feature of most party manifestos where elections are being held and the welcome is hostile. Countries are looking inward; the politics of kindness, if not already absent, is disappearing fast. Even though we know that migrating is very often the last thing a person wants to do, but climate change, conflict, natural disaster and persecution are real and persuasive push factors. We watch with growing concern the response of countries who should know better.

What we do know for certain is that when people move, there is a vulnerability, a chance that they may meet with or fall into the clutches of traffickers. And what is now even more exasperating is that there is a conflation between the issues of migration and Human Trafficking and that many now don’t see or won’t see that there is a clear and marked distinction between victims of Human Trafficking and Economic Migrants.

Since the last TK Assembly there has been a noticeable increase in the numbers being trafficked. There is an increased number of undocumented workers tied to unscrupulous employers, increased surrogacy, and a pronounced increase in organ harvesting, forced marriage, organised crime, terrorism, kidnapping, war and displacement. We were told that “thousands are rescued while millions are still in darkness.”  We were told of the disturbing involvement of family members in facilitating human trafficking of their own family. We were told how the middleman who lures a victim doesn’t have to be successful all the time. He only needs to successfully lure a victim into being trafficked now and again to be considered successful but that each time he fails he learns to persuade better, he hones his technique, his skill becomes nuanced to succeed and the trusting victim may not stand a chance, such is the deviousness of those involved in the trafficking of people.

We listened to disturbing stories of families selling their own children into “sex work” knowingly, such is the poverty and desperation. It was becoming clear from the very beginning of the Assembly that progress would involve both victims and survivors and the visibility of TK must be heightened in the church and with the public. We were being encouraged to take risks, to be bold, not to shy away, but to confront, to challenge, to engage, to be forthright, to be courageous and unafraid.

It was becoming apparent from the synthesis of the group’s feedback, that strengthening the network needs to be a priority. The issues of Human Trafficking need to be aired in parishes, they need to be part of ongoing parish conversations, and even wider than that, we need to encourage all to be part of a new interfaith understanding and activism that dismantles, disrupts and thwarts the traffickers at every turn.

We need to be advocates for the restoration of dignity, for a sincere human rights response that leads to lasting transformational change. “We need to continue to feed our networks to help them to grow. TK needs to be more visible in the church.”  And central to this is the role that victims and survivors can and must play with our gentle accompaniment.

Again and again, the spirituality of TK was referenced as a guiding beacon, a powerful tool, a sustaining and energising force that binds us together, strengthens our network and takes care of all when the path becomes tough. In an effort to discern, we were guided in our reflection by carefully prepared inputs, one of which referenced migration as the issue of the times. For us, we understand that when people move, they are vulnerable and often the sudden reason for the move may indeed exacerbate the vulnerability.

The UISG offer free training (only 4 hours) at an easy pace that offers a more in-depth understanding of the dynamics at play when people migrate, and we have been encouraged to avail of this training and to offer this invitation to all who are in our networks. People have always been on the move but of growing concern is the hostile welcome that is being afforded to migrants. In many countries there is a narrative that conflates the issue of human trafficking with migration and so victims are not being seen as victims and this exacerbates the problem. May be an image of map and text

We know now that people migrate to seek out a better life and for better job opportunities. People also move because of conflict, climate change or religious persecution. Political instability can also be a reason so many people move, natural disaster, human rights violations or maybe it could be just as simple as resource scarcity.

Where a sudden move happens, we see an increase in vulnerability, take for example the women and children who had to suddenly move from Ukraine in March of 2022.

TK recognises that over time they have become very good at helping those who become victims, they can speak to the issues of human trafficking with facility but what is really concerning is that there are more and more victims in need of help and this constant need mitigates TKs ability to affect the numbers that are becoming trafficked. The numbers are on the increase and some of this is down to authorities (and governments) that stigmatise victims or survivors, police that collude, poor legal support for victims, too few prosecutions and the utter fear that is instilled in the victims by the traffickers. In many countries where TK is working, we heard again and again of the uphill battle that the Sisters face when corrupt systems collude to thwart their efforts. “Too often, the trafficker is protected by politics.” Staying power is what is required! The Sisters also know that to some extent that they are respected and that this can be of use when leveraging the freedom of a victim from the clutches of a trafficker.

In all of what we heard and learned over the course of the week’s Assembly there was one lesson that resounded, that there are layers that we cannot touch or reach and in accepting this we must remember to leave space for God to work and to trust in the slow work of the Lord. When what happens isn’t as we planned or hoped for, we need the spiritual strength to persist and in accepting this we begin to network with a new authority.

And what of advocacy, as a tool for change? We listened to youth ambassadors tell us that “hope is not a strategy and that efforts to tackle human trafficking need to be more than aspirational.” “Hope can be the force that compels us into action.” “The solutions to some of the most intractable of problems can be found when we create wider circular tables to include every caste, class and religion.” And so many are now sure that “every survivor can contribute to ending Human Trafficking.” “Protecting and praying in a time of crisis is ‘doing’ and ‘acting’ for change.” “We must continue to build the trust that we all feel is breaking.”

Such is the wisdom that inspires the final declaration that we were reminded that “it is not enough that you love the victims and survivors, they must know that you love them.” Empowering women and girls, gives way to empowering a generation. Those empowered contribute positively to both family and society.  Such was the sincerity of all attending that it was felt that, “when we share a breath, we are family”

The youth at the Assembly were vocal, articulate and measured. Their message rings loudly after the Assembly is over when they told us. “The youth are today, they are now, tomorrow is too late.” Such was their welcome presence at the Assembly that they have been recognised as champions of change.”

Sr. Pat Murray, Executive Director of Talitha Kum was one of the final speakers to the gathered delegates and she urged us all to “make Human Trafficking a key ministry for this century.” She also told us that every single action counts, never mind how small it is. It matters! “We are being called and pushed to find new ways to combat Human Trafficking.”

The final declaration sets out our collective plan for the next 5 years and it is a living document that urges us to “listen carefully to the whispering cries of the victims of human trafficking and to run to their aid.” The message is clear: just put “one foot in front of the other, even when the road ahead isn’t visible.”

To take the free course on Migration you need to email, rete.migranti@uisg.org and they will facilitate your request.