“When spider webs unite, they tie up a lion.” [Ethiopian Proverb]
In earlier articles on this page, we acquainted you with the efforts of Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and other religious sisters to combat human trafficking in Africa in 2019. Here is an update on the collective efforts of our Sisters and other women religious to render the strong lion of exploitation and slavery helplessly bound – one slim thread at a time.
We have this report from Sr. Eucharia Madueke, a member of Base Community who is missioned to work with the African Faith and Justice Network (AFJN) here in DC. In 2020, the sisters planned a National Day of Prayer and Match against human trafficking. These activities that got a national and regional publicities and were planned to feature many prominent Ugandans civil and religious leaders got placed on hold until further notice because of covid-19 lockdown.
Given that there is much to be done to achieve justice for women and children in Uganda, AFJN and the Sisters did not leave the mission field. Rather they used available online technology and social media platforms to reach out to their audiences. During the relaxation of national lockdown that allowed small group meetings, the sisters began to reach out to the people in a manageable number to avoid endangering anybody’s health.
Zoom Meetings and Radio Shows
AFJN held first zoom meeting with the sisters in the month of May after many phone calls planning this meeting. The meeting was to discuss ways they can maintain a presence with the people amidstthe COVID-19 lock down. At this meeting, the sisters expressed great concern over the high rate of domestic violence. The also noted that human trafficking continued even with the lockdown. Given the problems on ground and the covid-19 restriction, AFJN decided to work with the Sisters (SNDDeN and other orders) on the use of social media for advocacy. First, they composed a prayer Against Domestic Violence and distributed it through various social media platform available to the sisters. In June, July and August, the Sisters hosted 18 weeks of radio talk shows in Lira and Fort Portal regions focusing the talk shows on educating the public and answering their questions on human trafficking and domestic violence. The Sisters also used this means to state publicly their stand against human trafficking and other form of violence to women and children. The radio talk show was so successful in educating the masses given the large number of people that tuned in to the program and the volumes of questions that were asked. Both the radio station and the public pleaded for the continuance of the program, but the Sisters and AFJN have had to stop due to lack of funds for airtime. This is an area in which donations – even small dollar donations – would greatly help the Sisters raise their voices over those of the traffickers, who deceitfully promise high paying jobs overseas, and deliver only sickness, indignity and slavery.
Sisters’ Ministry During Partial Lockdown
The first physical gathering during the partial lockdown was meeting in small groups in a local community incompliance with government requirement that demand holding meeting in a manageable number. Mindful that human trafficking tears Ugandan families apart; making families not living the African philosophy that “there is no bush good enough to throw away a bad child”; a belief that requires each member of the family to look out for others irrespective of life circumstances, the Sisters set out to correct this wrong and to continue their education on human trafficking.
In an attempt to address the negative impact of human trafficking on the individuals, families and communities at large, the Sisters held a one-day workshop for residents of Hope Community Development Initiative (HOCODI -Uganda), a government establishment to train poor Uganda women on employable skills. (Poverty and the lack of employable sills often lead poor Ugandan women and their family to fall prey to the enticements of misleading employment offers by traffickers.) AFJN/ the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur hopes for funding to train and set these young women up in businesses, such as as a seamstress or tailor shop owner. St. Julie Billiart, one of the SNDDeN foundresses, also trained young women in needlework as a path to self-sufficiency.
At the gathering of the twenty-night young women and five of HOCODI staff, the sisters discovered that thirteen of these girls are survivors of human trafficking and seventeen were preparing to travel abroad ( e.g., to be trafficked). The survivors, three of them sponsored by AFJN, shared their exploitative experience in the hands of their traffickers overseas. They also shared their feelings of abandonment and lack of understanding from families and communities.
At the end of their tear-filled and emotional sharing, the young women preparing to travel abroad vowed not to travel anymore. One of them said; “I cannot make the mistake of going abroad after listening to these stories.” At the end of the gathering, the survivors requested a space to share with the family and community members their experience. Believing that this space for experience sharing will advance a better understanding between the survivors and their families and facilitate survivor re-integration back to their families and communities, the Sisters took up the challenge. Currently, they have had two gatherings of this nature in the Fort-Portal region for the re-integration of survivors of human trafficking: one with parents and female survivors; the other with male survivors and their local council government leaders.
Meeting of Parents and Female Human Trafficking Survivors – “I did not recognize my daughter…”.
The first gathering of parents and the survivors included thirty five participants among were a dozen of female survivors and their parents, representatives of two Local Government Council chairpersons, a religious leader from the community and two staff from HOCODI head office. At the gathering, each survivor had the opportunity to her story about their exploitative experience in the hand of their traffickers. Parents were also given the change to share their own experience of welcoming their daughters home. All of them agreed that they were disappointed when their daughters came back as they see their return as a failure and a shattered hope of them making money and sending home to help solve family financial needs. Some of the parents shared that they were reluctant to welcome their daughters back home. One mother said “ I did not recognize my daughter when she came back, because she came back extremely sick and I had no money to take her to the hospital.” Another said that she took her daughter to the hospital because she was in great pain. She spent a lot of money on her to get tests and treatments, yet her pain persisted. At the end of a very painful but healing meeting, the group requested more meetings, as well as holding a similar gathering for male survivor. The participants created four groups to mobilize and hold similar meeting with more female survivors and their parents.
Meetings Between Families and Male Trafficking Survivors
The second survivors’ gathering included 10 male survivors and their parents,10 local council chairpersons and some Catholic Youths. Like the female survivors, the gathering was devoted to giving the males an opportunity to share their story in the presence of their parents, and especially the local government leaders, who are the ones that often recommend, allow and approve the young people to go “‘overseas”. Their sharing was painful. Both parents and government leaders were surprised to hear the horrible experience of their sons. Most of them felt that their sons were going there to get rich and fight poverty in their families. One government leader acknowledged his ignorance of the survivors’ experience. He said, “ I have learned a lesson today, I have recommended people to traffickers unknowingly, thinking that the are going outside to get rich but instead they are going to get diseases and mistreatment”. At the end, participants pledged to fight human trafficking. The government leaders pledge to be voices of the youth whenever they meet other government leaders. The Catholic Youth leader invited to the meeting pledge to mobilize other youth against trafficking. He also promised to use the diocesan radio station to continue to education the masses on the general impact of human trafficking.
Conclusion – Help the Sisters “Tie Up The Lion”.
The Sisters and AFJN believe in that power of the local people to end these vices. The energy and commitment of the Sisters and the African Catholic youth are bearing fruit. Together, they will continue to mobilize the power of the people through education and network building. In the coming years, they desire to build the capacity of the local catechists in the Fort Portal region to fight human trafficking and domestic violence. Catechists in Uganda are amvital arm of the Church devoted to rural education of children, parents, and communities. When this group that is highly respected in the rural communities is fully mobilized to be part in the fight against human trafficking and other forms of violence against women and children, the fight against evil will succeed. If you want to support SIster Eucharia and the other Sisters in this fight, your funds as well as your prayers are needed. AFJN and the Sisters want to hold more conferences like these to expose the evil of traffickers. More funds for radio spots by the Sisters and other clergy like those shown in the accompanying picture are a critical need. We also would want to continue to support the efforts of the Ugandan Sisters by providing them funds for transport and meeting costs in rural communities. Very few foundations offer grants for travel and housing,, but in rural Africa, where long distances are involved, such costs are not incidental or trivial. A new goal is to establish a small shelter for victims fo trafficking in both Uganda and Nigeria, where the survivors can receive housing, food and basic necessities, medical care, counseling, an vocational training. Please donate to the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur so that we can continue to support this work. Add your threads to the web, to “tie up the lion”.