The second International Counter- Trafficking meeting took place at the Stella Maris Retreat Centre in Howth, Dublin from 23rd to 27th July. It was attended by 12 Sisters of Charity from Australia, California/Venezuela, England/Scotland, Ireland, Malawi, Nigeria and Zambia.
We were blessed to have among us four of our lay collaborators – Diane Kelly from the Immigrant Council of Ireland , Theresa Helm who is the Justice and Peace Coordinator for the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary in Chigwell and is part of Trafficking Awareness-Raising and Campaigning Group (TRAC) in England that our sisters belong to, Sylvia Valdez from St. Columban Parish, Garden Grove in California and Namuchana Mushabati from Women and Law in Southern Africa, a Non- Governmental Organisation based in Zambia. They helped to expand our horizons as we shared, discussed and planned how to effectively tackle the problem of Trafficking in Persons. The meeting was ably facilitated by Sr. Veronica Brand RSHM who also facilitated our meeting in Nigeria in 2010.
The highlight of the meeting seemed to be the field day when we visited two organisations that are working to address the problem of Trafficking in Persons in Ireland. The first organisation we visited was the Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI), which was started by Sr. Stan Kennedy RSC and has been supported financially in its Counter trafficking work by the Irish Province of the Religious Sisters of Charity. Reflecting on the visit to the Immigrant Council of Ireland the participants were struck by the professionalism and commitment of the staff. Some of the other comments from the participants were that seeing someone who had been trafficked and has moved on was touching. Another said hearing the person say about ICI, “they showed me the future”; “They treated me as one of them, not as a client” was moving.
The second organisation we visited was RUHAMA, an organisation started by the Good Shepherd Sisters and Our Lady of Charity Sisters that works with women affected by prostitution and also provides support to women who have been trafficked. Sr.Gerardine Rowley SGS of RUHAMA shared with us, the work of RUHAMA and spoke with great compassion and in a non-judgemental way about the women they encounter that are affected by prostitution or have been rescued from traffickers. She highlighted for us, the little we can do to reach out to someone who has been trafficked, by sharing the story of an elderly Sister who, simply by the quality of her presence and smile had helped a young woman that had been rescued from traffickers feel at home and at ease despite not being able to speak the language of the young woman.
During our week in Howth there were many learnings and new insights into the problem of Trafficking in Persons. Mr Lohan, a volunteer with Cois Tine (a multicultural organisation based in Ireland and started by the Society of African Missions) came to share his insights from a ground-breaking book, published by Cois Tine and for which he was a researcher and co-author, called ‘Open Secrets: An Irish Perspective on Trafficking and Witchcraft’. He shared with us how witchcraft is a reality for some people that have been trafficked into Ireland and also that it is a means used to keep them in bondage. He highlighted the importance of taking cognisance of this if appropriate responses are to be made to victims of Human Trafficking
Throughout the meeting the need for a strategy kept coming up. Given the complexity and enormity of the problem of Trafficking in persons we realised that the problem cannot be tackled without developing an appropriate strategy and having adequate resources in place. We also agreed that we cannot go it alone on this journey of trying to abolish Trafficking in Persons;-we need to work with other organisations and reach out to organisations beyond religious congregations.
We left Howth, enthused and encouraged to keep tackling the problem of Trafficking in Persons – Thanks for the prayers and support of the Congregation.