Friday, October 6, 2017

Report from the Continental Seminar Against Human Trafficking in Bogota, CO

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Over 100 people – women and men, religious and lay – from 20 countries throughout the Americas and Caribbean gathered in Bogota, Colombia August 18-20, 2017 for an international seminar on human trafficking sponsored by CLAR (the Latin American Conference for Religious).  The various networks of women religious working against human trafficking in these countries were present including USCatholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking, Red RAMA, Red KAWSAY, RAHAMIM, UnGrito Pela Vida, and TAMAR
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Lead Organizers of the Continental Seminar Against
Human Trafficking
The theme for the seminar, “salgamos a prisa al encuentro de la vida” (let us go out with haste to encounter life), came from the scripture passage of the Visitation: Mary going out and encountering Elizabeth.  On the opening morning we reflected on where there is an urgent need for us to quickly go out and respond, and who do we encounter?  Responses included feeling a call to the margins, to go to the borders and respond to migrants and the most vulnerable, women and children, to go beyond our own congregations and reach out to more laity and other faith groups, and also to go back to our own congregations to educate, encourage, and inspire them to join us in this important work to end human trafficking.  

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Representatives from the United States including
Jennifer Reyes Lay representing USCSAHT
The three day seminar was broken down into the see-judge-act paradigm, focusing on one each day.  The first day included an educational presentation about human trafficking in general by Dr. Norma Castillo, and included sharing the current reality of trafficking within the various countries represented.  Then there was a presentation focused specifically on migration and its connection to human trafficking.  Participants learned about how forced migration due to a number of different factors including poverty, political repression or instability, and violence create vulnerable populations for human trafficking.  The work to end human trafficking is intricately connected to the work for immigration reform and just international economic policies.  In groups we reflected on Pope Francis’ call to gather, protect, promote, and integrate migrants and refugees in our communities.  How are we already doing this and how/where can we do better? 

Towards the end of the first day we heard a powerful testimony from a survivor of human trafficking who was a former professional soccer player.  This was eye opening as the professional sports world isn’t often thought about as being complicit in networks of human trafficking, but the lure of being able to go to a different country and play professional soccer actually traps a number of people every year into situations of trafficking, particularly as exploited labor.  He shared about the difficulty of victims to receive justice because of the heavy burden on them to prove they were exploited.  This leads into a vicious cycle of victim blaming and re-traumatization, and in many cases even violent threats from those who the charges are brought against.  Unfortunately his traffickers were never prosecuted, but this young man is now an active advocate, raising awareness so other young boys and men don’t fall victim to this same trap like he did.   
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Group leaders report back on discussions from small groups

Day two included a focus on children as well as some deeper theological reflection on the themes covered and general work to end human trafficking.  The presentation on children and human trafficking was given by Dr. Nelson Rivera from the organization Renacer (Reborn), which is a partner with ECPAT, working to end child sex and labor trafficking.  He shared how trying to document child victims of trafficking is very difficult and there are different understandings as to what constitutes trafficking or exploitation of children, especially in the area of labor.  Small groups reflected on what child sex and labor trafficking looks like in each country and what are the challenges in addressing this crime against children.  Many countries throughout Latin America shared that both the culture and the complicity of police and government officials make it very difficult to denounce human trafficking, prevent it, and penalize those responsible. 

Fr. Guillermo Campuzano led the theological reflection, and for many participants it was one of the highlights of the seminar.  He beautifully wove together the themes of human trafficking, migration, and child exploitation with theological reflections inspired by biblical passages and the words of Pope Francis.  Bringing in the themes of this urgent call out into the world, he said that it is through the cries of the victims of human trafficking that God has been and continues to call us.  The direction we need to go is toward those cries.  While there are many different charisms throughout the various religious orders, all charisms connect to this work to end human trafficking because human trafficking is connected to all parts of society (schools, hospitals, social services, churches, families, etc.).  He offered a challenge to those gathered to recover the prophetic nature of their charism. 

Fr. Guillermo celebrating the Eucharist
The day ended with an incredible liturgy led by Fr. Guillermo that was truly the work of the people.  Everyone sat in a circle around a map on the floor of the Americas and Caribbean.  At different parts throughout the liturgy, everyone was invited to participate in constructing the map before us, from placing the dirt on the ground, to lighting and placing a candle in each country present, to sharing the fruits of the earth as fruits of our labor in this work together.  It was a powerful visual representation of an integral ecology that connects not only us humans gathered, but the whole of creation throughout the Americas recognizing that God’s loving and creative presence flows through it all and sustains us in the work we are called to do in the world.  Fr. Guillermo presided over the Eucharist on the ground, on top of the soil, offering a powerful visual of a God who became incarnate, taking on the earthly material substance of creation and unifying God to that creation forever more.  We are all the Body of Christ, broken and blessed and shared with the world. 

Image may contain: indoorThe third and final day of the Seminar was about moving towards action together.  Participants learned about Talitha Kum, the international network of the Vatican against human trafficking, and their vision to encourage networks of religious life against trafficking in every country.  There was space to learn about the various networks currently present working to end human trafficking, and then we split off into regions to do more specific work to collaborate across borders with those closest to us. 

USCSAHT met with Mexico (RAHAMIM) and Central America (Red RAMA and other countries) to reflect on how we can build stronger networks between the countries, share resources, and improve communications in our joint work to end human trafficking and support survivors.  One of the challenges discussed was effective communication and sharing of resources across borders.  Many people from Central America are traveling through Mexico with a destination of the U.S. or Canada, but the networks in Central America don’t know the resources to share in the other countries for those who might need them.  For example, once a Salvadoran reaches Mexico, who can they call if they need help or where are the safe houses along the way?  Who can help them contact their family to let them know they are ok?  And the same for once they cross into the U.S.  Where are the places and who are the people they could reach out to for help?  

Image may contain: 2 people, table and indoorBecause of this conversation one of the goals set forth by the region was to develop a directory of contacts and resources across the countries to be able to use and share as needed to support any potential or current victims of trafficking.  One way that USCSAHT can help with this is to translate more of their information and resources into Spanish, since many victims of both sex and labor trafficking are Spanish speaking from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.  There was also a need expressed to form networks against trafficking in the countries that do not currently have one, and strengthen the networks that are new and still in formation.  All those present affirmed the value of having a cross-continental meeting like this one, and would like to see future opportunities for collaboration and relationship building continue. 

I think it is safe to safe that everyone left the Seminar with a renewed energy and sense of hope in this work, because while it is heartbreaking to see the realities and impacts of human trafficking in our world it is also inspiring to join with one another across countries, cultures, and languages and know that we are not doing this work alone.  We are stronger together.  Rooted in our faith in a God who is incarnate Love and Compassion, we can respond to our call to go out into the world and experience transformative encounter in this work to end human trafficking. 

Written by Jennifer Reyes Lay, Assistant Director of the JPIC Office for the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word and liaison to USCSAHT who attended the Continental Seminar.  

(Read the final report from the Seminar in English HERE

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