The workshop allows us to raise our voices for the voiceless
In mid-August, I traveled 12 hours to the capital of Tanzania, for a workshop organized by Africa Faith and Justice Network, or AFJN, and the Tanzanian Catholic Association of Sisters. I was excited to represent my congregation, meet other sisters, and learn something new.
I was not deceived. Over the course of three full days, 88 sisters, from different religious communities across Tanzania, studied issues of justice, human dignity, child protection, human trafficking (around the world and especially in Tanzania) and advocacy as a Christian vocation. It was a revelation and a moving experience.
Notre Dame de Namur Sr. Eucharia Madueke, AFJN Women’s Empowerment Coordinator, reflected on the song “Who will Speak?” (âWho will speak if you don’t?â) – for the poor and the broken, the oppressed, the voiceless, the abused children and women, the rejected and the excludedâ¦ the weak and the old? Who will speak the truth in places of power, “Who will speak so that their voice is heard?” “
Use of biblical passages from Genesis 1: 26-28; Isaiah 1:17 and Amos 8: 5-6, she highlighted the plight of suffering humanity at risk of trafficking and torture. It was a deep reflection on the dignity of each person and the importance we have before God.
I found myself crying softly as I wrote, âThere are so many issues going on and going on in our society that destroy human dignity, [such as] child abuse and [the abuse of] vulnerable people. There is a lot of suffering in society that needs us to stand up and express ourselves, to work and take care of them. I have and must raise my voice for the voiceless. Who will speak if I don’t? We have to travel to listen, hear and see what people encounter in their daily lives in our villages and the societies around us. We need the grace and mercy of God to help and save suffering humanity, the vulnerable people who are at risk of abuse and trafficking. It is we who speak and raise our voices for the voiceless. “
Most of the comments from the many presenters that followed were very new to me and to the other participants.
In an interactive presentation on social analysis, Fr. Barthelemy Bazemo showed the link between human trafficking and rape, labor law violations, sexual exploitation, kidnapping, prostitution and murder ; and how lack of access to education and information was linked to child marriage.
Bro. Aniedi Okure said that human trafficking is just a modern fancy name for the slave trade – in some ways worse than before. Technology and our global links have facilitated human trafficking in new ways, and relatives and friends are often involved. He reminded us of the saying: âThe ruin of a nation begins in the homes of its peopleâ.
Many victims of trafficking from East Africa are taken to Middle Eastern countries under the pretext of employment. Once there, passports and other identity documents are withdrawn, they are objectified and subjected to all kinds of inhuman treatment: slavery!
I was particularly hurt when Father Aniedi quoted a woman who said, âI can’t help it, but when I see an African, I see a slave. Our sisters, nieces and daughters, brothers and nephews are objectified, treated as disposable goods and subjected to all forms of indignity. I was also shocked to learn that some people are trafficked for organ harvesting.
Denis Mpagaze, commissioned by Africa Faith and Justice Network in 2020 to study human trafficking in Tanzania, interviewed 1,200 people: only around 2% showed an understanding of human trafficking. We had a good laugh when we heard that some people thought it was those people standing in the road waving motorists for a turn. Most of those interviewed were unaware of internal trafficking, practiced inside the country, from villages to towns, under false promises of education, employment opportunities and a better life. When they arrive in the cities, they are subjected to forced labor, sexual slavery or inhuman treatment.
Dodoma District Regional Police Commander Teresia Mdemidemi discussed human trafficking in Tanzania: what it entails, the scale of the problem, the laws and sanctions, and the difference between human trafficking. human beings and migrant smuggling.
Sister Margaret from Uganda told us how, after an Africa Faith and Justice Network workshop, they made advocacy visits to six ministries and the Ugandan Parliament. Their advocacy resulted in a revision of the labor export law (which provides an escape route for traffickers), the elimination of a practice of getting young girls in rural areas to beg in rural areas. streets of Kampala and many educational public radio broadcasts.
Father Aniedi reminded us that we are all called to be advocates, and that it is scriptural: Abraham’s call for Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18: 16-32); Queen Esther, who risked her life for her people; the persistent friend in Luke 11: 5-8; and Jesus, who referred to the Holy Spirit as âthe Advocateâ (John 15:26).
When the timid followers of Jesus received the Holy Ghost, they became bold, fearless, committed, and persistent. As Christians and religious, we must be engaged and persistent in our advocacy for a just world. Like the disciples, we must never give up, we must be persistent.
To do successful advocacy work, we must educate – collect information; to organise – build coalitions and networks; and lobby – advocate for change with those who have the power to do so.
The workshop helped us understand our obligation as Christians and religious to denounce injustice, to defend others, to listen to the advice of Saint Catherine of Siena who reminds us, “Tell a million voices the truth. Silence kills.”
Many of us were empowered through this workshop, we found our voice and we speak out – raising awareness in schools and town halls, defending vulnerable members of our society and urging authorities to tackle ills in our society. We see that we must be strong and courageous to face the challenges that may arise. We will not be silent.
A highlight of our workshop was an advocacy visit to the Honorable George Simbachawene, Minister of Interior of Tanzania. Part of its responsibility is to save lives and property and provide community service to Tanzanians. We asked him to use the authority of his office to protect the life and dignity of Tanzanians who are objectified and exploited by human trafficking; set up the protection mechanism for mistreated and exploited migrant workers; and set up a forum to sensitize the general public, in particular in rural areas where many victims come from.
The Minister was impressed that the Catholic Sisters were defending the cause of victims in our society and that we were addressing societal justice issues in the places where we work and in other institutions. He has promised to use the authority of his office to implement what we have asked him to do nationally.
Since then, Sr. Cecelia Boniface of the Little Sisters of Saint Francis of Dar es Salaam has partnered with me to conduct follow-up training on child abuse and human trafficking. We have made advocacy visits with the district commissioner, the welfare officer and other dignitaries. We did radio shows, and we educated sisters in our communities and staff in our institutions. As a result, two non-governmental organizations that saw us in action asked us to partner with them.
Now I understand that the work of justice, peace and advocacy should not be separated from our ministries, whatever they may be. I pray that God will give us the courage to speak out in the face of evil and injustice, because who will speak if i don’t?