In mid-August, I traveled 12 hours to the capital of Tanzania for a workshop organized by the Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN) and the Tanzanian Catholic Association of Sisters. I was excited to represent my ward, meet other sisters, and learn new things.
I was not disappointed. For three full days, 88 sisters from different religious communities from all over Tanzania dealt with the issues of justice, human dignity, child protection, human trafficking (worldwide and especially in Tanzania) and advocacy as a Christian vocation. It was an eye opener and a moving experience.
Notre Dame de Namur Sr. Eucharia Madueke, AFJN coordinator for advancement of women, reflected on the song “Who will speak?” (âWho will speak if you don’t?â) – for the poor and broken, the oppressed, the voiceless, abused children and women, the shunned and outcast … the weak and the elderly? Who will tell the truth in places of power “Who will speak so that your voice may be heard?”
Using scriptures from Genesis 1: 26-28; Isaiah 1:17 and Amos 8: 5-6, she highlighted the situation in which suffering humanity is at risk of trafficking and torture. It was a deep reflection on the dignity of every human being and how important we are before God.
I found myself crying softly as I wrote, “There are so many things that are being done and happening in our society that destroy human dignity, [such as] Child abuse and [the abuse of] vulnerable people. âThere is much suffering in society that requires us to stand up and speak up to work and care for them. I have and must raise my voice for the voiceless. Who speaks when I don’t? We need to go around to listen, hear and see what people are experiencing in our daily lives in our villages and in the societies around us. We need God’s grace and mercy to help and save suffering humanity, vulnerable people who are at risk of abuse and human trafficking. We are the ones who speak for the voiceless and raise our voices. “
Most of the contributions from the many moderators that followed were very new to me and the other attendees.
In an interactive presentation on social analysis, Ms. Barthelemy Bazemo showed the connection between human trafficking and rape, labor violations, sexual exploitation, kidnapping, prostitution and murder; and how lack of access to education and information has been linked to child marriage.
NS. Aniedi Okure said human trafficking is just a modern, fancy name for the slave trade – worse than before, in some ways. Technology and our global connections have made human trafficking easier in new ways, and relatives and friends are often involved. He reminded us of the saying, “The fall of a nation begins in the homes of its people.”
Many East African trafficking victims are brought to Middle Eastern countries under the guise of employment. There passports and other ID cards are taken from them, objectified and subjected to all kinds of inhumane treatment – slavery!
I felt particularly hurt when Father Aniedi quoted a woman who said, “I 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 exposed to all forms of humiliation. I was also shocked to learn that some people are being trafficked for organ harvesting purposes.
Denis Mpagaze, who was commissioned by the Africa Faith and Justice Network to research human trafficking in Tanzania in 2020, interviewed 1,200 people: only about 2% showed understanding of human trafficking. We laughed a lot when we heard that some people thought it was about the people standing on the street waving to the drivers. Most of the respondents knew nothing about internal trafficking in human beings – within the country, from villages to cities, under false promises of education, job opportunities and a better life. Upon arriving in the cities, they are subjected to forced labor, sexual slavery or inhuman treatment.
Teresia Mdemidemi, Dodoma District Police Commander, spoke about human trafficking in Tanzania: what it involves, how big the problem is, the laws and penalties and the difference between human trafficking and smuggling.
Sister Margaret from Uganda told us how she visited six government ministries and the Ugandan parliament after an Africa Faith and Justice Network workshop. Their advocacy led to a revision of the Labor Export Act (which leaves traffickers with a loophole), the abolition of the practice of making young rural girls beg on the streets of Kampala, and numerous public broadcasting programs.
Father Aniedi reminded us that we are all called to be intercessors and that this is biblical: Abraham’s plea 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 called the Holy Spirit âintercessorâ (Jn 15:26).
When Jesus’ shy disciples received the Holy Ghost, they became courageous, fearless, committed, and persistent. As Christians and women religious, we must work hard and tenaciously for a just world. Like the disciples, we must never give up, we must persevere.
To do fruitful advocacy work, we must raising – Collect informations; to organize – Build coalitions and networks; and lobby – Get involved with those who are authorized to do so.
The workshop helped us understand our obligation as Christians and women religious to speak out against injustice, to be advocates for others, the advice of St. Catherine of Siena, who reminds us “Tell the truth with a million voices. It is the silence that kills.”
Many of us have been strengthened through this workshop, we have found our voice and we speak our voice – by raising awareness in schools and at town hall meetings, standing up for the vulnerable members of our society and calling on those responsible to address the grievances in our society. We see that we must be strong and courageous to face the challenges that might arise. We will not be silent.
A highlight of our workshop was an advocacy visit to the Honorable George Simbachawene, the Minister of the Interior of Tanzania. Part of his responsibility is to save lives and property and to provide social services to Tanzanians. We have asked him to use the authority of his office to protect the life and dignity of Tanzanians who are objectified and exploited through human trafficking; Establish a mechanism to protect migrant workers who are abused and exploited; and create a forum to raise awareness among the general public, particularly in the rural areas where many of the victims come from.
The pastor was impressed that Catholic sisters in our society stand up for the victims and that we address problems of social justice in our workplaces and other institutions. He promised to use the authority of his office to implement what we asked him to do at the national level.
Since then, Sr. Cecelia Bonifatius of the Little Sisters of St. Francis of Dar es Salaam has worked with me to provide follow-up training on child abuse and human trafficking. We made advocacy visits with the district commissioner, social worker, and other dignitaries. We have done radio broadcasts and we have trained sisters in our wards and workers in our facilities. This is why two non-governmental organizations that saw us in action asked us to partner with us.
I now understand that the work for justice, peace, and advocacy should not be separated from our ministries, whatever they are. I pray that God will give us the courage to speak in the face of evil and injustice, because who will speak if i don’t?