Churches embrace Freedom Sundays for global sex trafficking victims

John Lyon is Chief Programs Officer for World Hope International While most Americans spend summer holidays celebrating their freedom, 27 … Continued

John Lyon is Chief Programs Officer for World Hope International

While most Americans spend summer holidays celebrating their freedom, 27 million people Americans included remain stripped of their freedom due to human trafficking. However, there are ways to help combat this devastating, worldwide injustice.

With a recent campaign, World Hope International (WHI), an international Christian NGO, aimed to provide an avenue for justice-seekers and churches across the country to lead the fight against human trafficking with a month-long campaign. The project, called Freedom Sundays, raised awareness of trafficking within congregations and communities through educational materials, survivor stories, special sermons and fundraising events. Congregations help fund a survivor of trafficking’s full rehabilitation and reintegration with society during these events.

I just returned from Sierra Leone a few weeks ago where I saw first-hand the positive effects Freedom Sundays can have on a survivor’s road to recovery. While visiting, I encountered a survivor named Cora*. At 11 years old, Cora’s abusive and desperate aunt arranged for her sale and marriage to an older village man, who proceeded to sexually abuse and rape her several times a week. By age 12, Cora was pregnant and she eventually delivered a stillborn child. Cora was left post-delivery in a small room alone, untreated and uncared for waiting to die.

Despite trafficking’s continued presence, however, there is hope. For example, in Sierra Leone, the country was recently upgraded in the U.S. Department of State’s 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report. Sierra Leone’s improvement in rank indicates a decrease in the number of reported trafficking cases, and an increase in government and NGO efforts to eliminate trafficking. International NGOs remain on the ground and fully engaged in promoting anti-human trafficking efforts to ensure the country’s progress continues.

Utilizing a two-fold approach to the issue, we operate an emergency aftercare center for recovering survivors of trafficking, plus advocates for prevention through community-based education in Sierra Leone. Village Parent Groups (VPGs), WHI’s prevention arm of anti-trafficking, equip key community stakeholders with the knowledge and resources necessary to fight trafficking. These community leaders utilize awareness-raising activities to educate their communities on the signs of human trafficking, how to prevent it and how to report it. When trafficking cases are reported, VPGs work to provide physical and psychological care for the survivor, referring high-trauma cases to WHI’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Recovery Center.

WHI’s TIP Recovery Center, Sierra Leone’s only holistic high-trauma aftercare center, admits survivors into its high security facility for an average of three to six months, providing them with immediate and safe residential care, post-traumatic counseling and psychosocial care, medical assessment and care, balanced nutrition and sleep schedules, plus daily education, life skills sessions, sports and recreation, arts and crafts lessons and vocational training.

Had it not been for the TIP Recovery Center, I believe Cora would not be alive today. Six months after she gave birth, Cora was finally admitted into a nearby medical clinic. She had lost all ability to use her legs, and her case was declared “the worst fistula case” clinic staff had ever seen. The clinic referred the case to WHI’s TIP Recovery Center, who immediately admitted Cora into the center and began what would be a year-long process towards recovery. Upon entering the center, Cora was paralyzed from the waist down, unable to eat, sleep, shower or move on her own. After months of extensive physical therapy and muscle training, Cora took her first step.

Upon her full recovery, Cora was reintegrated into her family (and away from the aunt who originally sold her). Cora’s family has been extensively trained on the definition of trafficking, how to avoid it, and how to properly protect, support and care for Cora both as a child, and as a survivor of trafficking. Cora’s reintegration like all survivors is monitored through frequent scheduled and random family visits by advocates, as well as a key local stakeholder, who communicates directly back to headquarters. Follow-up continues for a minimum of one year, and a case is considered closed and a success once a family has steadily and continuously protected and met the needs of the survivor.

Today at the age of 14, Cora is happy, healthy, walking and participating in vocational training at a tailor shop. It is stories like these that remind me of the importance anti-human trafficking efforts play in today’s challenging world. This July, church groups helped to let freedom ring in the fight against human trafficking.

*Name has been changed to protect the survivor.

John Lyon is the Chief Programs Officer for World Hope International (WHI). During July, WHI called on justice-seekers and churches across the country to lead the fight against human trafficking through their Freedom Sundays campaign. For more information, visit: www.worldhope.org/freedomsundays.

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