2020 was a hard year in many ways, full of defining moments that taught us a lot as individuals, families, communities and as a country. System-based inequalities became more apparent to us. We began to see more clearly who the most vulnerable people are in our communities. We were presented with new challenges about how we could best care for ourselves and others in the midst of a public health crisis.
In the anti-human trafficking work being done in the Bakhita Empowerment Initiative, 2020 was also a time for learning and growth, of searching for light in the darkness. There has continued to be significant need and our staff has been hard at work during the pandemic in some new, remote ways.
We have continued to provide direct case management and basic needs to survivors of trafficking, totaling more than $62,000 in direct financial assistance to at least 28 survivors, including nine new program participants. We have celebrated with clients as a new baby was born and as foreign-born survivors received permission to work or immigration relief. We have helped survivors access benefits, set up safe and stable housing, provided legal advocacy and crisis response.
We have prioritized continued prevention education for youth, as we know that the risk for exploitation does not decrease during a pandemic. We worked with partner organizations to provide virtual prevention education classes for 70 youth through seven different prevention groups. We have provided 80+ hours of assistance to a variety of agencies and individuals seeking information or support in responding to human trafficking in Kentucky communities. The need has continued. The response must continue. The work has been hard, but our dedicated team has bravely met those challenges.
January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month, setting the stage for asking, “What is it that I can do to impact the issue of human trafficking?”
We could start by reading about human trafficking and increasing our personal knowledge, being thoughtful about the sources where we get our information and the credibility of those sources.
Facts are important and more than ever we need to approach anti-trafficking with data and through evidence-based practices. This is how we will have the greatest impact on this very important issue. We can share information via social media with those in our circle of influence, being sure to cite the sources of the information we share.
As we begin 2021, may we use our voices on behalf of the marginalized. May we share the extra we have with those who don’t have enough. May we recognize the privileges we have and look for ways to use our privilege to improve the circumstances of others.
May we learn to be more compassionate, even as we are going through difficult times ourselves. May we see more clearly that love is the way forward and choose to love one another. Love is so often the light in the darkness.
Marissa Castellanos is the director of Catholic Charities of Louisville’s Bakhita Empowerment Initiative.