The Bakhita Empowerment Initiative at Catholic Charities of Louisville provides direct services to support and empower survivors of sex or labor trafficking as they become more stable, self-sufficient and improve their overall health and well-being. Over the past 13 years, we have come alongside more than 450 survivors with services ranging from emergency housing to long-term case management and family reunification.
Each program participant has a unique journey. We don’t often know what happens after a program participant exits our program, but sometimes we receive messages letting us know that they just bought their first car, got a promotion at work or just reunified with a spouse or child after years apart. We look forward to these unexpected messages, these glimpses into their journey after their time in our program.
In 2019 we established the Bakhita Advisory Board whose members are former program participants, who now work with us as peers, advising our program and engaging in public-facing ways with the community. Advisory Board Members share some about their journeys, what led them to join our Advisory Board, the current work they are doing and their hopes for the future.
Saul Tellez Escobedo, Bakhita Advisory Board Chair, shared these words recently at the National Labor Trafficking Conference, hosted by Catholic Charities of Louisville:
“To all those people who are oppressed, who are forced to work, I want them to know that there are federal, state and local agencies that can help us. There is simply the need to raise your voice.
I was a victim of trafficking. I was deceived. I was brought to this country. They promised me a salary I did not receive. I am part of this country now. I am working now, as part of the Bakhita Advisory Board, where I am learning more about the subject, how to help people and how to get them the knowledge that there is someone who can help us, that we are not alone.
We should try to fight together, all united, without having stereotypes of race, culture, languages or skin color. Make a team, one team, to be able to end those problems. And if we cannot finish it, we can tell these bad people ‘Here we are. There are more people working for the good and we are going to keep fighting.’
It is about all of us doing our part, so we aren’t impacted by this. That we treat workers well. That we don’t threaten them. That because someone is a different color, from another country, or doesn’t speak the language and taking advantage of that.
Be good employers. That will always be the most important thing for workers.”
Saul and I spent some time together recently dropping off to community businesses outreach materials with information to access services. Saul reviewed the materials and advised us on the businesses we should visit, providing his insight into how to best get information into the hands of those who really need it. It’s always lovely to spend time with Saul, particularly now, as colleagues and friends. Saul’s journey is inspiring. He has moved into a space where he is advocating on behalf of others, challenging us to do better work, and encouraging us to focus on improving the circumstances of those who need our support.
January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Learn more about human trafficking and the work of the Bakhita Advisory Board by visiting www.cclou.org. Share what you learn on social media so others can learn about Saul’s journey and the work being done every day to prevent human trafficking and support survivors.
Marissa Castellanos is the director of Catholic Charities of Louisville’s Bakhita Empowerment Initiative.