SUPER NUNS: the fearless sisters fighting human trafficking
By Linda Bordoni and Sr. Bernadette Reis
Pope Francis has repeatedly shone the spotlight on the scourge of human trafficking and appealed for concrete and concerted action to root out its causes and protect the millions of victims of the modern slave trade.
To commemorate the International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking, the Pope met with members of Talitha Kum, the Galileo Foundation, Edelman and ESPO. Sr Gabriella Bottani, Talitha Kum's international coordinator, explained the new initiative to Pope Francis. Artist Stephen Powers showed the first image that will be used on the platform and asked him to autograph it.
The highlight of the private audience happened when Pope Francis activated the "Super Nuns" page on the Patreon platform with a click on the laptop.
Talitha Kum has responded to his call. For 10 years the global network of Catholic sisters has been quietly dedicated to prevention, rescue and rehabilitation of human trafficking survivors.
The work the sisters do is challenging and often risky. They are out on the streets raising awareness, making contact with victims in dangerous contexts, sheltering them from traffickers and exploitation, providing a passage home and new skills with which to rebuild shattered lives.
That’s why fundraising is important – and particularly complicated because the sisters operate out of sight and don’t publicly announce successes.
The SUPER NUNS community is an project launched by Talitha Kum (an initiative of the International Union of Superiors General), that aims to reach a whole new range of potential supporters.
As Sister Patricia Murray, Secretary of the UISG told Vatican Radio, thanks to a partnership between the Galileo Foundation, some popular street artists and an international communications platform, the work of the “super nuns” will be illustrated for all to see, as will the great spirit of the survivors.
SUPER NUNS, Sister Pat explained, is an exciting new initiative geared to help the Talitha Kum sisters who are dedicated to rescuing those who have been trapped and trafficked to different parts of the world.
She said the project grew out of the vision of John McCaffrey who works for the Galileo Foundation: “he had relations with the Edelman Company, a large communications company in the United States. He was aware of their work and of the fact that every year they use some of their resources for social enterprises,” and suggested they consider sponsoring Talitha Kum and the work of the sisters against human trafficking.
Sr Pat said a productive meeting in New York with Edelman resulted in this idea that aims to make the issue of trafficking known across the world to a whole new audience.
What it entails is using the work of artists, who are well known in the comic world, to create (pop) images of the sisters and their work.
“We are calling them SUPER NUNS because what they do is extraordinary work: very hidden work, quite dangerous work at times, where they rescue victims, women, men and children, and then shelter them and then there's a process of rehabilitation and integration back into society,” she said.
Social media and street art
Sr Pat said the artwork will be placed on social media platforms for all to access.
“There's also a large wall in New York that has been covered with the first of these images,” she said, noting that images speak to everybody, but especially to younger people “who are very aware of the whole world of comics and comic imagery.”
She went on to say that the use of popular media is a “whole new way of reaching out to people who wouldn’t have ever met a sister, wouldn’t know their work,” except for perhaps associating them with the areas we traditionally associate with them like schools, hospitals, clinics.
“But there are thousands of sisters working in the whole area of trafficking and engaged in anti-trafficking campaigns and also rescuing and rehabilitation, and I think art is a creative way” to raise awareness she said.
Sr Pat noted that the viewer is often called to interpret these artworks and read the slogans: SUPER NUNS “is conveying at a number of different levels, and at a depth, that the kind of rescuing that’s done is not superficial. That it is trying to bring the individual home and also give them a future.”
For the artists involved it is an exciting new venture, she said: for the first time they listened to some of the stories of the victims and learnt of the work of the sisters before being able to give life to their work.
Super in the sense of being daring
The image of the SUPER NUN, Sr Pat explained, resonates with the message conveyed by Superman and Superwoman: “it’s super in the sense of being daring.”
“It’s super in the sense of reaching places that were not reached in the past. It's super in the way that it's calling for others to actually support this work,” she said.
That’s why, she explained, it can’t be just the work of individuals or of a network of sisters: it calls for global action to support this initiative in whatever way we can.
Why fundraising is essential
Sr Pat said that funds are sorely needed: looking at the context of Africa or Asia, she said, something like 2,000 to 10,000 dollars are required to rescue someone, bring them home, give them shelter for an extended amount of time, give them treatment to recover from the horrors that they have suffered, and then educate them or give them new skills so that they can be integrated back into society, and in some cases give them a small amount of money to start an enterprise.
“So this is a multi-faceted and quite a complex rescue and restorative operation,” she said, and a direct response to Pope Francis’ call for a culture of care.
She expressed her gratitude and admiration for the artists who have entered into this campaign with the nuns “so we can let a whole new audience of people know that this work is happening within the Catholic Church and that they can be part of it.”
Sr Pat concluded inviting all men and women of good will, Catholics throughout the world, to support this initiative in the certainty that every penny they donate will go to the work on the ground. For donations and more information there is a link on the Talitha Kum website.