Another Comboni Missionary Sister Wins Top State Department Award

By: Kathleen M. Carroll
This story was originally featured in Comboni Missions magazine Winter 2019-2020 edition. 

Every year the US State Department produces a Trafficking-in-Persons (TIP) Report, assessing efforts by world governments to combat human trafficking. Along with this report, the Department of State honors individuals who have distinguished themselves in service of the same goal.

This year, Comboni Sister Gabriella Bottani was honored for a lifetime of dedication to fighting human trafficking. She shares this distinction with previous award-winner and fellow Comboni Sister Aziza Kidane. Both women work with Talitha Kum, a worldwide network of more than two thousand Catholic nuns working on the front lines to end human trafficking. As international coordinator for Talitha Kum, Sister Gabriella oversees anti-trafficking initiatives in seventy-seven countries around the world.

In just ten years of existence, Talitha Kum has reached thousands of people through anti-trafficking awareness campaigns, education programs, international conferences, training manuals, and vocational training. This dedicated network has served more than ten thousand survivors, accompanying them to shelters and residential communities, collaborating nationally and internationally on cases, and assisting with voluntary repatriation. Talitha Kum has provided training
to women religious in sixty-five countries on human trafficking prevention and protection.

Before joining Talitha Kum, Sister Gabriella played a crucial role in advancing anti-trafficking efforts in Brazil by serving vulnerable children and women in disadvantaged areas, in addition to leading a national campaign against human trafficking during the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Throughout her career, Sister Gabriella’s work has inspired generations of anti-trafficking advocates.

At the award ceremony, US Ambassador to the Holy See Callista Gingrich said, “The US Embassy to the Holy See is proud of its long history of friendship and
collaboration with Sister Gabriella Bottani and the Talitha Kum network. Partnerships like this are crucial to the task of eradicating the global evil of human trafficking, once and for all.”

In her acceptance speech, Sister Gabriella acknowledged that the fight against human trafficking is often the work of many anonymous people along with established organizations like Talitha Kum. She said, “The recognition we receive today honors us and the many people, often unknown, committed to counteracting human trafficking around the world.”

She offered some background on her organization, saying, “With 50 national and regional networks led by sisters, Talitha Kum is active on every continent and in 77 countries.” It is “an on-the ground network . . . involved in raising awareness, preventing human trafficking, and protecting survivors. This includes the management of shelters and the provision of support tor their socio-economic rehabilitation and reintegration.”

Talitha Kum takes its name from the Gospel story of Jesus raising a little girl to life. It is an Aramaic expression that means “Young girl, I say to you, arise.”

Since trafficking in persons spans all nations and cultures, Sister Gabriella notes the importance of working across political boundaries and differences in creed. She says, “We work in dialogue and in collaboration with people of different faith traditions and with people of good will. We seek to overcome any kind of ideological, religious and political manipulation of anti-human trafficking measures and activities, promoting instead a holistic person/survivor-centered approach, respecting the inherent dignity of each person.

Sister Gabriella identified several factors contributing to the recent increase in human trafficking:

  • Unequal power structures in our societies, especially regarding women, children, and indigenous people.
  • Inadequate migration polices in an increasingly interconnected world.
  • An economic model that exploits human beings and environmental resources for profit.

She closed her comments with a rallying cry for all those who are willing to work for a more just — and safer — world: “This is a call all the heroes make today — to courageously raise the bar, and our dreams, in order to open new pathways toward freedom. This freedom is possible when it is based on a mutually transformative relationship, at the personal level, between survivors and anti-trafficking activists, and the organizations we represent, but also at the geo-political level, between countries of origin, transit, and destination.

“Let us stand up, together!”∎

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