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I am Brother Jorge Walder from Argentina. I belong to the congregation of the Marist Brothers and I have been a part of the Kawsay Network since 2017. I spent my first two years in Buenos Aires, then three in Uruguay, working with the network there; and since February of this year, again in Buenos Aires.

What does work against human trafficking mean to you in your context and what are the biggest challenges?

Human trafficking in Argentina is mostly sexual exploitation and labor exploitation. The former has worsened during the pandemic these last two years. Many women have returned to the street, standing on street corners, because there is no other source of work. Many others have resorted to virtual pages, such as Onlyfans. Recruitment has mostly come through digital media. As in the rest of the world, men are the main exploiters of women and girls. Though there are laws that punish these crimes in Argentina, the penalties are still derisory (in the event that the person is brought to trial) or the judiciary is complicit in such exploitation.

The biggest challenge for me is to help individuals in vulnerable situations avoid recruitment. That is why it is vital to train in prevention, visualization, and sensitization against trafficking. This includes working with children, adolescents and young people so they learn to take care of themselves and recognize the possible risks they face, especially in social networks in which they are present.  Another challenge remains to train the Church itself and the different religious families on this issue. How do we provoke indignation and, as a consequence, a bold response in the Church as a whole in the face of this fragile situation? It is urgently needed to provoke a dialogue in which all our practices are reviewed, especially in vocation ministry and in formation and seminaries.

Share some of your most beautiful and painful experiences in working with and accompanying victims and survivors of trafficking

Since mid-2020, I have been collaborating with the Oblate Sisters in Montevideo, CasAbierta. My volunteering consisted of helping women to improve their literacy and math skills so that they can get their primary education certificate. Twice a week I work with them; due to the pandemic context, the classes were one-on-one. 

The women, before or after my workshop, receive psychological or social support from professionals. Feeling like part of a process where women were helped to build their life plans is very healing for me. To recognize that I am part of their lives, but at the same time alien to them. And to see how little by little they make small achievements, advances to obtain a healthier and more independent life.

I believe that the greatest pain is the feeling of frustration that comes from not seeing the progress that one would expect once they manage to get out of exploitative situations. Once, talking to a sister, she told me: "we all have that superhero complex inside us that believes we will rescue all the victims and that, at the same time, they will build a life plan where they will always be grateful to us". If we add to this the aspect of being a man, the complex is even more accentuated. Working with women in situations of prostitution or violence has helped me to understand that I am neither better nor worse than them; that they and I are simply learning together to overcome difficulties. Perhaps I may have more tools to do so, and the challenge will be to continue learning to accompany without invading; helping the other person to choose freely what he/she wants for his/her life, but knowing how to support those decisions with healthier relationships.

What have you learned and what do you carry in your heart in your fight against trafficking?

The biggest lesson learned is being grateful to my network sisters. It is not easy to be a man in an almost exclusively feminine space. I don't feel unique or special, it would be too arrogant to think so. But my sisters accept me as I am and teach me that it is important to involve everyone in the fight against trafficking. They have helped me, and continue to help me, to listen, to be patient, and to believe that another life is possible for victims.

Women victims have also taught me to value and accept them. I think the fear of being rejected for being a man or being labeled as an exploiter is still in me. But, just as they did not do it with me, I cannot let myself be guided by prejudices or by the "what ifs".  They continue to lead me down a path of humility and empathy for them and their struggles.

You are training to be a Talitha Kum leader against human trafficking

Participating in the third edition of Talitha Kum's leadership course urges me to be part of a global community of sisters and lay people fighting against trafficking. When listening to sisters from other continents, I can recognize the same struggles, frustrations, and triumphs.

Personally, it is a great challenge to continue to assume the commitment to make visible and train against human trafficking. In Latin America we feel more connected globally thanks to our work over the last three  years. If we also add the possibility of carrying out a collaborative project this year, the possibility of reaching more adolescents and young people increases. We should, and we need to carry forward the "Call to action" that Talitha Kum created. The formation of a fairer world without trafficking is a task for all of us.