Preventing human trafficking in Nigeria

blandina_ryanSister Blandina Ryan (right) has been greatly preoccupied by the problem of young unemployed women being picked up and trafficked abroad for sex work. When our community in Nigeria reflected on this problem, they felt the best form of prevention would be the creation of Vocational Training. It took a lot of planning and fundraising before the Mother Mary Martin Centre was eventually constructed on the outskirts of Benin city.

nigeria_vocational_centre_computer_labSister Blandina is very proud of the first group of graduates from the Computer Training Course at the new Vocational Centre. The computer laboratory began with just ten systems, powered by generator because of the unstable local supply of electricity. The first students who completed their four-month course graduated at the end of August 2006.

nigeria_blandina_with_vocational_centre_groupThe Fashion Design and Tailoring Programme caters for ten students. But it is envisaged that more equipment will be needed to cater for the growing popularity of these courses. Further courses in hairdressing, catering, tie-dye and bead-making are also in the pipeline.

A year later, drama, singing, a Fashion Parade and a Cultural Display were part of the second Graduation Ceremony.One hundred and eighty students have been enrolled since the Centre opened. Of these, one hundred have successfully completed the programme in Computer Training, four of them graduating with distinction and twenty-three in the Upper Credit category. Standards are maintained at a very high level and the training is second to none, according to Sister Blandina Ryan, who has been involved with combating the problem of trafficking since 2002.

nigeria_graduation_vocational_centre“No matter how bitter it may sound”, says Sister Blandina, “the truth is that a majority of the Nigerian young people are struggling to survive at all levels, including University graduates. A career in armed robbery or prostitution in Europe can have more appeal than the struggle to make an honest livelihood. However, we must do our best to offer young people the start they deserve and encourage them. That is why the Medical Missionaries of Mary embarked on the establishment of the Mother Mary Martin Vocational Centre. Our broad objective is to meet decent professional needs of the Ugbekun Community youth. That is our starting point.”

The response from the young people to the new Centre has been overwhelming. Within four weeks of the second Graduation, a further 84 students were enrolled. The Sisters would like to provide more vocational training, but given the high costs and the token fees the trainees can afford to pay, they have to get much more financial assistance before they can develop the other courses in the pipeline, including catering, bag and bead making, tie-dye, and others.

“We are appealing for collaboration from all caring and spirited individuals and organisations, both locally and internationally to help us to bring our dream to fruition,” Sister Blandina said.

Rescued from 'Streets of humiliation'

In recent years during international meetings in Rome, Superiors of the Nigerian Conference of Women Religious came face to face with the reality of Nigerian girls who are involved in prostitution in Europe. Many of them have been lured to Europe under false promises and been trafficked into the sex industry.

nigeria_choir_opening_women_centre_2007Back in 1999 the Conference of Women Religious of Nigeria appointed a committee to address the problem. The committee quickly co-opted Catholic women who were lawyers.

Benin city was recognised as one of the areas most affected by the problem of trafficking. In July 2007, the dream of having a transition home for survivors was realized. Many religious communities from Nigeria were represented at the official opening – an occasion that drew attention to the size of the problem. Sister Blandina Ryan became a member of the Board.

nigeria_sr_bonetti_bishop_jobThe Sisters were very pleased to have present for the opening the President of the Conference of Bishops of Nigeria, Most Rev. Felix Alaba Job. In his homily at the Opening Mass, the Archbishop pleaded that as early as primary school age, young people should be informed of the repercussions of going into the business of prostitution. He urged all those involved in the sex industry to find another way of living and to bring back those still wandering on the ‘streets of humiliation’ in Rome and other parts of Europe.

The Archbishop spoke in Italian to the delegation of fifteen people who had travelled from Italy for the ceremony. These included Sister Eugenia Bonetti representing the Union of Major Superiors of Italy. She is a well-known and dynamic campaigner against the trafficking of persons. She presented gifts for the chapel at the Centre. The Italian Consul General, Maurixio Bongaro, was also there. The Bishops of Italy had made a substantial contribution to the costs of the new Centre.

nigeria_queen_oba_and_sr_elmaElma van den Nouland from the Dutch Foundation of Religious against Trafficking in Women also presented a gift and promised that the religious of the Netherlands will continue to collaborate with the Nigeria Conference of Women Religious.

nigeria_opening_women_centre_2007After the ceremony, local officials took the overseas visitors to see significant villages in Edo State, where they met families of Nigerians now freed and settled in Italy, or those who have been helped to get free from their traffickers. The visitors were also received by the Oba of Benin at his Palace.