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Theresa May and Sir Mo Farah celebrate anti-trafficking sisters in London

The Rt. Hon. Theresa May MP and Sir Mo Farah drew global attention to the exceptional contribution of Catholic sisters to the anti-trafficking movement, at the inaugural Sisters Anti-Trafficking Awards on the 31st of October in London.

Above: Photos of the SATAs keynote speaker, the Rt. Hon Theresa May MP, and the three laureates.

MC’d by broadcaster, journalist and writer, Adrian Chiles, the event honoured three sisters, Sr Seli Thomas SMI from India, Sr Patricia Ebegbulem SSL from Nigeria and Sr Francoise Jiranonda SPC from Thailand.

Co-hosted by Arise, UISG and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, the SATAs brought together an audience of 200 people from across and beyond the anti-slavery and Catholic spheres.

The event opened with an insightful panel discussion, hosted by Karen Bradley MP, and featuring Dame Sara Thorton (ex-UK Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner), Colleen Theron (CEO of Ardea International), Ima Matul (International advocate for survivors of human trafficking), and Sr Jane Wakahiu LSOSF Ph.D, (Associate VP and Head of the Catholic Sisters Initiative at Conrad N. Hilton Foundation).

The panel discussed how the permanence of sisters work is unique, as they do not leave communities after projects finish. Instead, sisters work and live in at-risk regions, opening access to education, facilitating vocational training, increasing access to state services, and running mass awareness campaigns about exploitation threats. Dame Sara and Karen Bradley discussed the effectiveness of sister-run shelters that support survivors returning to the community after traumatic ordeals. The panel also heard a moving testimony from survivor and advocate Ima Matul, who experienced sister-led rehabilitation, and worked closely with sisters when facilitating survivor rehabilitation.

The Common Good Award laureate - Sr Seli Thomas SMI

The panel discussed the importance of frontline leadership in the fight against slavery, with Colleen Theron advocating for frontline leaders and survivors to be present in both policymaking and business regulatory discussions. There was a consensus about the essential need for the inclusion of these voices; a sentiment echoed by Theresa May in her keynote address, which immediately followed the panel.

The Servant Leadership Award laureate - Sr Francoise Jiranonda SPC

Theresa May began her address by referring to modern slavery as the ‘greatest human rights challenge of our time’. She praised the work of sisters and local leaders in the fight against slavery, and discussed her recently-launched Global Commission on Modern Slavery & Human Trafficking, which is aiming to restore political momentum to the anti-slavery movement. Following on from Sr Jane’s remarks about civil society being the ‘eyes and ears’ within vulnerable communities, Ms May noted that sisters are ideally placed to spot vulnerabilities, and act in advance to prevent exploitation.

She endorsed the prevention efforts of sisters around the world, including our laureates, and argued that anti-slavery groups need to help provide genuine alternatives to the lures of traffickers, building up financial resilience and security.

Sir Mo Farah's introduction to the SATAs

After her remarks, the ceremony heard from Sir Mo Farah, who apologised for having to appear via video due to a family commitment. Sir Mo spoke about why he, as a Muslim athlete, was not as random a choice for presenter as one might initially think. He discussed his experiences as a victim of trafficking in childhood, and his subsequent enslavement in the UK for years. He praised the sisters working in difficult global regions, safeguarding and raising awareness against exploitation.

Following Mo’s introduction, the laureates were announced, with touching short films featuring the sisters and their beneficiaries.

The Human Dignity Award laureate - Sr Patricia Ebegbulem SSL

Sr Seli was presented with her Common Good Award (for courage and creativity in addressing exploitation) by Arise Founding President John Studzisnki CBE, who has most recently been appointed as a Commissioner in Theresa May’s aforementioned Global Commission. Sr Francoise was presented with her Servant Leadership Award (for excellence in network building) by Sr Mary Barron OLA, the President of UISG, and Sr Patricia was presented with her Human Dignity Awards (for lifetime achievement in addressing exploitation) by Sr Jane of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

All of the laureate short films, along with further photos, and a summary can be viewed here:

Adrian Chiles remarked on the positive energy that had filled the room all evening, and dedicated a touching Guardian column to the sisters he had met throughout the evening.

The host organisations would like to thank all who attended and help facilitate an immensely positive celebration of inspiring anti-slavery leaders.

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