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The Dominican Month of Peace – Week Two

The Cry of the Poor

In 2014, Dominican Sister of Peace Susan Leslie ministered in Peru, part of Amazonia. In this blog, she recounts the rescue of a woman victimized by human trafficking.

Human Trafficking and Illegal Mining in the Amazon Jungle of Peru—a Personal Account

From November 6 - 18, I had the opportunity to travel to the southern Amazon jungle of Peru. I was part of a delegation of four women religious from four different congregations and four different countries, all currently living in Peru. We were members of the Red Kawsay. “Red” is Spanish for network, and “Kawsay” is Quechua, meaning life in all its fullness. This network is a daughter network of Talitha Kum, a project of the International Union of General Superiors. Talitha Kum and the Red Kawsay (RK) work toward a society without human trafficking. The RK falls under the auspices of the National Conference of Religious in Peru (CONFER or CRP).

Our mission was the third in 2014 to the same general area. For two of us present, it was our first.

Escape from Captivity

In mid-November, we found ourselves in the company of two 18-year-old women who had just that day escaped from captivity. We spent the morning in Minatown, (fictitious name) well known for illegal mining and human trafficking both in the forms of forced labor and forced prostitution. 

In an attempt to close down the illegal gold mining, hundreds of police in riot gear were poised to conduct an interdiction.  They had already confiscated a huge number of illegally acquired motorcycles (the primary form of transportation in the area.) Because of this police presence, the traffickers had moved their “girls” to various local hostels and more remote areas.  Our two escapees, whom I will call Anna and Beatriz, told us that they saw girls as young as eight held captive in this human trafficking ring. 

As it happened, the traffickers did not have enough space in their vehicles to transport all the girls, so some were left behind at the hostels.  Anna and Beatriz were among them, with absolutely no money to buy food, lodging, or assistance. Worse, they had no idea where they were. Anna, who is married and has a baby, offered to prostitute herself to get some money for their escape to protect Beatriz from sexual exploitation. The women had been captive for four weeks at this point, and were in a situation of forced labor that would eventually evolve into forced prostitution.

They somehow encountered a motorcyclist willing to drive them to the main road... yes, both of them were on one bike with the driver.  When they got to the main road, they encountered a taxi driver who was willing to drive them to our pueblo. But he took Anna’s luggage because she could not pay the 20 soles ($6.90 US) fare. It was that evening that we all encountered one another.

We listened to their story, gave them something to eat, found them a secure place to sleep, and then had a meeting with the four of us and three other trustworthy people.  We explained to our three friends the importance of getting the young women out of the area as soon as possible to avoid the traffickers who would search for them.  The large police presence was in our favor.  Taking advantage of that, we formed a plan.

The following morning two of the three friends, along with the Brazilian Holy Cross sister, Conce, and the Spanish Carmelite, Mari, stuck to our original plan to visit another pueblo that was celebrating its anniversary.  Chabu and I stayed behind to continue the rescue of Anna and Beatriz. 

The first order of the day was to pay 20 soles to retrieve Anna’s luggage. Our friend found jackets for all of us in some recently donated clothing to hep us prepare for the next step in the rescue; we would be traveling six hours from the hot, humid jungle up into the cold, snow-capped Andes Mountains to Lugar Alto (fictitious name). Anna and Beatriz had to change their outward appearance. Baseball caps helped.

We were heading to a city that would give us safe transport options for the two to their hometown. We contracted with a car service that travels between these two cities and set off ASAP.  We tried to impress the importance of discretion and caution on the two young women, and that we would not be able to discuss their situation once in the car.  If their captors tried to find them and were able to trace their steps to Lugar Alto, they might also be able to find out which agency we used, who the driver was, etc. We gave them our contact information as well as that of a trustworthy NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) with which we work. We arrived in the mountains without further incident, got the young women tickets on a safe bus company, and stayed with them until the bus departed. One of them had a cell phone, which surprisingly their captors did not confiscate.  We were able to call them some three hours later, just before we boarded our all-night, eight-hour bus to return to Encrucijada from Lugar Alto. They were fine, and happy to be on their way. They left Lugar Alto at 6 pm and were to arrive in their hometown at 2 pm the following day. 

They communicated with us once they arrived safely. Later that evening after they arrived in their respective homes, “Beatriz” called my cell phone to again express her gratitude. Her father got on the phone as well, and with a voice full of emotion expressed his thanks for our part in the safe return of his daughter. 

Click here for a video from National Geographic about trafficking in the Amazon region.

Click here for study and prayer resources for the Second Week of Advent, The Cry of the Poor.

Click here for study and prayer resources for the Month of Peace.

2 thoughts on “The Dominican Month of Peace – Week Two

  1. Dear Sister Susan Leslie,
    What a harrowing story you have told, and with good results for two young women. I admire your courage and compassion in rescuing women from the horrible world of trafficking.

  2. Susan, you too, are a heroic woman with great compassion and spirit of concern for someone in need. I’m praying now for you, the woman you helped and her dad. God bless you, Rose Mary

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