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El Salvador Update

Buckle up! Sisters Rising Worldwide is gaining speed and partnerships! You may remember that about six months ago a group of faith-based business executives, technology entrepreneurs, and Sister Irene approached the American Refugee Committee (A.R.C.) to alert them to the fact that Catholic Sisters are serving on the ground in areas of greatest need across the world and that these Sisters can articulate root causes to the poverty around them. A.R.C. was more than intrigued. It turns out A.R.C. had been desiring trustworthy intel on the ground and asked if they could partner with Sisters Rising Worldwide (SRW). Taking the Sisters’ lead, A.R.C. asked, “Where shall we begin?” El Salvador was selected–ground zero on so many issues.

The American Refugee Committee (A.R.C.) and Sister Irene headed to El Salvador and met Sisters living and working there. They showed us the poorest areas at the heart of youth and gang phenomenon. The youth have few safe places they can go. In 2016, 540 Salvadoran minors were murdered—an average of 1.5 every day. Young people and families in the most violent communities have lost a vision for their future – they can no longer imagine a path to a peaceful life of opportunity, making them vulnerable and open to exploitation from all sides.

Enter Catholic Sisters. Rooted in the legacy of the national hero Oscar Romero, and the cultural memory of nuns acting in solidarity with the people of El Salvador during the Civil War, for many, Catholic Sisters represent a counter narrative to the violence and fear they experience daily. Instead, Sisters are one of the most consistently trusted and beloved figures in their lives. Sisters live next door to gang members, to children experiencing extreme threat of violence, to families grieving loved ones. They do the hard work of addressing the most pressing needs of their neighborhoods, day in and day out. And not only that – they offer desperately needed sanctuary, hope, love, and belonging in even the darkest times. Sisters and the youth they serve are the only people safe in the country.

The El Salvadorian Sisters, with SRW and A.R.C. began to co- create a methodology and framework to amplify the work of Sisters—one that might adapt to places beyond El Salvador as well. Together we engaged, a leading human-centered-design firm, to better understand the problem and develop a solution together. discovered that Sisters hold the space for people to flourish. They discovered that in the Sisters’ space, people feel safe and hopeful. They also feel true joy. was blown away by the joy. Their creative juices kept going until they not only understood what joy feels like for the people but what joy looks like as well. Joy is color. The Color Movement was born.


Bringing Joy and Hope through Catholic Sisters

The Color Movement emerged as a workable platform to unite and support Sisters and build safer communities. A unique opportunity exists to build the Sister’s capacity to scale. In areas where gang violence and the graffiti associated with that violence is ubiquitous, we aim to replace those messages of hate with messages of Sisters – and to amplify the impact they are already having in building more hopeful, resilient, and safe communities starting in El Salvador. The Color Movement is designed to serve, strengthen and scale the change that Catholic Sisters are already making within their communities.

Together Sisters, SRW and A.R.C. will co-create the Color Movement, ensuring that the healing touch that Sisters bring to communities is amplified. The guiding principle is that any systems built should serve Sisters’ vision, rather than the inverse. Over the course of two years, we plan to scale up and reach ten Sister communities, beginning with three pilot communities – Apopa, La Chacra, and Suchitoto. We will approach and design each phase together with our private and public sector partners.

Imagine color designs on posters, placards, walls, lapel pins, door frames, street corners, t-shirts indicating that right here is a space of joy and hope—the same joy and hope that Sisters create with their lives, now manifesting in all these other spaces as well. Imagine the Color Movement representing all Women Religious and all of our communities of friends. Imagine the new messaging the world will hear…see…feel…know…pursue.

SRW and A.R.C. believe that with focused effort, resources, and guidance by local Sisters we will begin to see:

  • Strengthened social resilience in targeted communities.
  • Youth actively participate in initiatives that provide young people with alternative identities to crime and gang violence, as well as enable them to see viable futures in El Salvador as options outside of migration.
  • Through a unified movement, broad-based engagement in crime prevention efforts is increased
  • Increased sense of hope and well-being within Sister-led communities, particularly their youth
  • Promotion of human rights, citizen security, and increased broad-based engagement, particularly of youth, through violence prevention activities
  • Visual, unified movement of Sisters instills and increases safety into a broader area free of crime and risk.
  • Increased access to and dissemination of quality and comparative data and analysis on citizen security to capture best practices and standard operating procedures
  • Sustainable pathways of support open to the wider world through inspiring success stories told through the online digital storytelling tool
  • Replication and scale up of successes accelerate.

Stay Tuned for further developments! Donate to Sisters Rising Worldwide to participate with Sisters in life-changing work.


U.S. Catholic Sisters Against
Human Trafficking


USCSAHT is a collaborative, faith-based 501c3 not-for- profit organization. Membership is open to all Women Religious (Sisters), coalitions that work against human trafficking in which Sisters and their lay associate members participate and those with whom the Sisters have partnerships in working against human trafficking.

Human trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for involuntary labor or services. It is done through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of exploitation.

Human trafficking is a $150 billion criminal industry that affects 20 to 30 million people in the world today. It occurs everywhere – including in the U.S., and affects people of every age, gender, ethnicity, and class.

Prohibited by state, federal, and international law, human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal activity in the world, with the internet providing a global marketplace. It targets vulnerable people affected by war, poverty, natural disasters and oppression.

Most trafficked people work in commercial sex trades or forced labor. They are also exploited through involuntary domestic servitude, bonded or debt labor, child soldiering, begging, commission of crimes, forced marriages, and organ removal.

Trafficking victims live among us. They may be growing our food, making our clothes, serving in restaurants or nail salons, and building our electronic devices. Traffickers use deception, violence, threats, and other means to keep people in bondage against their will.

Some international organizations estimate that the number of victims of human trafficking may range as high as 45 million people.

USCSAHT’s  national network of Catholic Sisters’ congregations, coalitions, anti-trafficking ministries, and partnerships which includes over 100 U.S. Sister Congregations, work together with a network of U.S. partnerships and individual supporters.  They offer across the United States, education, support, access to survivor services, and engage in advocacy to eradicate modern-day slavery.  Members work to inform the public, prevent this assault on human dignity, and assist survivors to live fulfilling lives.

In addition to being a wide national network, USCSAHT is also the U.S. representative to Talitha Kum, the Sisters’ International Network Against Trafficking in Persons, located in Rome and serving in 81 different countries.

USCSAHT provides a wide array of resources to the general public, including:

  • up-to- date information on human trafficking in the U.S.;
  • educational materials, including access to curriculum materials, videos, modules on cause/effects of trafficking;
  • prayer resources, monthly reflections, etc.;
  • links to slave-free goods and services;
  • access to survivor services;
  • and actions to address this crime.

Success is measured by the number of people USCSAHT members across the United States educate, serve, and connect to one another in doing this work; by the legislative progress we make on the local, state and national levels to protect victims and prosecute traffickers; by the number of partnerships we are able to forge in doing this work; by raising the moral voice of Catholic sisters against this heinous crime, by the number of victims touched by the services (pastoral, educational, social, healthcare, etc.) offered by sisters throughout the country; by the number of survivors who pass through our shelters: in other words, by participation in the Gospel-driven response to what Pope Francis has called “an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ; a crime against humanity.”


  • Kathleen Bryant, RSC (Culver City, CA)
  • Jeanne Christensen, RSM (Kansas City, MO)
  • Kathleen Coll, SSJ (Philadelphia, PA)
  • Carol Davis, OP (Albany, NY)
  • Joan S. Dawber, SC (New York, NY)
  • Sally Duffy, SC (Cincinnati, OH)
  • Linda Haydock, SNJM (Seattle, WA)
  • Michele Morek, OSU (New York, NY)
  • Maryann Agnes Mueller, CSSF (Enfield, CT)
  • Ann Oestreich, IHM (Milwaukee, WI)
  • Jean Schafer, SDS (Citrus Heights, CA)
  • Ann Scholz, SSND (Silver Spring, MD)
  • Anne Victory, HM (Rocky River, OH)
  • Marlene Weisenbeck, FSPA (LaCrosse, WI)

board members


  • The U.S. Department of Labor has identified 139 goods from 75 countries made by forced and child labor.
  • Women and girls comprise 71 percent of human trafficking victims, according to the UNODC Global Report on Trafficking in Persons.

There is no official estimate of the total number of human trafficking victims in the U.S. However, the Polaris Project estimates the total number reaches into the hundreds of thousand, including both sex and labor trafficking victims.

Eradicate Child Labor and Human Trafficking

Barrack Valley Region, Assam, India

Drop-out girl students may be the most vulnerable population for sex trafficking or child labor in this part of India. Basic education and supportive women associations can transform the lives of girls in this society. This project will provide resources to prevent child labor and human trafficking in rural areas through education and empowerment of young women.

Sisters have learned that Women’s Associations are the key to sustainability of educational/vocational gains achieved through the drop-out program and coaching centers. The formation and sustainability of Women’s Associations build capacity for greater participation of women in decision-making, awareness building of women’s negative situations including discrimination, lack of gender equality, and capacity building for skill development, especially the ability to plan, make decision, organize, manage and carry out income generating activities. The Women’s Association empower these women to counter their societal disenfranchisement and strengthen women’s economic security.

Societal and familial pressures to work are great. The support and guidance received at educational and training centers is needed for young, dropout girls to be successful. Five coaching centers for 50 girls and young women in each center will provide educational tutoring and a greater appreciation of their own potential and human rights. The young girls working together come to appreciate and rely on the power of group identity they gain at these centers.

This project anticipates providing services to 25 drop-out girls a year. At the end of a year of preparation 80% of participants will pass the 10th class metric exams and then either attend college or have developed the capacity to run a small business.

Save Girls From Trafficking And Strengthen Families Through Job Skill Development

Raidihi, India

Poverty drives youth from their rural Indian village of Raidihi, to big cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Goa. Nearly 1/3 of them, (about 200), earn subsistence wages in unskilled work leaving them poor and without hope of advancement. Girls are most vulnerable to sexual abuse while working as domestic servants. Some are tricked into sexual trafficking and vanish. Bereft families are left without a trace or the ability to search for them.

To pull out of poverty, two essential skills are needed: 1) proficiency in English and, 2) a working knowledge of the computer. Offering these skills to young girls enables them to seek and find positions in government or the private sector. All villages have open computer positions. When employed, youth choose stay in their Tribal Region and contribute to the raising up of the next generation.

Sisters run a successful program which for the past 10 years has prepared girls for employment as tailors. The program provides skill training in sewing, embroidery, knitting and hand works. It emphasizes small business skills and encourages the importance of saving. Less tangible, yet transformative skills, help the young women take positive steps in personal growth and teaches the importance of the empowerment of women. They learn about women’s equal rights to economic resources. The hall where the sisters conduct these 6 month programs can serve 10 to 15 students who receive certificates of completion. Two shifts run each day.

The Sisters want to expand the program beyond youth to include adult women and men. Men will learn a trade to support their families. Their program will also include lessons on equal rights of women and healthy family life to eliminate prevalent domestic violence.

Further plans included opening up additional facilities in 16 nearby villages. The aggregate population is 2,812 of which 655 are children and youth. However, the local priest who obtained the funds, passed away. Funding is essential to keeping the program alive.

Educational Materials for High School Pupils

Umoja of Uvira, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Conducting educational programs in this war-torn area of the world is challenging due to the past violence, damage to buildings, pillaging of materials and furniture needed for education. Yet, throughout it all, the sisters have maintained their school and continued to provide services during horrible times. Since 1968, the Sisters of the Institute St Joseph have conducted a school for girls in the Democratic Republic of the Congo near to the borders of Burundi and Rwanda.

The school prepares young women to maximize their potential and prepare for careers. Now that the warring and pillaging has slowed down the time is ideal to bring these programs up to their maximum potential by providing them with needed resources. Security at the school includes reinforced doors and windows. In addition sentries with watchdogs guard the school, both by day and by night.

They need computers to be computer literate and sewing machines to learn tailoring skills. The computer and sewing equipment would need to be solar-powered. Purchasing the goods in the Democratic Republic of the Congo will boost the economy there. The sisters working in the program will make the purchases and ensure that they are maintained and secured.

This program can be replicated in other Democratic Republic of the Congo schools who have similar problems. The approximate cost per school for the needed computers, sewing machines and solar power equipment is $10,210.00.

The Sister plan to replicate this program in other Democratic Republic of the Congo schools who have similar problems.

Movement to Help and Eradicate Causes of Deafness in Children

Madhya Pradesh, India

The population of deaf people in Madhya Pradesh, India, is 267,000 of which 122,000 are female. Girls who are deaf in India suffer tremendous prejudice and become nearly non-existent to their families and society. This human degradation makes them vulnerable to human trafficking.

Although there does not appear to be official documentation of the vulnerability of these young women, a quick review of documented individual cases of abuse of young women and children who are deaf conveys a horrifying story of abuse and exploitation. This school offers its students the opportunity to learn valuable skills to support themselves and decrease the burden to their already impoverished families.

The Sisters working with these girls yearn for sustainable solutions. They want to work collaboratively with the families, teachers, school, state of the art hearing aids, and medical care to remediate the hearing loss to these children. They hope to explore this disabling disability in the developing world and uncover the primal causes of the children’s deafness and bring about preventative measures to significantly decrease and potentially eradicate the cause of deafness in this population going into the future. The Sisters plan to expand serving 85 girls to serving 135 girls. To do this they need building expansion and improvement.

Domestic Violence Project

Buenos Aires, Argentina

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Buenos Aires, Argentina provide intervention for those at-risk or currently experiencing abuse, focusing specifically on women and children through five programs. These programs provide a menu of services to increase public awareness of the prevalence of abuse, prevent abuse, help current victims of abuse seek government services, and provide supportive services to victims of abuse. People learn of these services through radio, Facebook, through contact with advocates, social service workers and parish workers.

A January 2016 United Nations Human Rights Commission Report prepared by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada indicates that violence against women is a “present and worrisome reality” in Argentina. Media sources report that violence against women, including domestic violence, has its roots in the Argentinean culture, more specifically in patriarchy or in machismo, which considers women as objects. Victims Against All Forms of Violence Program, a government program of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights that provides assistance to victims of domestic and sexual violence, similarly indicated that Argentina is a patriarchal society, where social organizations, the media, “and several institutions still reproduce a macho logic … that ignores violence [against women], blames the victim, and does not hold aggressors accountable.” The report goes on to tell of the under-reporting of this serious and prevalent social issue. The government does not have a federal registry that tracks domestic violence and therefore cannot begin to reliably quantify the serious prevalence of this problem. La Casa del Encuentro, an NGO based in Buenos Aires that advances the rights of women, indicates that based on information compiled from the media, 295 and 277 women died in 2013 and 2014, respectively, as a result of domestic or gender-based violence.

To begin to impact this issue, three sisters of St Joseph have been doing what they can with minimal resources. These sisters’ efforts are supported by professionals who currently volunteer their time. The program is under-resourced to be able to provide the most effective services and yet is considered successful by the community where there are so few awareness, prevention and advocacy services.

This work is done through five different programs:

  •  Trancos del Talar provides women’s advocacy services including personalized counseling and escorts to government services such as the Commissioner’s Office for Women, Prosecutor’s Office, Family Court, and Social Services. These escort services are necessary to assist the women in advocating for themselves and their families. When women come to realize that their situation demands filing out a complaint, the majority of them feel insecure, fearful, and mistreated. They even look for reasons to justify not moving forward with their process of transformation. To be by their side, to provide them with security and support, especially when they file the complaint, as well as when they are at the Commissioner’s Office for Women, at the Prosecutor’s Office or Family Court is essential. They make small strides in self-esteem.

An accompaniment by an advocate strengthens the woman’s resolve. In some cases the sisters had to intervene in the presence of these authorities so that the woman wouldn’t continue facing sexist, patriarchal and even sometimes mocking looks. With many of them, this support enabled them to realize their dream of a future with more dignity. For their true empowerment, the program offers group therapies. There they are succeeding in getting the women to listen to and be in solidarity with one another. They foster the positive and not the negative as they meet one another and get to know the other’s situation. 35 women are served per month.

  • The Friends of Jesus provides 90 children with services. The situation is so precarious that it is necessary to work as a team. There is a lot of violence because of abuse, lack of family affection, serious learning problems and dropping out of school. The women that work here are volunteers that lovingly give of their time and personal gifts. However, it is necessary to find professionals for these children and adolescents. In addition, it requires regular family visits to achieve involvement and to believe that they can become socially integrated. The sisters are involved in training and supporting the volunteers and accompanying volunteers on visits.
  • Infancia Rodada (Stolen Childhood)- Children, parents, and teachers (in religious and state schools) attend monthly meetings to provides abuse awareness About 20 families participate monthly. Follow-up includes personalized listening, counseling, escort to Prosecutors Office, Family Court, and Social Services.
  • Red Kawsay (the Kawsay Network) provides 4 schools, neighborhood centers, and youth groups with abuse prevention services. Special em-phasis is placed on preparing Catholic church groups and Diocesan priests to identify potential abuse and make appropriate referrals.
  • Alternative Health provides services to 30 to 40 women who impact their families and communities. The sisters say: “We work with natural medicine preparing creams, syrups, anti-parasite and digestive tablets, tinctures, ointments for joints pain. We maximize the group relationships. They are recognized and approved by the hospital medical body and laboratories in the area. They have already formed a small business and sell their products, although they have serious problems with the market because of being handmade. Those in the therapeutic yoga group are referred at the suggestion of their doctor or a friend with different aliments. We begin listening, talking and suggesting the importance of breathing, using exercises as they are quieting, releasing tension and aches and pains. Different postures are worked on, at times with a series of massage.”

These programs are especially open to being an experimental site for SRW tool kits which can be used to train community advocates to allow for replication of services throughout this major city.

Rebuild a Society Ravaged By War And Re-establish Its Values

Yaka-Yaka in Congo Brazaville

Ravaged by 10 years of ethnic based and politically motivated civil war ending in December 1999, the people in the village of Yaka-Yaka in Congo Brazaville, are in utter distress to find its schools, health centers, buildings, and society itself destroyed. Currently over ¾ of the girls have no access to school or education. There is a high rate of young girls raising children without husbands. Women and children live in abject poverty, and young girls are given in marriage at an early age.

The Sisters there on the ground believe that the war destroyed so much of their knowledge of basic living, that educating girls in the basics of family life and civil life are equally important. The ultimate goal is to form families capable of re-building society and re-establishing its values.

A Social Center is needed to provide 20 to 30 young women and girls at a time with vocational skills and basic education while inculcating values of earning a living, encouraging healthy families and good parenting, and encouraging consciousness of human rights in the family and in society. Although the vocational skills are essential for the women, the war destroyed so much of their knowledge of basic living, that educating them in the basics of family life and civil life are equally important.

Develop Future Leaders Who Acknowledge The Contributions Of Both Women And Men

Bhadun, Gazipur District, Bangladesh

Violence against women, religious differences and those lowest in social-economic levels is embedded in Bangladesh society. It is counter-cultural, but essential, to educate girls and boys to value and respect one another and religious differences and form future leaders who will be open to acknowledging the contributions of both women and men in society.

In January of 2015, the Sisters of the Holy Cross were invited to open a school in the rural Bhadun, Gazipur District in Bangladesh. The Sisters’ school, Moreau Holy Cross, opened to children of garment workers, day laborers, and farmers; all of whom earn a subsistence living. Along with providing quality education for those in the lowest socio-economic level, this Sisters welcome students from various religions (Islam, Hindu, Christian, etc.) They intentionally create an atmosphere for girls and boys to value and respect one another. In addition, these Sisters will provide innovative seminars and counseling programs for parents to assist them at home in the understanding and implementation of these core principles of gender equality, non-violence against women, and respect for all human persons; all counter-cultural in Bangladesh.

The Holy Cross Sisters will donate their land near their convent for the new school. Funds are needed to build the new school. The new school will hold two shifts daily serving 2,000-3,000 students each year. The people of the area will be able to support the maintenance and staffing for the school once it is built. The Holy Cross sisters, teachers from the area and additional teachers from outside the local community will be able to staff this greatly expanded school.

Empowering Rural Women through Professional Education

St. Joseph’s Community College

Visakhapatnam, India

Economic conditions in the area are very poor. The people of the villages do not own any land to cultivate and often face seasonal unemployment. Many from rural communities migrate to cities in search of livelihood. There they are often exploited and tricked into human trafficking situations. The women and children are the most vulnerable group. The sisters who are in the field of social work took a survey of various rural villages and realized that the young girls and women between 14-20 age group were the most vulnerable. With little hope for the future, many drop out of school. Those who don’t risk migration to cities, simply remaining at home. Many are then forced into marriages that they do not want to provide a dowry for the family. Keeping these young girls and women in mind we began a community college in the year 1999. Since the start of the school 600 students have graduated and are employed in various institutions, hospitals and homes.

The community college prepares the young women for careers by offering a

  • Diploma in Health Assistant
  • Diploma in Desk Top Publishing
  • Diploma in Early Childhood Care and Education
  • Tailoring skills
  • Fashion Technology skills

The curriculum has reached a stage of sophistication where internships and student placements are a vital part of the educational preparation and increase the likelihood of sustainable employment. The sisters provide the education, most of the lodging, food, supervision, books and other costs for the school. Most of these students are unable to afford transportation to these internship sites. The College wishes to purchase a mini-bus that would allow the staff to provide transportation to and from these internships.

This mini-bus will qualitatively improve the employment prospects of the students.

As time goes on some of the young women, because of the education and skills they have received from participating in the Project, will help in the operation of the program.

Preventing Impoverished Nomadic Women and Children From Exploitation

Vasantham Children’s Home, Kanyakumari, India

Nomadic children and women in Kanyakumari are often found begging; the children are exploited as child labor. They are outside of mainstream society and have significant social barriers that must be overcome to save them from abuse.

Sisters established the Vasantham Children’s Home in 1999, to bring nomadic people of the Kattunaickar Tribe into the mainstream of society. Educating these children and the most impoverished and abused women is the priority for this program. But, to accomplish this goal, the social barriers must be overcome.

The Sisters provide three layers of programming for these priority people. The first level is a residential program for 25 children. This most intensive program provides basic education and opportunities to learn skills that enable cultural inclusion. It also includes vocational training. After their time in the residential program, most of these children can become successful in the government school system. The sisters and their staff also provide what they call “Awareness and Livelihood Assistance” for 100 children. This consists of tutoring on educational basics, and classes and self-help groups on vocational and social skills. The families of these children do not value education, especially for girls and due to the extreme cultural differences of their nomadic lifestyle they are not easily accepted into the school system. Both the awareness program and the residential program help the young girls break these barriers.

Using the same building, the sisters also work with 300 impoverished women to help them build skills such as tailoring and embroidery work, helping them to get loans from banks to begin small businesses, motivational and leadership training, saving habits and understanding their human rights.