This testimony has been shared with the help of Janeth del Carmen Rodríguez Gonzáles, RGS, a religious sister with the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd for 29 years. A social worker by training, she works to provide humanitarian aid to those on the move in and through Honduras (essential provisions like food, water, clothing, hygiene items and baby supplies). The Congregation’s ministry focuses on areas where there are high concentrations of migrants. Among them: 1) Danlí, at the border, between Nicaragua and Honduras – 57 miles southeast of Tegucigalpa. The sisters visit the outskirts to distribute essential supplies; 2) Tatumbla Bus Terminal, where buses full of migrants in transit arrive every 20 minutes. They assist entire families, many with children under 5 years old; 3) Choluteca, at Nicaragua’s border with Honduras in the north, where the sisters visit and support a shelter where migrants stay to regain strength.
What is the essence of the story?
Because of her struggles with poverty, single motherhood and unemployment, an immigrant woman finds herself at risk of being trafficked.
Who is the focus of this story? What personal data do we know about her? (for example, name, age, country, family, occupation, personality, etc.) What is her goal? What are her needs, wants and aspirations?
Ms. Merlín Edith Avila Lagos, age 29, is a single woman with a 5th-grade education. Born in Sabanagrande, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, she is a homemaker, and a single parent to her 4-year-old daughter. She has a family history of drug use and domestic violence.
From a family of six children, Ms. Merlin is the fourth child and the second daughter. Her father abandoned the family when she was very young. Her mother worked hard to provide for the family by making and selling corn donuts, but the family lived in extremely poor conditions. At the age of 10, Ms. Merlín decided to start working, selling donuts just like her mother. She wanted to be able to buy things for herself and to help her mother. Soon after starting work, she dropped out of school because she was unable to afford school supplies.
At the age of 15, she met a man 10 years older than her. At the beginning of their relationship, the 25-year-old man treated her well, but when Ms. Merlin got pregnant, his attitude changed and he left her. She also felt abandoned by her mother because the family had not approved of this man or the relationship. Given the circumstances, Ms. Merlin felt that she had to travel north to find work so she could provide for her daughter.
What obstacles prevent this woman from reaching her goal? (for example, economic, social, cultural, etc.) Highlight the obstacles that GSIF is helping with or will help her to overcome.
What other obstacles or problems is this woman facing? (for example: discrimination, poor nutrition, displacement, violence, etc.)
At the age of 27, given economic and family pressures, Ms. Merlin made the decision to travel to the United States. She met a neighbor close in age who told her that she had the same struggles. The neighbor told Ms. Merlin that she knew a friend – a man – who took people north into the U.S. Ms. Merlin sold a wooden wardrobe for 3,000 lempiras (about 140 dollars), and the two began their journey, leaving for San Pedro Sula, and then for the border with Guatemala. Once at the border, the man told them that they had to stay in the area for approximately four days. He kept the two women locked up, so that they were unable to communicate with anyone. He told them that if they tried to escape, immigration officers would catch them and take them to jail.
One day, the women insisted on going out to buy a charger for their cell phones. While out, they saw some women selling food. One of these women told them to “get out of there as soon as possible,” that the two were in a very bad situation and that the man would try to sell them for prostitution. The two women fled and hid in a garbage dump, staying there through the night until the man stopped looking for them. They then returned to their families in Honduras.
Eight days later, a person made contact with Ms. Merlin in Honduras through social networks. The woman, posing as a friend, suggested that Ms. Merlin leave Honduras again, assuring her that she would get her to the U.S. safely and without incident. Knowing of her family’s great need, she decided to try to make the journey again. But things deteriorated after she met the supposed friend in San Pedro Sula, Honduras and the two arrived in Guatemala. Ms. Merlin came to realize that the supposed friend had a connection to the man from the first trip who had tried to sell her. Ms. Merlin and the woman went to a shopping center and Ms. Merlin saw this same man from a distance. At that point she understood that she was caught up in a human trafficking ring. She managed to get away and returned to her town and her daughter. She believes she is better off and safer in her country. While she still struggles to support her daughter with her donut business, she is grateful for the emotional support that she receives from the Good Shepherd sisters in her community.
What actions does GSIF take to help the woman, or how do GSIF and the woman work together to meet the challenge?
What programs, projects or initiatives specifically support this person?
With the support of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd and her family, Ms. Merlin has been able to build her donut business. selling them in her town and in the city. Through these efforts she is able to care for her daughter – all without exposing herself to the danger of human trafficking. .
What is the result for the woman? Did she reach her goal or progress towards it? How is the woman’s life now?
Ms. Merlin is eager to work hard, get ahead and watch her daughter grow up. She now collaborates on a project to raise awareness about the presence of human trafficking in the community. She recognizes the value of social networks but urges people to learn how to use them properly and with care. Today she also promotes the work of Good Shepherd and warns others about the risks that can accompany migration.