Activism in Parishes

Margaret Ng - post

PATH members in the spirit of St Joseph have been inspired by the assurance of Jesus that “I have come that you may have life and have it to the fullest” John 10:10 ~ Path vision statement

Josephite Sister Margaret Ng never misses a chance to talk to people about human trafficking. She knows only too well what such conversations can achieve. During a talk in 2015 at her Sydney parish, St Joseph’s in Enfield, to mark the feast day of St Josephine Bakhita, Margaret challenged parishioners to think what they could do personally and what the parish could do in response to human trafficking. Within a few weeks PATH (Parish Against Trafficking of Humans) was up and running.

Sr Margaret supports the United Nations 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, which begins on 25th November – International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and ends on 10th December – Human Rights Day. Human trafficking, a $150 billion global industry, is one of the greatest examples of violence against women and girls. Millions of women and girls are forced to work in terrible conditions for little, or no, pay and no chance of an education.

Since PATH began, the group has set about changing the way people in the inner western Sydney parish think about slavery, forced labour, supply chains and their own roles as consumers.

“Parishioners now know that human trafficking and forced marriage happens in our own backyard. It isn’t something far away,” said Margaret.

Margaret, a founding member of ACRATH more than 15 years ago, believes PATH could be replicated by parishes around Australia to create awareness of issues and to ensure that people understand the links between human trafficking and some of the push factors such as poverty. The group examines supply chains and the importance of changing consumer practices. Members also raise funds for trafficked people, living in Australia, who need clothing or rental support.

“We have tried to have a local focus, as well as the global overview and that’s where supply chains are particularly relevant,” Margaret said. “We tell people what is happening globally and then how we are complicit in keeping the injustices going. That’s where we can make big changes, by using our money and demanding certain products that are slavery free,” Margaret said. “Our group and as a result, our parish, has certainly developed a better understanding of human trafficking and what we can do,” Margaret said.

PATH members have created awareness and change in their parish through many projects and activities, including:

  • Regular updates and news in the parish bulletin about local and global human trafficking issues.
  • The sale of slavery-free certified chocolate at Easter, and handmade cards at Christmas, each raising about $1000 annually. COVID-19 meant no sales happened this year.
  • Discussions and advocacy about the sourcing of slavery-free clothing, the licensing of labour hire agencies and the seasonal workers’ program.
  • Writing a submission regarding the NSW Modern Slavery Act and letters to relevant Government inquiries.
  • Film nights, or speaking events that have featured Professor Jennifer Burn, Director of Anti-Slavery Australia and Interim Anti-SlaveryCommissioner for NSW.

“Our parishioners are now very clear about buying slavery-free certified chocolate at Easter and how it supports people around the world to be paid a fair wage and prevents slavery of children,” Margaret said.

The group, which meets monthly, works on a variety of projects that will ‘capture’ as many parishioners as possible, particularly older parishioners who might not be able to attend events. One initiative was the setting up of a ‘pledge wall’ at the Church where people had to sign up and pledge to do three things – say a prayer for those trafficked, tell at least one person about human trafficking and to sign a postcard advocating for a change on a supply chain issue. More than 20 people signed the pledge.

“One day after Mass when I had spoken about this work, a man came up and gave me $500 to buy some clothing for the people I work with. People want to respond to the injustice of human trafficking, sometimes we just need to provide opportunities,” she said. “I am encouraged by the resilience of the trafficked people I work with and our PATH group aims to give hope and make a difference, even if it is just to one person.”

For more 16 Days Against Gender Based Violence Campaign information and resources click here.

Image: Sr Margaret holding PATH’s slavery-free certified t-shirts and some of the Christmas cards made and sold each year.

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