Bernadette Saragih ESF is a Franciscan nun who for years has dedicated herself to saving young women from human trafficking. Her journey began in 1991, when she was sent to Batam Island, the most direct access to Singapore (just 30 minutes by boat). There, she met a lot of girls from the province of West Kalimantan who work as 'domestic maids' in Singapore.
Sr. Bernadette tells AsiaNews: "In Batam, many young mothers
and girls are involved in illegal soliciting without the ability to
react. Most of them are offered a job as a 'maid' but then are
manipulated and forced by the local underworld to work in local
nightclubs and prostitution racket. They would like to end it, but do
not know how to because doing so would mean no more money to send to
their families. "
Batam today is a safe haven for the exploiters of prostitution, which is
an illegal activity in Singapore. This is where Sr. Bernadette, along
with local NGO began to assist these desperate girls. "Often they come
to the convent -s he says - the I take care of them and help them to go
back home. I once helped a young girl who had just finished high school,
I sent her to Medan and now she has graduated. "
In February, the nun contacted AsiaNews - she was going to
someone to Kupang in East Nusa Tenggara - asking for help to bring a
young woman, a former ‘maid' in Malaysia, home to her native village.
Unfortunately, because of tight schedules, it was not possible.
Four years ago, the sisters’ superior formally assigned Sr.
Bernadette the task of dealing with issues of human trafficking. "I'm
doing my mission together with the 'Association of Indonesian religious,
the Socio-economic Commission of the Archdiocese of Medan and the
Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC).
In Medan, many of the victims are from the Indonesian province of
East Nusa Tenggara and West Nusa Tenggara. These girls are 'blocked' due
to a lack of education. Sometimes, because of the abuses and violence,
they decide to escape and taxi drivers or local police bring them to us.
Seeing them in desperate situations touches me deeply inside, there are
cases of tuberculosis, malnutrition, broken legs because of the
violence. Sometimes we do not have time to save them and they die in our
arms ... This is our vocation in today's world - concludes the nun – to
help those who are desperate in any way we can".