by Hala Bannourah
Prior to hearing about Ascent 121 and going on the Prayer Journey, I never gave much thought to Human Trafficking. I thought it was a faraway issue from my life or the lives of the students I worked with in the inner city. I thought this was something that happened in big cities, or overseas, but not here in Indiana, and for sure not in Fishers. All those assumptions were shattered when I went on the Prayer Journey. I felt stupid and naïve like I felt when I first came to this country. We were discussing coke addictions in one of my social work classes; I thought the discussion was about coca cola addiction! When I asked “why a person needs rehabilitation if they are drinking coke”, my classmates laughed at me”. I was so mortified and embarrassed when they explained “what coke was “. I felt like that during the Prayer Journey, with one exception, I was laughing at myself for being so stupid and ill informed. I also was angry at myself, I was a social worker in the inner city for over 22 years and I was not aware of this issue. I felt guilty. I was trained in how to spot child abuse, including sex abuse and report it, and yet it never crossed my mind to look for sex trafficking signs.
The hardest part for me throughout the journey was leaving the park. I wanted to stay out there and save any girl or woman that entered it. I knew it was not that easy, which sparked my thinking about all the systematic societal risk factors that I dealt with that could fuel the sex trafficking issue, like poverty, truancy, homelessness, runaways, drug addictions, children in the welfare system, and children in foster care. I was overwhelmed ….. It brought back so many unpleasant memories of when I was advocating to for policy change, advocating to provide adequate services to our youth at risk, and to strengthen the family unit, with no avail. I bet if we deal with those issues effectively, it will reduce the number of girls who become easy prey to this brutal crime.
I truly believe raising awareness and understanding that trafficking could be happening right in front of our eyes will make all the difference.
I also felt grateful that I had the opportunity to go on the Prayer Journey and learn about this issue, (even if it was 22 years later). I felt moved to learn more about human trafficking and the magnitude of this problem, about Ascent 121 and the services they provide for victims of sex trafficking. I also felt compelled to do something about it. I spent 22 years being naive; maybe I can spend the next 22 years educating myself and as many people as I can about this issue. I truly believe raising awareness and understanding that trafficking could be happening right in front of our eyes will make all the difference.
I still tear up when I think about this issue, as I am now writing this blog, I cannot fathom how any human being can treat or subject another human being to such cruelty.
Every night now I pray hard, I pray for the demise of this industry, I pray that God will put mercy in the hearts of the pimps and transform them. I pray for the protection of all of our innocent children and women everywhere. I pray that God will provide a way for them to safety. I pray that they would find emotional, physical and spiritual healing. I pray they leave all their pain behind them and live a fulfilling life.
Every night now I pray hard, I pray for the demise of this industry, I pray that God will put mercy in the hearts of the pimps and transform them.
Maintaining faith in God and hope in the many good people and organizations out there combating this issue, keeps hope and light in my mind. I feel compelled to shed light on this dark issue by spreading awareness to the people I come in touch with, especially to my fellow social workers who are still in the field, and to support existing agencies like Ascent 121, which provide recovery services for survivors of sex trafficking in any way I can.
With a grateful heart!
Hala Bannourah was born in Jerusalem, and raised in Bethlehem of the Holy Land.
She met her husband, Riyad Bannourah, overseas and immigrated to the United States in 1980. Her husband attended Purdue University, where he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering while she attended Indiana University. She graduated from IU University, in 1986, with a Masters in Social Work. Hala worked for St. Vincent’s system for 8 years, and recently retired from the Indianapolis Public Schools where she worked 22 years as an elementary school social worker.
Hala is currently the coordinator of the Charity Ministry Team at St. George Orthodox Church in Fishers. She is a member of the Indiana School of Social Workers Association, and volunteers at numerous organizations.