“The greater my wisdom, the greater my grief.
To increase knowledge only increases sorrow.” — Ecclesiastes 1:18
I did a brave thing. Something I might not have been able to do almost two years ago, before I moved to New Orleans. I stood in front of the Presbytery of South Louisiana and told them the story of the work I am doing here and the struggle and reality of it all. It’s difficult to describe how difficult my job is. I could give you definitions of sex trafficking, trauma, addiction, burnout and secondary trauma, but you wouldn’t be able to feel what I feel. My job has not only been preparing me for school, but has been teaching me about the realities of the world. And I’m learning what I think about those realities, and how I am going to allow those realities to affect my world view. I don’t have any profound revelations to share in this blog post. Maybe later this year, maybe next year, maybe never. But below is the speech I shared at our last presbytery meeting. It will give you a glimpse into what I’m doing here. Below that I will include pictures from Mardi Gras and this past month.
Hello! My name is Courtney, and I am one of the Young Adult Volunteers serving in New Orleans this year. This is actually my second year as a YAV in New Orleans. This year I am working at a nonprofit called Eden House. If you have never heard of Eden House, brace yourself. We are the only social service organization in New Orleans that serves adult victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. We house up to eight victims of trafficking for two years and provide services such as health care, addiction and trauma therapy, education and job training free of cost. Our executive director and board also offer outreach and education for the public on the prevalence and effects of human trafficking in New Orleans, which consistently ranks in the top 20 cities in the country for human trafficking. I am the program assistant for Eden House. I am in charge of interns, social media, small financials for residents, I help with fundraising, and I am on the front line for phone calls and emails from people inquiring about Eden House. My job varies from day to day and there is never a dull moment.
I plan to become a social worker in the future, and Eden House is definitely preparing me for a career in social services. I am learning about how to work with victims of trauma and the issues that usually arise with trauma, such as addiction, mental illness, and homelessness. There is no better place than Eden House to learn about the tragedy that is human trafficking, and the sadness that surrounds its victims. The hardest day of work, so far, surrounded a woman I spoke to who I’m going to call Emma. As I mentioned earlier, I answer the phone for Eden House, and many of the phone calls we receive are from victims interested in joining our program. We only have the capacity for eight residents, and there is a process for admitting a new resident that usually takes a while. When Emma called she was desperate to find a safe place to recover. She had been trafficked by her mother since she was a child. During her years of selling her body against her will, she claimed to have had more than ten children, all of whom were taken from her and sold by her pimp. She was addicted to drugs to numb her pain and to keep her working, because she couldn’t get the drugs if she wasn’t making money. She would call me every day, multiple times a day, asking to join Eden House. Our social worker and counselor had decided that her trauma was too great for Eden House. They did not have the capability to give her all of the services she would require, and it would negatively affect the other residents who were farther along in their recovery. They were desperately trying to find her another program to join, and in the meantime, Emma would call me and all I could tell her was try again tomorrow. One day I picked up the phone and it was not Emma on the other end. It was Emma’s friend, who was also trying to find a program for Emma to join. She informed us that she had found Emma’s body earlier that morning. She had overdosed on whatever drug she was addicted to. Whether it was an accident or not is unclear but it is clear that this woman was in pain because of the years of trauma she had experienced. I couldn’t help but break down in tears because we never could get Emma the help she needed. But as I looked at the progress our current residents had made, even in the short few months I had been there, I knew there was hope. As Eden House grows, we will be more equipped to help women like Emma. There are hundreds of victims like Emma around the country and around the world. If Eden House can help as many victims as possible, one woman at a time, we will be taking the necessary steps toward ending human and sex trafficking altogether.
Eden House certainly has a way of testing my faith. Coming face to face with the evils of sexual exploitation, addiction and mental illness doesn’t exactly create an easy environment to see the Gospel in action. Which is why I am so lucky to have my beautiful intentional community this year, as well as the guidance of Layne. I believe that intentional community it the most important aspect of the YAV program. My community’s constant love and support gives me the strength to get up and go to work each morning. Our twice weekly meetings give us a chance to share our joys and struggles, talk about our faith, and experience new spiritual practices to grow in our individual faiths together. We are never alone, whether we like it or not, and we are always free to express ourselves. It’s amazing how seven completely different young adults, can come together and help each other grow in ways we didn’t even know we needed.
I want to thank all of you, Presbytery of South Louisiana, for your continued support of the YAV program. I am so happy and blessed to have the opportunity to serve here twice. You have been a huge part of these two life changing years, which have turned me from a small, shy desert girl with no direction, into a slightly more confident, swamp dwelling, Mardi Gras-loving, budding social worker. I am so excited to see where these next five months take my housemates and me, and with your support, I know we will go far. Thank you.