As I work on this final blog, I am still in disbelief that I have completed my year of service in California! To say it has been a turbulent journey would be an understatement. I had assumed that I would be putting my life on pause while I served for a year, but the ups and downs of life continued even while I was all the way over on the West coast.
One of the hardest things I had to do this year was whole-heartedly love the people I was serving when I felt like my own heart was broken at times. I came to recognize within myself the many times I failed at filling another person’s cup because my own cup was empty. The heartbreaks of life taught me a lot in this year away from my family and friends. I learned about the importance of self-compassion and self-reliance. Most importantly, I learned that even when I think I have nothing left to give, I can show up again and again to let God’s hands work through me. Ultimately, it was my passion to bring healing to people experiencing brokenness that allowed me to love people with all I had to give. Two populations deeply motivated me: victims of domestic violence and victims of human trafficking.
I have felt called to serve in anti-trafficking work ever since I learned about modern slavery. In fact, I came to the St. Joseph Worker program because they listened to my desire to do human trafficking-related work, and that is how I ended up with Mission Hospital. The timing was perfect because Mission Hospital was about to start an initiative to increase education among caregivers and improve services for victims of human trafficking. I was thrilled to be a part of the early phases of the initiative! Honestly it seemed daunting at first, and I was not sure where to start. I also doubted whether I was even qualified to do this work. But one qualification which I definitely possessed was my passion and previous knowledge!
If you are reading this and you are unfamiliar with human trafficking, then here are some fast facts. Trafficking consists of both sex trafficking and labor trafficking. It can happen transnationally, but it also happens within a country’s borders. And yes, it even happens within the United States. California is actually the state with the highest number of reported human trafficking, with Texas taking second place and Florida third. What saddens me the most is that traffickers prey on the most vulnerable in our communities. They prey on runaway youth, people who identify as LGBTQ, immigrants, children in the foster care system, the poor, etc. The abuse that goes into being subjected to either form of slavery causes trauma which I cannot even begin to fully comprehend. It is a heavy subject indeed, but I believe the healthcare field is an incredibly important instrument for helping victims of human trafficking.
For this reason, I worked to gather a group of dedicated caregivers from the Emergency Department, Radiology Department, Care Management Team, Spiritual Care Department & Women’s Wellness Center to form a human trafficking task force. This amazing team and I worked to create an official protocol for how to respond to a patient who is a victim of human trafficking in a trauma-informed manner. The protocol, along with several other projects, ignited momentum within the hospital. I am happy to see that the work will continue even after I leave. I know I helped lay the foundations for Mission Hospital to become an example to other hospitals in Orange County for focusing on victims of human trafficking.
It was very interesting to do this work because I was not providing service to victims of human trafficking directly. Rather, I was helping caregivers to be better prepared in case a patient comes to the hospital who is being trafficked. I learned more than I could have imagined about trauma-informed healthcare, which can be applied to every field of health! While I did not provide direct service to victims of human trafficking, I was surprised this year to work directly with victims of domestic violence at the Family Resource Center. I did not know much about the intricacies of power and control that go into situations of domestic violence. Admittedly, I did not know much about domestic violence at all. But working at the front desk at the Family Resource Center meant that I would take calls or help people who walked in looking for services. Sometimes those services were related to domestic violence or other abusive situations. I learned both from experience and by watching my empathetic co-worker on how to properly address situations ranging from crisis scenarios to bringing up opportunities for personal empowerment.
I was also very fortunate to go to a 40-Hour Domestic Violence Counselor Training. The 40-hour course was eye-opening to me in every way. I so appreciated learning about trauma-informed care through a lens of responding to intimate partner violence. Though I had not paid much attention to domestic violence in the past, this year allowed me to learn about the prevalence of the issue. Domestic violence truly affects all races, classes, and cultures. It was through my direct interactions with women experiencing brokenness and trauma from their situations of violence at home that I realized my loving presence, and the safe space I could create, were opportunities for healing. Just imagining the pain that these women were feeling kept me going, kept me working to fill my cup just so I could pour right into theirs. While victims of domestic violence may have lost sight of what authentic, compassionate love is due to their trauma, I considered it my mission to create safe spaces at the Family Resource Center—enough to grant clients a glimmer of hope.
And so, although I have always known the pricelessness of love, I had not truly appreciated the power it can have to an individual who may have lost sight of it. My job was simply to remind each client at the Family Resource Center of his or her dignity by putting their needs before my own and creating a sacred encounter. Trauma-informed care is all about creating that sacred space in which the victim/survivor’s needs are placed first. It is about reminding them that they can reclaim their body, their worth, and their dignity. If I could do that for at least one person this year, then I feel overjoyed. I also believe that the human trafficking initiative at Mission Hospital is going to go a long way to restore dignity in patients who are victims themselves. I am thankful that I could rely on God to keep filling my cup and to keep working His Love through me. I pray that the caregivers I came across this year can continue to be examples of whole-hearted healing, whether they are in the emergency room helping a victim of trafficking, or at the Family Resource Center connecting with a victim of domestic violence. I will end with this reflection, which came from Sister Ingrid Honore Lallande, CSJ:
“I love LOVE. And I’ll let LOVE love through me.”
Special thanks to Luz for sharing her service journey with our CVN community this year as a Serving with Sisters Contributor.
Luz Peredo-Muniz is a volunteer with St. Joseph Worker, Orange and a CVN Serving with Sisters Contributor. This blog series is sponsored by our VOCARE Initiative, thanks to the support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.