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Since the 1980s, Nigeria has been plagued by a sinister scourge: human trafficking. Despite the passing decades, this cruel reality continues to poison communities, notably in the state of Akwa Ibom, in the southern part of the country. Answering the call of Nigerian bishops and major superiors, Sister Anthonia M. Essien, a prominent member of the Congregation of the Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus in Nigeria, has taken the helm in the fight against this abomination.

As an esteemed professor of sociology of religion and vice-chancellor at the University of Uyo, Sister Anthonia has added a new dimension to her already busy schedule by vigorously tackling human trafficking. Her commitment extends beyond mere awareness-raising; she actively engages in developing programs aimed at raising awareness and equipping rural communities with the necessary skills to defend themselves against this scourge.

Since 2021, Sister Anthonia’s efforts have focused on the remote villages of Akwa Ibom State. In partnership with local authorities, she has coordinated operations aimed at dismantling trafficking networks and freeing victims from their clutches. According to RECOWACERAO NEWS AGENCY (RECONA), Sister Anthonia’s actions have resulted in the safeguarding of numerous children and adolescents who had fallen into the hands of traffickers, sometimes even sold by close acquaintances.

Recognizing the importance of community involvement, Sister Anthonia founded the Yak Iyamma Community Action Group. This collective brings together local donors and concerned citizens committed to combating human trafficking. Together, they empower local leaders and youth to become guardians of their own community, while providing young people with the skills necessary to escape the economic vulnerability exploited by traffickers.

Funding for this noble endeavor comes from an alliance between Sister Anthonia’s religious sisters, local donors, and the British foundation Arise. Through this coalition, thousands of vulnerable individuals have been reached by awareness and skills development programs, sowing hope in often forgotten regions.

Yak Iyamma’s campaigns unfold in markets, streets, and villages, braving the elements to reach every individual. Their message is clear: community unity is essential to counter the schemes of traffickers. Despite threats to their security, Sister Anthonia and her team remain steadfast in their mission, aware that every child saved is a victory over the darkness of human trafficking.