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HOUSTON, TX — “Tahirih has been a partner and ally like no other in the city’s fight against human trafficking,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said to a packed ballroom at the Tahirih Justice Center’s 5th Annual Houston Gala, “A Mother’s Life, A Child’s Future.”

Highlighting Houston’s diversity with pride, Mayor Sylvester Turner also focused on the city’s efforts to curb human trafficking, an egregious human rights violation to which immigrant women and girls are particularly vulnerable.

With the support of Tahirih and other community partners, Mayor Turner released an Anti-Human Trafficking Strategic Plan with the purpose of changing policy, raising awareness, expanding services for victims, and jumpstarting groundbreaking initiatives to combat this horrific crime.

“With Tahirih’s assistance, victims regain their voice, their dignity, and their lives,” he said to the room of over 400 supporters.

“I am humbled and privileged to be here with all of you to recognize an organization whose virtue lies in giving more than it receives.”

It was in that spirit of humility that Mayor Turner then welcomed the 2016 Courageous Voice Honoree, Maritza, a young woman who “embodies the indomitable Houston spirit” with her extraordinary bravery.

At age 15, Maritza was kidnapped by human traffickers. Through incredible courage and ingenuity, she survived her horrifying ordeal, escaped, ensured her family’s safety, and successfully made the harrowing journey to the United States.

Maritza is one of more than 150,000 unaccompanied children who have fled violence in Central America and sought refuge in the United States in just the last two years. Tahirih’s Children’s Border Project, which was created in response to this crisis, was able to take her case and help her rebuild her life.

“I feel very grateful for my attorneys,” Maritza said, “because thanks to them, I feel safe here now.”

Today, Maritza is in high school and plans to continue onto college to fulfill her dream of becoming a nurse. She is looking toward the future, where she hopes to be reunited with her mother and brother once again.

In her final moments onstage, Maritza addressed the audience directly – “To all the other women with a story like mine: stay brave. We have Tahirih. We can do it.”
Photo by Sweet Nest Photography