“Saving Lives, Celebrating Courage,” raises funds to save the lives of women and girls fleeing extreme violence in Houston area
Run. Walk. Hold someone’s hand. Do whatever you need to find the light at the end of the tunnel.
These were the inspirational words that a young survivor of abuse shared with more than 300 guests who filled the Houstonian Hotel on Sept. 20 for Tahirih Houston’s 3rd Annual Gala, “Saving Lives, Celebrating Courage.”
The crowd made history as contributors to Tahirih Houston’s most successful fundraising event since its opening five years ago in 2009.
Guests, co-chairs, and sponsors of “Saving Lives, Celebrating Courage” raised more than $370,000 for the nonprofit office to continue its lifesaving work to protect immigrant women and girls in the Houston area from extreme gender-based violence, including rape, female genital mutilation, domestic violence, human trafficking, honor crimes, and forced marriage.
Itza, Tahirih Houston’s 2014 Courageous Voice Honoree, shared her incredible story of survival and triumph over abuse with gala guests. Her story painted a visceral picture of trials facing young, immigrant girls across the state.
“I wanted to talk tonight so that you can all have a better idea of what Tahirih does, because for me, Tahirih changed my life,” Itza said as she addressed hundreds of guests gathered at the Houstonian.
From the age of 10 to 13, Itza was sexually assaulted by her stepfather. She gave birth to their child at the age of 12. Further hampering her odds of recovery, Itza was living in the United States without proper documentation.
When she was just 8, her family sent her from Nicaragua to the United States to live with her mother.
“With the help of some amazing people, I was finally able to tell my story to CPS, the police, and then a judge,” the brave 19-year-old said.
Staff at Tahirih Houston helped Itza obtain a U visa, a special legal protection for victims of serious crimes who assist police in putting their abusers behind bars. With a U visa, the young mother will not be deported and separated from her two daughters. Equipped with a social security card, she is now poised to build a future for her small family.
Since graduating from high school earlier this year, she has set a new goal of attending college and pursuing her long-standing dream of becoming a civil engineer.
“I want people to know there’s always light at the end of the tunnel — run, walk, hold someone’s hand if you need to,” Itza told guests, who honored her with a standing ovation at the end of her moving speech.
Extended Gala Coverage
Advocate of the Year: Edward Gallagher
Community Partner of the Year: BP America, Inc.
Courageous Voice Honoree: Itza
Founder’s Award Honoree: The Hearst Foundations
Pro Bono Attorney of the Year: Kathleen Weir
Browse Photo Album
Tahirih Houston’s Director Anne Chandler reminded guests that Tahirih tells stories like Itza’s not “as exhibition of pain, but as a recounting of adversity – a reminder for us all about the bravery, resiliency, and ultimate triumph of our clients.”
“Many brave women and girls come to us from all over the world, each with their individualized dark, painful stories, intense and heartbreaking,” Chandler said. “Their situations are hard to talk about, let alone live through. And when we see them, they don’t have lawyers, they don’t have money. They’ve often been quite literally starved and equally starved of education and the dignity and love to which every man, woman, and child on this planet so deserves.”
Chandler emphasized that the need for Tahirih Houston’s free legal and social services, public policy advocacy, and education and training is only growing. Texas now has the nation’s seventh-highest share of foreign-born residents and is also a recognized hub for human trafficking — second in the country for number of reported calls for help.
“At Tahirih, we know that foreign-born women and girls in our state are especially vulnerable to violence due to a constellation of factors, including extreme poverty, language barriers, and little knowledge of the complex U.S. legal system,” Chandler said.
Despite these challenging times, Chandler said she remains inspired every day by Tahirih’s clients.
“They have escaped the unthinkable, and they are now demanding a change, not just for themselves, but for their children, for their families, and sometimes for their entire communities,” she said.
Her inspirational remarks were followed by words from Tahirih Founder and Executive Director Layli Miller-Muro, who said we must demand equality for all women and girls.
“We can no longer tolerate the suffering of women in the world. We can longer tolerate pervasive inequality,” she said.
Both Miller-Muro and Chandler praised the compassion and dedication of gala guests and Tahirih Houston supporters in the fight to end violence against women and girls. Thanks to overwhelming support from the Houston community, they said, Tahirih is able help women and girls like Itza in their greatest moments of need.
Top: Houston-based artist Edgar Medina painted an original piece of art at the gala, and the piece was auctioned to benefit immigrant women and girls fleeing violence. | Middle: Houston Gala Co-Chairs Masu Haque-Khan (left) and Morgan Shin (right) at the annual Houston gala. | Bottom: Gala guests express their support for Tahirih’s lifesaving mission. | Find our full gala album on Facebook!