The Rev. Jeff Bayhi, of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Zachary, is on a mission to fund Metanoia Manor, a safe refuge for adolescent girls rescued from human trafficking.

As Metanoia’s principle founder, Bayhi shared plans for the facility, which include raising $2.5 million for construction and operations, with the Zachary Rotary Club on June 9.

The word metanoia is of Greek origin and means “the journey of changing one’s mind, heart, self or way of life” and is a term often used by St. Paul in his writings, Bayhi said.

A master plan and drawings have been designed and ground broke on the facility in April at an undisclosed Baton Rouge-area location.

“We have such a large issue in our state with human trafficking,” Bayhi said. “According to national data, the Interstate 10 corridor between Houston and New Orleans is the worst corridor in the United States for human trafficking.”

In a video Bayhi shared with the group, victims spoke of being raped, robbed, kidnapped, tortured or worse.

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Helping Bayhi with his cause are four Hospitaler Sisters of Mercy nuns — Sister Ann Maria Mathew, of India; Sister Ruth Nwokike, of Nigeria; Sister Norma Nunez, of the Philippines; and Sister Alexandrine Rasoanirina, of Madagascar — who have volunteered their service to Metanoia, which will house up to 16 victims under the age of 21. The girls will be supervised and nurtured by the nuns, who will offer a spiritual component of recovery that is nondenominational.

Each girl will have her own private room with bath and will remain at Metanoia until she is ready to function in society, Bayhi said.

“We want to make them human again. We want to restore their souls and make them feel like they are worth something, and that’s a great challenge,” Bayhi said, “and I know it’s a great challenge, but no one else is taking it.”

Metanoia’s 13-member board of directors includes attorneys, pastors, representatives from child advocacy centers, a children’s doctor, senator and law enforcement personnel, who are working with Bayhi to help secure funding through private donations and organizations. The facility will not be state or federally operated or funded, he said.

“Metanoia will offer safety, security, independence and community and will be a place of recovery and learning,” Bayhi said. “First, though, we need plenty of prayers and financial support.”

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