Why I am, Where I am
In undertaking my studies in International Development, some would expect that I work in a nation that is below the poverty line, war torn, or politically unstable. However, my passions and interests have led me somewhere else. The internship is located in a nation not often mentioned in Canada. My wife Brittany and I have moved to Timisoara, Romania for 3 months. Romania geographically sits in Eastern Europe with Hungary to the West and the Black Sea to the East. Romania became a member of the EU in 2007 and have been receiving millions for development projects since. They moved into the top 60 richest nations in the world (GDP per capita indicator). So why am I in Romania if it seems to be developing well economically? Two words: Human Trafficking.
While the fall of the Iron Curtain offered hopes of a better life in Western Europe, millions of people from poverty stricken nations in Eastern Europe have fallen victims of human trafficking. The UN claims that human trafficking is deemed as the fastest growing crime in the world. UNICEF estimated that 2 million children are currently in the commercial sex trade globally. To blow your mind with statistics once more, experts have projected that 36 million modern day slaves exist today, which is attributed to human trafficking. Romania is no exception, ranking as one of the top global hot spots, with 880 verified victims of human trafficking and thousands more unaccounted for.
Romania is covered with beautiful mountains, rolling hills, and ancient castles. My journey here with my wife has been an exceptional one. To combat human trafficking I have had the fortunate opportunity to serve with AIDRom, an organization that implements a wide array of aid projects for refugees, asylum seekers, migrants, trafficked victims, and families. My main role here is to facilitate human trafficking prevention campaigns with ANITP (The National Agency Against Human Trafficking) throughout Timis district, the worst affected area in Romania.
High School Outreach
The prevention campaigns I am involved in have been formed into 3 phases: high school outreach, a prevention and awareness event (the justice cup), and church & camp presentations. The first phase lasted the month of May, where we developed material and presented to 4 High Schools. Many of the students in these schools were vulnerable cases (ie. poor, rural, disabled etc.). The sole objective for these presentations was to teach the students how to identify traffickers, take greater precautions in working abroad, to break the demand of sexual exploitation, and to impart value and worth in each student. After one of the presentations a student informed us of a potential trafficker that had been recruiting some of his friends. Police were called and the situation was investigated. It was quite the experience. Many of the children loved our involvement and even asked for pictures or high fives after the presentations. The campaign concluded with over 250 students reached!
Infusing Sport with Prevention
The Justice Cup was the first of its kind in Romania. The combination of sport and prevention created a beautiful blend of informal education and enjoyment, presenting a unique openness to such a difficult topic. Soccer players, coaches, students, teachers, families and friends all gathered together for a soccer tournament infused with human trafficking prevention. The day was set up with continuous soccer games, fun activities (such as archery and badminton), delicious snacks, soccer skills competitions, prizes and trophies for the champions. Also integrated into the mix were special guests from the police force, a psychologist, and social workers available to the public on the topic of human trafficking. A human trafficking prevention presentation and quiz was also performed and informative flyers, t-shirts, and posters were offered. After an onslaught of soccer, the event concluded with one boy and one girl team emerged victoriously, as Timisoara’s Justice Cup Champions! Over 150 people came from all around Timis district for a full-day of fun, prevention, and awareness.
Unity is Key
One of the greatest things I learned in the midst of these prevention campaigns is the importance of partnership and networks. Without the assistance and collaboration of many agencies, NGO’s, schools, and volunteers the Justice Cup event would not have been made possible. This event only reached a few hundred people in one city, yet the whole world must be informed. Prevention is just a single weapon in the fight against human trafficking; legislation, the police force, aftercare facilities, and the influence of culture/media influence are all required to overcome the force of human trafficking. In order for us to abolish slavery, it is imperative that we work together. This cannot be done just by putting multiple logos on a poster or a list of names on a project proposal, but it is essential that legitimate unity and cooperation is grasped. Stakeholder and Focus groups must collaborate and partner together, share each other’s information, resources, research, creativity and influence openly and accessibly. In doing so, we will form an army that will obliterate human trafficking once and for all.
Jason Durst is a Candidate in cohort 4 of the Master of Development Practice program at the University of Waterloo. Jason previous experience includes psychology and work in numerous countries in the Global South. His current research interests include human sex trafficking prevention, gender equality, peace and conflict resolution.