Romania - Reduce Human Trafficking though Increased Volunteerism in Schools
“I have been reflecting on my time in Romania in the context of what it means to be a witness. What is my role as a witness to sex and organ trafficking? What does God expect of me now that I’ve been given this privileged gift to be a first-hand witness to the exploitation of his children? I have a voice. I have the courage to make things happen.”
-Team Romania, BOTFL XII
In the 42 years of its Communist rule and the 31 following, the disabled people of Romania have been hidden, neglected, and abused. At the same time, the concept of volunteerism was tainted by its association with forced labor in the Communist Era. AMAR Romania exists to improve the lives of the country's disabled community while fostering a culture of volunteerism. It created the Community Action Program to pair special and mainstream schools in an after school activity program, developing lasting friendships and tangible life skills for volunteers and beneficiaries.
What was the problem?
Unfortunately, the disabled aren't Romania's only vulnerable community. Given its location, government corruption, societal norms, and a severe lack of employment opportunities, Romania has a devastatingly high rate of human trafficking, especially of young women. AMAR saw an opportunity to make an impact in this tragedy, and brought in the BOTFL team to (1) develop a model of the Romanian human trafficking industry, (2) design potential methods of intervention, and (3) write a compelling case study about AMAR's past, present, and future work to be shared with other humanitarian organizations and donors.
What did we do?
Prior to our in-country experience, the team’s research focused on two key areas: opportunities for AMAR to increase its impact through the Community Action program in Romania, and natural intervention points in the human trafficking supply chain. Through deep research consisting of academic research articles and interviews with both United States and Romanian experts working with disabled and disadvantaged children and the prevention of human trafficking, the team was armed with the knowledge to conduct further research in the field.
With the support of our in-country partner, the team was able to conduct a variety of school visits to learn, interact with, and interview teachers, volunteers and beneficiaries from both mainstream and special schools across Romania. We conducted interviews with key stakeholders in the Ministry of Education, the US Embassy, and experts in the fight against human trafficking. These conversations led to the following key insights: (A) local coordinators are the crucial lifeblood of the Community Action Program, (B) the importance of keeping at-risk youth in school to prevent recruitment into human trafficking situations, and (C) the high likelihood that Romania will face US sanctions in the near future.
What was the turning point?
The team’s time spent in-country proved to be a key element of the research and problem solving process for AMAR. Through numerous interviews and school visits the team learned that the Community Action coordinators and teachers are the true lifeblood of this organization’s uptick in volunteerism across Romania. The team grew to realize that while AMAR has continued its championing of the Community Action Program, the program has been successfully integrated within the Romanian educational system and the respective communities. By identifying the fruitful AMAR Process of surveying, piloting, partnering, scaling, and shepherding, the team believed that there was an opportunity for AMAR to pursue new ventures or change strategic direction. Expert interviews indicated that keeping individuals in school is a critical component in the prevention of human trafficking, leading the team to believe that AMAR is uniquely positioned to intervene in the tragedy of human trafficking across Romania by utilizing existing relationships and capabilities across the country.
What was the recommendation?
The team provided recommendations for AMAR’s involvement with SNAC that represent three larger strategic decisions for its future in Romania.
- Continue Shepherding - Tutoring Program: AMAR could coordinate an after-school tutoring program, designed to help children navigate Romania’s challenging curriculum to keep them in school. This will help with self-esteem, social integration, and will keep children on a stable career trajectory, far from the illicit industries that school dropouts can fall prey to.
- Scale Involvement in Community Action - Piloting Program: If AMAR chooses to significantly increase its involvement with the Community Action program, this could be implemented through developing a piloting program, in which teachers from all schools will compete for an award for best original Community Action activity, as a means to motivate and reward the teachers who keep the program alive. The winning concept will then be funded for all schools, ensuring that the most effective activities are standardized across the country, and giving poorer schools the chance to participate.
- Scale Back Involvement in Community Action: If AMAR chooses to scale back its involvement in well integrated and self-sustained Community Action progam, it will have the opportunity to pursue solutions to address broader issues facing Romania, like human trafficking. However, if this option is pursued, maintaining momentum is likely to fall on local coordinators and be heavily reliant on succession planning to ensure continuation of program advocates and participation.
The team also provided recommendations for AMAR’s involvement in achievable and natural anti-trafficking intervention points based on its existing capabilities and core competencies.
- Career Support Services in Child Welfare Homes: Through utilizing its affiliation with Community Action, AMAR can look to implement a career support initiative within child welfare homes by working with its existing volunteer partnerships and involving local stakeholders. By working with these young people for two years prior to graduation from the child welfare system and for one year post, AMAR can ensure successful reintegration into both the labor force, prospective community, and reducing the likelihood of recruitment into illicit industries.
- Anti-Trafficking in Persons Curriculum: Should the Romanian government address anti-trafficking in persons head-on in the future, AMAR can utilize its connections within the Ministry of Education and the Romanian government to aid in the development and implementation of a nation-wide anti-trafficking curriculum. These materials would be developed for use within police, justice, teach and student groups and simultaneously made publicized and delivered through alternative public measures.