Today is my third day visiting our prevention programme in Moldova. I was especially keen to get out of the capital city Chisinau and see the rural villages. It was not that there isn’t enough to do in the city, but I was glad to balance all of our meetings about the programme with some face to face time with those most at risk.
The roads in the capital are terrible. They have not had any money for repairs since the end of the communist regime 20 years ago, where my host reliably informed me that “what you could have bought a car for one day, could not even buy a loaf of bread the next.” It was therefore of little surprise that outside of the city there are even more holes and that a journey once taking and hour can now take three.
We arrived at a very dilapidated looking area, not a village as I expected but the outer suburbs, still with apartment blocks but where broken windows are replaced with plastic sheet or even bricks. Where your wardrobe is whatever you are wearing right now. Where there is never enough wood for the fires- I cannot imagine the harsh winters here. I can, in part, understand how the government wishes to demolish what remains standing of these old buildings. I can understand the natural expansion of the city. I cannot however imagine nor understand a government with no plans to relocate these people, just to render them homeless.
Today we were visiting a survivor of trafficking who has made her way back to her village and back to her family. Her story starts as many do with someone close by suggesting to you that they ‘have the answer to all of your problems, a job just over the border with great money, you will be the saviour of your family and your drunken violent husband’. This was not a young woman, not at all the mid to late teens or early twenties we have become accustomed to. This woman was thirty, and I feel it is important to share, through her story, the diversity of trafficking demand.
Lena was lured by the promise of change and so she took the advice and promises of her neighbour to heart and headed to Ukraine and the port of Odessa to set sail for Turkey. She had her passport taken from her and the nightmare began. She was told not to make a sound. Not to draw attention at the border or she would be killed. Upon arrival in Turkey she was taken immediately to the basement of a townhouse where she endured forced prostitution and abuse solidly for two months. There is not really much that can be said about this, I did not want to ask what took place there any more than she would want to disclose it.
She was eventually freed during a police raid. She had her personal items and her mobile phone returned to her and was placed on the boat back home. On arriving in Ukraine she was offered a safe house and rehabilitation, but instead chose to go home, desperate to see her children. All she had that she could sell was her phone and she did. Instead of first buying a ticket home, she used the money to buy chocolate, chocolate for her 3 young children at home so they would think she had enjoyed a good happy and fruitful trip. She lives to this day next to the person who helped to sell her, but chooses to keep her head down, not to involve the police and attempts to keep the horror of her trafficking hidden from everyone, even her family. I understand a little more now the phrase ‘suffer in silence’.
I am pleased that she has finally found courage to speak of her ordeal. I see this radiantly beautiful woman in front of me, with shining red hair swept back in a hair band. A mother returning home bearing chocolate, and smile of joy to see her family. She becomes lost in the ecstatic embrace of her children. While at the same time desperately holding her tortured soul together with fragile hands.
Regardless of setting, many parents the world over share concerns for their children’s well being (it would be fair to say our daughters, more so). I can only speculate at the anguish for Lena, who even though time has passed still bears the burden of knowing how harsh the world can be, even as she gave birth to her fourth child: four equally radiant girls. I draw some small solace from knowing that she is not alone in her desire to keep these little ones safe.