I received an invite from ECPAT International to support a development programme in the Republic of Moldova, which resulted in this conference on 10-11 August in Chisinau, Moldova. This was an exciting opportunity for NWG to work with international colleagues and support the development of the response to CSE in this young republic.
Sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, Moldova emerged as an independent republic following the collapse of the USSR in 1991.
The bulk of it, between the rivers Dniester and Prut, is made up of an area formerly known as Bessarabia. This territory was annexed by the USSR in 1940 following the carve-up of Romania in the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact between Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s USSR.
Two-thirds of Moldovans are of Romanian descent, the languages are virtually identical and the two countries share a common cultural heritage.
I just returned from my family vacation on the previous Friday, which with some coincidence was a trip in Eastern Europe, and meant that I flew in from Prague on Friday only to fly out on Sunday morning. There are not many European countries where it is almost impossible to get a direct flight out of the UK but the most practical flight was to fly from Gatwick via Kiev but 12 hours after I left home I was at the small airport at Chisinau the capital of Moldova. I was pleased to hear my name called as I disembarked from the plane at Chisinau and there was Marianna Yeusyukovo the ECPAT International Global Child Participation Officer who had arranged the whole event. As you probably know, ECPAT International is a global network of civil society organisations working together. It seeks to ensure that children everywhere enjoy their fundamental rights free and secure from all forms of commercial sexual exploitation. ECPAT International Secretariat is the administrative and coordinating unit of ECPAT International and is based in Bangkok, Thailand . The Skype screen had been good enough for her to recognise me. Marianna is based in Bangkok but is a native of Ukraine and had been visiting her family over the weekend. A dynamic young woman, by the end the trip I’m thinking this is what it would have been like to work with Sheila Taylor when she was in her early thirties.
We had two days to work with the professionals from the statutory agencies and Strada Moldova. Tatiana and Anna were to be our critical local contacts throughout. Ana Revenko is the President of International Centre “ La Strada” and Tatiana Buianina the lead Psychologist at the same organisation. Both are formidable advocates for the rights of vulnerable young people in Moldova. It was also my first time working through an interpreter in a conference setting and it was reassuring for me (and for the interpreter!!) that he had trained at the University of Cork and was at home with my Irish tones.
The importance of hand movement when speaking through an interpreter!
We were to be joined by Reut Guy during the first day. Reut Guy is Director of Girls Field and Youth in Extreme Risk and member of ELEM Professional Management Team. Ms. Reut supervises 11 programmes in the fields that detect and assist minors in prostitution, homeless youth, and girls and young women who have been sexually abused. She also has experience working with state institutions such as Ministry of Social Affairs and Welfare, unaccompanied children, youth in emergencies, family interventions etc. Ms. Reut holds a Masters in Women and Gender Studies, with a specialisation in Law.
ELEM is Israeli NGO providing care to at-risk and deeply troubled youth. ELEM operates programmes in 40 cities and towns nationwide.
Marianna opened the event with a description of the task we had set and with 30 professionals in the room. A Ministerial representative from the Department of Labour of the Government of the Republic of Moldova gave an opening address on the importance of the work to them and how the challenges are significant for the country and the economic situation of Moldova. Expectations of the session emphasized the importance that they place on having Reut and myself at this event.
Reut Guy, Ray McMorrow, Marianna Yeusyukovo
I then held two separate seminars with the group before and after lunch. The first described the work of the NGW Network and it’s context within British Law and British Child Protection systems. Marianna emphasised elements of International Law that applied to Moldova. Our public awareness and youth participation work was particularly interesting to the participants.
In the afternoon I presented a seminar on trauma- based interventions, the impact of developmental trauma in CSE, differences between CSE responses and those in other child maltreatment programmes. We finished with some descriptions of interventions for recovery in the UK and a discussion on therapeutic approaches and impact.
Reut finished the day by describing the work of her project in Tel Aviv, the NGO engagement with the young women involved in street prostitution (The focus in Israel and in Moldova is on children involved in prostitution and who have been trafficked so I use the term to reflect the conference though I emphasized our objection to this term in the UK) and with some innovative practice. A strong emphasis for Reut is the empowerment of the young people in all aspects of engagement, which led to some debate in the room.
The team was to spend the evening preparing for day two and through a light dinner we finished at 9pm. Not much time for seeing Chisinau but the food in this country is wonderfully fresh and the quality of their wines exceptional. Moldova is a major wine producer though little of this reaches the UK. It has traditionally supplied the Soviet market but is becoming known in Germany and Central Europe. Poverty in the countryside is high and emigration often splits parents with fathers going to Russia and mothers to Italy to find work. I had described to me whole villages of 300 people completely deserted. They are also very fond of pastries and pancakes though I could not see anybody we would describe as obese.
It is most unusual to find a capital city in Europe that has very few street lights and walking the street at night is a very different experience. There are street markets and bars and many of the population out walking the streets in semi-darkness. Most residents live in concrete Soviet built tower blocks and with temperatures in the high 30s this may have been part of the reason to be out.and about. 80% of Chisinau was flattened by both Russian and Nazi invasions during WW2 and this was exacerbated by an earthquake hitting the city. Streets are highly pot-holed and pavements no different where they exist, but I am reminded that the standard of living is much higher in the city than the rest of Moldova.
Day Two commenced with Reut describing how her NGO organisation engages and lobbies the Israeli government. Both Reut and Marianna are lawyers by profession and their focus on educating children and frontline workers on the rights of the child and trafficked victims was interesting.We felt vindicated in the decision to hold workshops until this point as the presentation was received with a lot of energy from the specialist workers who clearly struggle with the day – to – day work and the limitations of the state capacity. The discussion on legal responsibilities against moral responsibilities toward children was a very real and interesting challenge.
From this point Tatiana took the lead in scoping a response from the delegates and looking at what the proposed framework will be. Marianna, Reut and I provided consultation and suggestions along the way. When the day ended the delegates were both enthused and keen to continue working with Le Strada Moldova on the framework. Reut and I will continue to provide some consultation on the developments and I hope we can share the outcomes with the network at the point of completion later this year.
We were taken to dinner in downtown Chisinau by Tatiana and her colleague. We had described to us the low levels of literacy in the city and their attempts as psychologists and young citizens to improve this. “ Reading is Sexy” is an interesting project . The evening was lovely though we were all tired from the completion of the conference and the stifling heat. New friends have been made and new links and learning. I had a 4am start the following morning to catch my flight home.
We have a tradition in the team that we bring back a postcard from wherever we have been to work abroad. I had jested before the trip that Moldova may challenge this tradition and to my surprise Moldova did not let me down. I couldn’t find a postcard so the photo of the project team will have to suffice!!
Ray McMorrow NWG Health Specialist