Statistics say that some 10,000 Bulgarian women are trafficked each year out of the country, most to Western Europe, the Middle East, Latin America and yes, even to the United States. Bulgaria is one of the top six countries in the world for human trafficking, the largest percentage of them children. People of Roma ethnicity are one of the highest at-risk groups to be sold into prostitution in all of Europe, and many of the women and girls trafficked out of Bulgaria are Roma. They come from backgrounds of poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, abuse and severe discrimination. Any one of these alone would be enough to make them vulnerable, but together they create a lethal environment for exploitation. These girls have little or no education, and are desperate to make a living to support their families. This makes them easy targets for the predators who make their living from the trafficking of human beings. Their futures are not very bright.
Latinka, Vaska, Maria, Rosa, Gina. These are just a few of the girls who attend the small literacy program held two days a week at Sofia Baptist Church in Bulgaria’s capitol city. They are all Roma, and are all at risk of being trafficked. Their educational level is low and most would not be able to fill out a job application. They live in poverty, often in little more than a plywood shack. Some have children of their own or are forced to take care of their smaller siblings. None of them have the education or job skills to do this. The church offers the program in order to teach the children literacy and math skills, nutrition, personal hygiene skills, as well as Bible lessons.
Outreach to women and girls at risk of being caught up in the web of human trafficking is multi-faceted, and involves the areas of prevention, outreach, intervention and development. I have chosen to be involved in the ministry of prevention. The literacy program at Sofia Baptist Church is helping in the area of prevention by teaching literacy and math skills so the girls are more likely to be able to find decent employment. If nothing is done to address the issue of unemployment, these girls will continue to be at risk of being lured into prostitution.
The next step, as I feel called to minister to these girls, is in the area of development. Teaching literacy skills is the first step in preventing them from being trafficked. The second step is teaching them a job skill. Without job training and the subsequent jobs it provides, it is difficult for these at-risk women and girls to avoid prostitution and other forms of exploitative labor. They need the opportunity to become self-supporting, in a job that they are well-trained for, provides a decent income for them and their families, and which, in turn, builds up their self-esteem.
For the Sofia Baptist Church and my ministry, this next step towards development of a job skills program will have to wait awhile. The funds and the building are not yet available. In the meantime, the literacy program continues to meet and reach at-risk girls and teens. It is my hope, that when the church’s new community outreach center is completed in the next couple years, that it will house a job training center which can provide these girls with the abilities they need to be successful. It is my prayer that this program, combined with their literacy abilities, will give them the necessary skills to keep them out of prostitution in the first place. Education and job training should be the basic foundation to prepare these girls for life.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
It is God’s plan for these girls to come to know Him and to enter into a future bright with hope.