BulgariaHuman Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation

Atoning on my First Day

So today is Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement; during which we fast and ask forgiveness for our transgressions over the past year. It was also my first day working at the Animus Association. I will humbly admit that I failed at my attempt to fast the entire day.  When you find out that an poorly funded NGO already paid for your lunch it is kind of hard to refuse, plus I had a delicious shopska salad staring me in the face (to be explained later).

It wasn’t a normal day at the office, since today was the beginning of a two day conference/working group made up of anti-trafficking NGOs from Italy (Caritas), Romania (ProWomen Foundation) and Bulgaria (Animus Association, Caritas BG, Center for Woman’s Studies & Policy, BG Family Planning & Sexual Health Association, et al.). This working group/project is funded by the European Commission and exists to improve upon the re-integration of trafficking victims to society. I was fortunate enough to be able to not only participate in these meetings as an observer, but also as a participant. Even more exciting was that the meeting was conducted in English and translated into Bulgarian – so it was very easy for me to understand and participate in the ongoing round table discussions that occurred.

Our lunch break was at a really nice restaurant off of Alexander Don Dukov Street. We sat by organization only to simplify payment methods, since each group would be paying separately. Therefore, I sat with 3 of my new colleagues at Animus. Two are the Animus lobbyists who advocate for trafficking & domestic violence prevention respectively and the third is a psychologist/program manager. At times they spoke in Bulgarian, but they did their best to speak primarily in English during the whole meal for my benefit, which I appreciated greatly. We talked a bit about Animus and suddenly I found myself volunteering to help with their volunteer recruitment, website, program writing/editing for grants and overall organizational strategy (I know many of you aren’t that surprised ;p).  As I soon found out, Animus has no real sustainable fundraising, formal volunteer coordination or a 5 year strategic plan. What surprised me the most though, was when I mentioned the concept of membership to build a donor and volunteer base – they looked at me like I was a genius. It appears that the idea of a membership based NGO support is not the standard organizational structure in Bulgaria as it is in the United States. I’ve been seriously thirsting for something to keep me busy and by making my work at Animus a real job and not just my Fulbright research project I’ll be able to help a worthy organization and not let myself get bored.

I gained so much new information in one day and left the office with even more questions than when I arrived. To post everything I found fascinating today might interest you all, but it would be one hell of a post since I took pretty detailed notes of the discussion. After the close of the working group session tomorrow I intend to post some of my thoughts about the information I learned regarding the current state of trafficked victims from Bulgaria. So stay tuned!