“Pamela” is a 39 year old Bulgarian woman (ethnically Roma) who works has been prostituted for a number of years. My colleague wanted me to meet with Pamela in particular because she has diabetes and thought a physician consultation would be beneficial. There wasn’t much I could actually do for her medically, but I did listen, which helps more than you think sometimes.
Her son is 17 years old, is having trouble making it through school and lives with his grandmother in another village. She mainly works along a stretch of road that is similar to a “county road” in the States and lives in a nearby Roma “slum” village. Sometimes the pimp takes her to work in Italy. I asked her about a quota of clients or other obligations she has to the pimp and she listed a whole slew of things from washing his car and filling it with petrol to working for him wherever and whenever… no need for details here. I then asked her what he does for her. She thought a moment and came up with headaches, grief, sadness, problems, etc. Then I asked her why she still works for him. She could not answer… enslaved in her mind and heart, not by chains. Seemingly hopeless. But not entirely.
Oh, by the way, the pimp’s wife cares for needy elderly in Italy. Go figure.
There IS hope for Pamela, and many other like her. I met so many people, expats and Bulgarians alike working tirelessly for hope and freedom for the exploited.
In all, I traveled to three different cities (Sofia, Stara Zagora, Sliven) to present workshops, provide consultation, and most of all to listen and learn.
I am amazed and humbled by the efforts of the Bulgarians themselves to step up and meet the needs not only of their own, but also those of other nations and ethnicities. Highlights of the trip include:
- Meeting a young Bulgarian woman who works with prostituted mothers as a social worker to help get them services they need. Separately, however, she gets the youth group she leads to reach out, work with, and incorporate the children of prostituted mothers into their activities.
- Getting to know a Syrian refugee (himself a victim of trafficking during his transit out of Syria) who works 24/7 to serve other Syrians displaced by the horrors in their country.
- Presenting a three-hour workshop on self care to 20+ Bulgarian social workers, youth workers, and others working with the broken. Some personal breakthroughs and self-awareness came out of that!
- Being interviewed on Bulgarian radio! The show went for over an hour!
- Sharing a meal (and being completely humbled by it) served by a Syrian refugee family in their sparse apartment, listening to their struggles of making it there.
- Meeting with many different expatriates serving with Bulgarians in a variety of ways to bring peace and freedom to the marginalized and overlooked.
Bulgaria, like most Eastern European countries, has a large problem with exploitation and human trafficking. Bulgaria is also a beautiful country with beautiful people. Much ground work was laid for future consultations and workshops and I very much look forward to returning there again soon!