“Have a happy family, a good career, become a basketball star.” These ambitions expressed by the ninth-graders participating in an OSCE project launched in September 2011 for children in institutional care in Moldova display the same naïve optimism as those of any other children their age. But the reality is that when these children graduate at the end of this year, they will enter the adult game of life with the odds stacked severely against them.
The 94 children, from three state-run boarding schools, in Orthei, Leova and Bender, have been selected as being particularly vulnerable to trafficking in human beings. Some of them are orphans, but many of them have been left behind by migrant parents who have gone to work, often illegally, in Russia, Turkey or Italy.
The children’s lives in the boarding schools are strictly regulated, giving them little opportunity to learn to act autonomously or manage time and money responsibly. When they are released from institutional care, they will be ill equipped for setting and pursuing their own goals. Social marginalization and financial pressure will make them open to deceptive promises, by peers or even family members, of an easy life in another country far away.
Monaco initiated this project in close co-operation with Andorra, Liechtenstein and San Marino to give children that are released from institutional care a fighting chance. In planning the endeavour, which they jointly fund, the four participating States worked closely with the OSCE Mission in Moldova and the Office of the Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Trafficking in Human Beings, Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, and already received excellent support from the Moldovan authorities. The implementing partner is the Child Rights Information Centre (CRIC), a Moldovan NGO whose social workers have many years’ experience in working with children from state institutions.
An important component of the programme are life skills seminars lasting several days, in which the children practise building self-esteem and explore career plans. Perhaps even more important for the children is the individual mentoring. It provides these boys and girls with what they need most, an adult whom they can trust and who can help them with very practical matters such as getting their personal files in order, a prerequisite for enrolling in any school of further education.
The children acquire realistic information about illegal migration and human trafficking. The social workers clarify misconceptions about the dangers involved and provide the children with the number of the anti-trafficking hotline in Moldova, which they can call if they feel that they are being tricked or might become victims of trafficking.
The project has a second group of beneficiaries: 30 teenagers who have already graduated from state boarding schools and are enrolled in a vocational school, trade school or college. The project pays for their school supplies (tuition is paid by the government), lodging and living requirements. Even with the financial support, the students have difficulty coping with the demands of their programmes and discrimination from peers and educators. Again, it is the individual attention from the social workers that allows them to persevere and makes for the project’s success. Fortunately, the generous funding will allow for supporting the students in their development for three years.
“This project is absolutely necessary,” says Aurica Nucă, the social assistant who works with the students in Leova. “When there is a problem, we solve it together, but if these children had no resource person, many would already have abandoned their schools.”
When the project’s first outcomes were presented on 16 December 2011 in Chisinau, educators from the students’ educational institutions and representatives of government ministries were also invited, in order to sensitize them to the plight of post-institutional children. CRIC encourages vocational training institutions to introduce its support model for life skills into their curriculum, to allow other students to benefit from it as well.
One of the most effective ways to multiply the benefits of the project will be through the young beneficiaries themselves. “They are advised to invest in their personal development, to set goals and attain them, to decide for themselves and make their voices heard,” says Alberto Andreani, who manages the project from the Office of the Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings. “They will be the ones that will replicate this learned behaviour among peers, relatives and families.”
This article was first published in the OSCE Magazine, 1/2012