"We have come together in Budapest, Hungary from 29 nations across Europe and the Middle East because we are deeply concerned about the growing scandal of the trafficking of men, women and children across Europe for commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor."
I attended this conference with other Americans who had just completed a mission trip to Moldova with CERI in order to distribute shoes and socks to about 500 orphaned children. One of our Moldovan translators had been Connie Belciug. At that time, Connie was employed by the Baptist Union headquartered in Chisinau, Moldova. Connie and I began a friendship which has deepened as my relationship with CERI has continued since 2005. Connie now heads the ministry of CERI in Moldova.
To focus attention on Sex Trafficking, Connie wrote an article which was published in the Houston Chronicle on January 10th. She has clearly and passionately shared her personal response to this issue of Modern Day Slavery which is a blight around the world. Her focus, however, is her home country, Moldova.
To see firsthand the horrors of human trafficking and the worldwide sex trade is to see human suffering at its worst. Each year, the international community recognizes today, Jan. 11, as Human Trafficking Awareness Day. Yet one day of recognition is not enough to put an end to this atrocity. Each day, Houston-based Children's Emergency Relief International (CERI) helps victims — often poor young women — in the small Eastern European country of Moldova who have fallen prey to the violence and despair of life as a sex slave.
According to the U.S. Department of State, Moldova is considered a major source for women and children trafficked abroad for sexual exploitation. CERI has faced this tragic truth time and time again as we work to protect this population from becoming victims of trafficking, and bring hope and recovery to those who have already suffered.
One of the women who recently sought help through CERI has a common tale. Natasha accepted a job offer from a cousin in Russia so she could better provide for her husband and two children. When she arrived at her cousin's home, she was sold into prostitution. Natasha's suffering, however, was far from over. She would later be resold, this time to a facility in Chechnya, Russia, that forced women to birth babies used for black market organ sales.
For three years, Natasha was trapped, raped and beaten, along with 40 other young women. After numerous escape attempts, the women were finally able to break free and lead police to the facility.
Natasha made her way home, along with two of her children born in the Russian laboratory. Yet, after years of suffering severe physical and emotional abuse, she suffered internal bleeding in her brain and required lifesaving emergency surgery.
Learning of her plight, CERI paid for Natasha's operation through a special fund entitled The Don and Birdie Reeder Global Emergency Fund. Today, our organization continues to counsel and give financial aid to Natasha and her family as she searches for work in Moldova and struggles to provide a safe, loving home for her children.
Too many women and children around the world share similar stories with Natasha. Some are less fortunate. Yet efforts to prevent trafficking through methods such as educating youth about suspicious actions are making a difference.
CERI's Transitional Living Services teaches boys and girls in Moldova basic life skills such as building self esteem, career planning, finding housing and money management, in order to raise awareness of human trafficking and teach them how to remain safe.
As we mark Jan. 11 as Human Trafficking Awareness Day, I hope you will join this global mission to reach more men, women and children before it's too late. To get involved or learn more about our organization, please visit www.CERIKids.org.
Belciug is Children's Emergency Relief International's national director for Moldova. CERI is headquartered in Houston and has offices and programs in Eastern Europe, Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa. CERI provides community development, medical attention and spiritual guidance to struggling regions, cares for children who have been orphaned by the AIDS epidemic, teaches youth aging out of orphanages how to make it on their own and avoid becoming victims of human trafficking, and helps orphaned children find safe, loving homes.