On July 22, 2005 I saw a report on the television news show 48 hours.
The program featured an underground expose’ on the problem of human
trafficking. 48 hours took a news crew to Romania led by reporter Peter
VanSant in an attempt to purchase a human being. They were soon to
find out it was easier than they thought. This was to be my first
introduction to this issue, and to an amazing woman named Iana Matei.
Iana runs a safe house in Romania for victims of sexual trafficking. She
had told 48 hours that if they were able to buy a girl, she would take her
in. To my horror, that is exactly what happened. Over two days they
bartered a price for a young girl named Nicoletta. Her traffickers decided
her life was to be worth 1,800 dollars. The woman that sold her
proceeded to tell them they would be able to do anything they
wanted to her.
After the transaction was concluded, they drove Nicoletta to Iana’s safe
house called Reaching Out. At this sanctuary Iana would try and help her
reclaim her life. Nicoletta, mentally handicapped, had been abandoned as
a small child and placed in an orphanage. She was put out at the age of
18 and ended up living on the streets trying to survive. This is where the
traffickers found her. They told her they would care for her, but instead
they sold her for sex to anyone that would pay their price. When 48 hours
rescued Nicoletta, she told them she had not been outside in over a year.
My heart broke at the sight of this small, frail young woman. I was not able
to grasp the horror of what she had been forced to endure. For days I
walked around crying and wondering what I might be able to do. I went to
the 48 hours web site and there I found Iana’s email address. I wrote to
her telling her that I had been so touched by the story I had just seen. I
asked if there was anything I could possibly do. To my surprise she
wrote to thank me for my note, and said she was in need of ongoing
funding to meet all of the expenses of the safe house. Again I wrote back
and said I would look and see if I could find any organizations that may be
able to help her. The final sentence I wrote was to say if there was ever
anything I could do, I would.
In August of 2006 my husband and myself had an opportunity to go on a
medical mission trip with the organization CERT International (Christian
Emergency Relief Teams) to Romania. Immediately I thought of Iana, and I
emailed her to tell her we were coming. It had been over a year since our
last correspondence. I thought she would never remember me but she
said she did remember my note. I had kept her initial reply to me for over
a year, for some reason I could not bring myself to delete it, and I now
know why. I told her we would be coming to Romania on a medical
mission team and asked if her girls needed medical and dental
assistance. I also asked how far she was from where we would be
stationed. She wrote and said that sadly, they were located about
3 ½ to 4 hours away from where we were based. I thought to myself
“I’m from Canada, 4 hours is nothing.” I told her I would see about
bringing a medical team to where she was instead. Through CERT
we were able to take a team consisting of my husband (a doctor), a
dentist, a nurse, 2 pastors, a CERT staff member, an amazing
teenager named Sarah, and myself.
Before going to Romania in September, I spoke to Iana on the phone for
the very first time. I asked how she and the house were doing. That is
when she shared with me that she was down to 19 dollars, and that
she had been hospitalized for high blood pressure due to stress.
How was that possible, she had been named as a hero in the U.S.
State Department Trafficking in Persons 2006 Report! I thought to
myself, what is wrong with this picture and how could it be that she is
getting no ongoing support, where was everyone? She had been
on the front lines of this fight since 1998.
So right then and there I decided to start “Free For Life Ministries. “Now
our goal is to raise awareness about human sexual trafficking and to
raise financial support for Reaching Out. I sat down and thought for
awhile about how I could best accomplish meeting the day to day
needs of the safe house in Romania. What came to me was this; get
1,000 people to make an ongoing pledge of 10 dollars a month. It
is a simple idea, but add up all the 10 dollar donations and real change
can be made in the lives of these courageous girls. I have enlarged
my initial vision and see this ministry growing in the future to
encompass other safe houses around the world. As more people
partner with us, we will be able to support other heroes in the
fight against sexual trafficking.