Sunday, October 24, 2010

84: The Self-Empowered Woman: Iana Matei

Dear Followers,

It's no secret that I really admire brave women. And last week I learned about a woman who has truly put her own life at risk in order to try to help others. Her name is Iana Matei; she lives in the small town of Pitesti, Romania (about 300 miles North of Istanbul), and she has rescued over 400 young girls who were victimized by human traffickers.

In her words, "It is a crime against humanity to sell and buy life. There are many girls in Eastern Europe, including in Romania, forced into prostitution...Kept in captivity, abused and forced to have paid sexual intercourse with strangers, they become what can only be labeled as slaves."

Few Americans know about Ms. Matei's work, but for the past decade or so, her efforts have become more publicized, particularly in Europe. In 2006, the U.S. State Department gave her the Hero of the Year Award, in 2007, she received the Abolitionist Award from the U.K.'s House of Lords, and this year, she became the 15th recipient (and the first Romanian) to be chosen Reader's Digest European of the Year.

Matei is her country's leading advocate for victims of human trafficking, and that means that she often single-handedly rescues (11. Risk Addiction) girls as young as thirteen who have been either sold into sexual slavery or tricked into phony offers of marriage or "foreign job opportunities." Matei frequently "kidnaps" these girls from their often-violent captors, and then offers them a place to live as well as heal and rebuild their young lives. Her determination to help these young victims (and bring their tormentors to justice) has become her 7. Magnificent Obsession.

A psychologist by training, Matei is livid that there is no real, adequate legal punishment for the people who sell young girls into prostitution. In her words, "When these guys get caught, they get what? Six years? Maybe. They destroy 300 lives and they get six years. You traffic drugs, you get 20 years. There is something not right... I would like to see these criminals locked behind bars forever. I would throw away the keys of their cells. Let's have them locked up for 100 - 150 years." (5. Life Is Not a Popularity Contest)

Matei began caring for these young girls when a policeman asked her to let three "prostitutes" stay at her home because their allotted ten days for "re-integration" had expired. The girls were 14, 15, and 16 years old, "frozen, badly dressed and starving"; there was no official welfare service available to help them recover from the trauma of being locked up in a brothel and forced to work the streets.

Matei is so devoted to her young charges that she even adopted three year-old twins who had been the children of one of the young girls that she had recently rescued. Fortunately, the 52 year-old Matei has plenty of energy.

Matei's dream is to own a self-sustaining hotel where the girls can work, learn skills, and earn a living. Currently, though, she houses them in the small shelter she runs. While the Reader's Digest Award contributed $5,000 towards her goal, the Make Way Partners in Birmingham, Alabama also helps fund Matei's shelter.

Over 400 young girls have looked to Ms. Matei as a real life heroine. Thanks to her, they are able to heal the wounds inflicted by the traffickers, society at large, and (all too often) their no-longer-loving judgmental families.

If you would like to help support the work of this brave, nurturing woman, visit the link below to learn more about the Make Way Partners. And, in case you wondered, all three of the teenagers Matei picked up at the police station are now married and have children of their own.

Looking forward to your comments...

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