Vero: The Story of a Survivor
In her family, Vero was the eighth of 15 children. At an age when her focus should have been on schoolwork and friends, she and her siblings found themselves orphaned after her parents died from AIDS-related causes. Rather than subject herself to the abusive foster parents who took her in, Vero ran away and lived on the streets for two years. Then she spent three years in Gabon as a victim of child trafficking.
She was repatriated back to Togo in 2013 and was brought to La Conscience in Lome, Togo, for rehabilitation. Now in her second year with La Conscience, Vero is training to be a dressmaker. She dreams of opening her own center to support children victimized by trafficking, and she talks with others about how she would like to travel the world to meet other youth like herself.
La Conscience: How One Organization in Togo Is
Addressing Child Trafficking
Child trafficking is a form of human trafficking and is defined as the "recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, and/or receipt" of a child for the purpose of exploitation. Human rights organizations estimate that hundreds of thousands of children are still recruited or transported within and across Togo’s borders annually, both by force and false promises. Children who are trafficked are often forced to work as domestic servants, bar maids, and manual laborers, among other things. In such situations, they are highly vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse.
La Conscience, which received funding from the Greenbaum Foundation, is a child-trafficking prevention and rehabilitation center that focuses on providing children victimized by trafficking access to a safe, nurturing space with access to traditional education as well as pathways for older children to learn trades and other skills. La Conscience also supports children's physical and psychosocial needs, including trauma and HIV/AIDS prevention. To date, the center has helped more than 26,000 children. More than 18,000 of these children helped by the center are survivors of trafficking both within and across Togo’s borders to countries that include Nigeria, Gabon, and Cameroon.
Creating Opportunities to Build Their Own Future
The center provides access to a primary-school education for younger children, and for those too old to attend primary school, La Conscience provides literacy classes and vocational training to learn such skills as tailoring, traditional weaving, carpentry, welding, and agriculture training, to name a few. In addition to facilitating access to education and training, the center also provides programming to foster leadership skills and training in human/civic rights advocacy and HIV/AIDS prevention.
In an effort to mitigate against future instances of trafficking, La Conscience facilitates microlending groups for the more financially vulnerable women in the community to help them safeguard their income-generating activities — which in turn ensures that the safety and well-being of their children are safeguarded as well.
How Does NGOsource Help?
For years, La Conscience struggled to find partners who could support the work of its center. According to Executive Director Kodjo Djissenou, as a small, francophone country in West Africa, Togo is not often considered a priority for many international organizations despite the immense social, economic, and political challenges faced by the Togolese. NGOsource provides La Conscience new channels to partner with foundations who share La Conscience’s vision to rehabilitate trafficked survivors and ultimately abolish child trafficking. Says Djissenou: "Our experience in working with NGOsource has been very positive. Our equivalency determination status has helped reassure our current partners [of the sustainability of our work] and we hope that, through this, we could work with other foundations as well."