In Romanian, ‘Lavandelina’ means comfort or soothing. The definition is quite fitting for one small NGO that has utilized selling lavender-based essential oils to raise funds for its mission to fight sex trafficking. Since it opened in 1999, Reaching Out Romania has provided psychological, medical and legal assistance to more than 470 victims of sex trafficking.
Reaching Out Romania
The organization was founded by Iana Matei, a trained psychologist who was approached by authorities and asked to intervene when three young girls were rescued from a trafficking situation. The girls told Matei that they had been sold by a gypsy and then sent out on the streets. Matei was shocked to learn that there were no organizations in Romania to fight the illicit sex trafficking industry and decided to start her own.
Sex Trafficking Rings
According to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the majority of human trafficking victims detected in Europe have come from the Balkans and the former Soviet Union. Romania is one of the countries with the highest levels of sex trafficking reported. Many of the women pulled into the industry come from poor households and have limited options to earn an income.
Most of the girls who end up staying with Matei have returned from Italy or Spain, which are the two main destinations for young Romanians who fall victim to prostitution rings.
Lavender Farming for Essential Oils
As more young women sought refuge at Reaching Out Romania, Matei had to think of a way to fund more housing and secure medical coverage for the girls. When a 15-acre parcel of land was donated to the organization, Matei was initially unsure what to make of it. She met with Creative Nova, a design thinking agency, that helped Reaching Out Romania create a business plan. Its idea was simple: plant lavender and make essential oils to sell.
Over the last few years, the market for essential oils has been on the rise. Reports indicate that the U.S. essential oil market will expand at an annual growth rate of 9% through 2024. Recent preferences for alternative medicine and reports on the therapeutic benefits of essential oils have triggered the growing demand. The timing was right for Reaching Out Romania as few farmers were planting lavender yet the demand for essential oils was on the increase.
In addition to raising funds, the girls at Reaching Out Romania are encouraged to secure paid work in order to secure their independent futures. Roughly 30% of the victims come from rural areas so the organization tries to assist them in searching for a job in the agricultural field. The lavender fields were a perfect starting place. Over the summer, many of the girls staying at Reaching Out Romania visit the lavender farm to learn from experts and receive training in farming.
Addressing Human Trafficking in Romania
Matei and her organization, Reaching Out Romania, have received multiple recognition awards. The lavender farm proves mutually beneficial as a source of employment for the girls and a source of funding for the organization.
– Miska Salemann