“I want to start my life all over again…” – Roza, 36 years old
With the support of UNICEF, the frontline workers of the Council of Refugee Women in Bulgaria help women and children, survivors of violence find solutions for a better life
“We, the cultural mediators, work at the forefront and interact on a daily basis with women and children who are going through traumatic experiences related to gender-based violence (GBV)”, shares Yana*, an experienced and well-trained expert at the Council of Refugee Women in Bulgaria (CRWB).
Refugee and migrant women and children are particularly vulnerable to violence and often Yana has to handle crisis situations. This requires a lot of practical experience but also an extensive theoretical knowledge about gender-based violence, its root causes, contributing factors and consequences but also the roles and responsibilities of the cultural mediators in supporting survivors and people at risk of GBV.
Cultural mediators are on the frontline and providing vital support to vulnerable groups of people, especially women and children who are survivors or at risk of gender-based violence. In Bulgaria, CRWB works in partnership with UNICEF to promote gender equality and to raise awareness about gender-based violence amongst refugees, asylum seekers and migrants as well as to build the capacity of frontline workers and case managers on GBV to better address the needs of the beneficiaries.
The continuous training and capacity building on GBV received by Yana as a professional at CRWB helps her a lot in her daily work on complex cases.
“I remember Roza* who came into our office with her baby daughter shaking, without a place to stay and showing signs of domestic abuse”
- shares Yana.
A local partner NGO referred Roza, a 36-year-old woman from South America, currently residing in Bulgaria, to the CRWB. The mother looked exhausted, disoriented, and desperate. Upon their initial contact, Yana tried to comfort Roza and to reassure her that she was not alone, and she could trust her.
“At our initial encounter with survivors of violence, we try to create a safe environment for them, to sooth their emotions in order to better address their fears and immediate needs. We do not look intentionally for signs of violence, it should be the survivor, if he or she wants to disclose and to get support from us or to be referred to other professionals.”, says Yana.
Roza has gone through rough times in her life. Five years ago, when she married a charming man from Bulgaria, she hoped for a fairy tale. Infatuated with her husband, she moved to his home country leaving behind her family, friends, and a schoolteacher profession. Soon after they settled in Bulgaria, Roza’s husband started to beat her, to exercise control over her, to regularly check her telephone contacts, to monitor her calls. He also kept her passport and their marriage certificate. The domestic abuse continued even after their daughter, Amalia*, was born.
Roza’s husband decided they should move to South America and there, again, the domestic violence continued. Roza turned to the authorities for help and managed to get a restraining order against her husband. She got back her job as a schoolteacher, but the COVID-19 pandemic left her without income, and she felt pressed to reunite with her husband. Shortly after, they moved back to Bulgaria.
“Movement restriction, isolation and excessive control, limiting contacts of friends and family, physical violence are all signs of domestic abuse,” explains Yana. “Unfortunately, many times survivors of violence feel helpless and ashamed and they often go back to their abusers, as in the case of Roza."
- Yana adds.
The couple started living in an apartment in Sofia and found jobs in a call center where they worked together. The husband continued to systematically control Roza refusing to leave her alone and following her everywhere.
“Though she has had many traumatic experiences, Roza communicated well with people, actively looked for women’s initiatives and found a friend at work who supported her”, shares Yana.
One day Roza was left for a moment alone with her child and grasped the opportunity to run away from her husband and to look for help.
“With a two-year old baby in her hands, Roza had nowhere to stay over the night and was looking for accommodation and help.”, says Yana. The CRWB worker promptly started researching for accommodation options.
“Finding a place for a person at risk in a crisis center in the capital during the pandemic turned out impossible, only one center, situated 200-kilometers away, could accommodate Roza and Amalia”
- explains Yana.
It was the only feasible option and Roza agreed to take the journey. Yana consulted with her colleagues, contacted another partner organization and managed to organize transportation to the crisis centre.
“In such emergency situations, we count on out network to react quickly and to provide the necessary support. It took many calls and a couple of hours to negotiate her accommodation. During this time, we provided an overall mediation and first aid psychological support to Roza.”, says Yana.
Upon arrival, Yana worked together with the experts at the crisis center to set a comprehensive support programme for Roza to enable her to start her recovery from the systemic domestic violence and the traumatic experience.
Yana accompanied Roza and her girl to the crisis center driving for about three hours, listening to her experiences, thoughts and dreams.
“I want to learn Bulgarian, to translate and certify my diploma, to find a job and place for my daughter in a kindergarten”, Roza shared with Yana during the journey, “I want to start my life all over again…”
After years of domestic violence which took place in different countries, Roza finally felt secure enough to share her experience and to look for support expressing her willingness and determination to find a safe place for herself and her daughter and to begin a new life.
“Thanks to our longstanding partnership with UNICEF, we could benefit from a series of constructive GBV trainings and related targeted resources that help us in our daily work. We use the accumulated knowledge and experience and the established network of partners across the country to help the survivors go through the trauma and to empower them to continue with their life stronger and more resilient.”
- shares Linda Awanis, Chair of the CRWB.