Former executive director of NCA’s partner organization in Albania, Vatra, Ms Vera Lesko, on June 16th received the international award ”Heroes Acting to End Modern-Day Slavery” from US state secretary Hillary Clinton.
Albania has served as a major source and transit country for human trafficking over the years and has also been a major source for the trafficking of women. In 1999, Lesko opened The Hearth Psycho-Social Center, the first organization in the country to help human trafficking victims.
An estimated 800,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international borders each year. Millions more are trafficked within their own countries.
More than 1600 young women saved
Two years later, her organization opened Albania’s first shelter designed to help trafficked Albanian women and girls. The shelter not only provides victims with a safe location away from traffickers but also offers legal and medical counseling, educational training, employment assistance and family mediation services. Vatra also do advocacy work towards the government for taking the challenge of trafficking more seriously through for instance prosecuting organizers of trafficking. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) estimates that such efforts by Lesko and her organization have saved more than 1,600 trafficked girls and women.
By fighting human trafficking in Albania, Vera Lesko knows she is risking danger to herself and her family. Since the beginning her efforts in 1997, Lesko has received threats as well as several public beatings. Her family has also suffered. Despite the danger, Lesko continues to fight human trafficking in her country. In spring 2009, she left the leadership position in the organization to a younger colleague because of illness.
Norwegian Church Aid has cooperated with Vatra through many years and the organizations receive financial support from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Vera Lesko also received the prize “Women of Courage” in March 2009. We are proud to have a partner organization such as Vatra with dedicated and courageous colleagues and congratulate Vera Lesko with this prize which is a major recognition of her courage and work.
For more information, please contact:
- Ingvild Langhus, Program Coordinator West Balkan, tlf: + 47 98 20 24 91
- Henriette Bjerke, Communications Advisor, tlf: + 47 93 24 24 91