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Voices from Crisalis

A research on the participants to the project and their integration process

Author: Christel Ceres

When I started my studies at the University Ca’ Foscari of Venice, I knew very little about the trafficking of human beings. It all began when I wrote a research paper on the role of Verona Municipal Hall in the identification of underaged girls as victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation. What struck me the most was that Veneto was─and still is─among the Italian Regions most hit by this phenomenon, but not many people are aware of this situation.

My research and interviews suggested that the biggest challenge for the Municipal Hall is to successfully integrate into the Italian society the young women and girls who decide to end their situation of exploitation. So when the time came to find a place for my internship and research thesis, I started looking for organisations based in Verona that dealt with women victims of exploitation. I wanted to understand what made the integration process so challenging. A social operator that works for the Association “Comunità Papa Giovanni XXIII” told me about a Social Cooperative that had just started a labour integration programme aimed at women victims of human trafficking. Intrigued by the cooperative’s mission and by the project, I tried to apply for an internship. This is how I started to work at Progetto Quid and how I met CRISALIS.

During my time in Quid, I had the chance to meet the participants of Crisalis and ask them directly about their process of integration. For my Master’s paper, I interviewed three young Nigerian women and two social operators to understand how they perceived the integration programme set out by Art. 18 of the Italian legislation. The aim was to identify and promote Quid’s good practices as well as the features that needed to be modified or improved. The interviewees have identified three steps that need to be taken if one wants to be integrated: to know the language, to be employed, and finally, to be independent.

First, all the interviewees agree that knowing the language is the first step of the process toward integration. All three women have pointed out that the knowledge of the language allows them to communicate with people and especially makes them able to ask what they do not understand.

Then, being employed is considered to be the second milestone that can lead survivors of trafficking to obtain autonomy and especially economic independence. Employment assures the provision of financial resources that are essential for their economic stability. It is important to remember that economic pressure is constant in the lives of victims of trafficking. The main reason that pushed them to leave their country was the idea of finding a job in Europe so that they could provide for their families. However, as soon as they leave, they are confronted with an economic pressure that does not disappear even when they are not part of the trafficking system anymore. The pressure to provide for themselves and their families is even stronger because they need to find a job again.

It emerged that Quid represents a facilitator in the process of integration of victims of human trafficking. Being a Social Cooperative with the mission of promoting integration through labour and emancipation, Quid pays a lot of attention to the wellbeing of its employees. Moreover, compared to other businesses, the Cooperative is much more sensitive on the issue of sex trafficking and is aware of the obstacles that these women have to overcome.

Finally, the last step in the process of integration is to be autonomous. The programme of integration is declared completed once beneficiaries are deemed independent. And independence is what these women desire the most, but it is also extremely difficult to achieve. In the women’s opinion autonomy will be achieved once they will not depend anymore on the support of their social worker’s help and when they will have an accommodation of their own. However, despite their willpower to have an independent life, their path is full of obstacles. During the interviews, the two social operators have pointed out that victims of human trafficking are often victims of discrimination, making it more challenging for them to achieve independence. Nigerian women, especially, are discriminated against as women, as African, and because they are pigeonholed as prostitutes instead of victims of exploitation. These prejudices make even more difficult their successful integration because they struggle to find jobs and accommodations—securing indeed independent living and an independent existence.

Unfortunately, the Italian programme of protection and integration for victims of human trafficking does not take into account all these issues. Social workers agree that the programme’s duration is too short (15-18 months) for beneficiaries to reach autonomy. Due to this situation, the role of Social Cooperatives like Quid becomes essential because they help women victims of trafficking to reach their independence, through their emancipation. When talking about Crisalis’ participants, the social workers that I interviewed explained that there are very few Social Cooperatives that address this kind of attention to the individual and its training. They also added that very few other workplaces would have had the same patience and perseverance that Quid has shown, in investing in the women’s training. Quid is trying to fill a gap that national social and labour policies still cannot close. It can be said that Quid’s formula of success is that of seeing weak spots or target as opportunities rather than as challenges—in both the labour market and in the fashion supply chain—thus contributing to the creation of a more sustainable and inclusive business. This shows how Social Cooperatives can have great potential to satisfy the specific needs of society.

To conclude, working at Quid has been a rewarding experience because I have witnessed what the desire to help others can create: an atmosphere of complicity where all the coworkers share a unique bond. There should be more cooperatives and businesses based on Quid’s model, because, even if it requires commitment, patience, and sacrifices, it is equally true that it is extremely rewarding to see how it can change someone’s life. I learned a lot from my working experience at Progetto Quid I saw what kind of benefits can bring a cooperative that has employees’ wellbeing close to its heart, but more importantly, I have seen what employment can bring to someone’s life: it gives expertise, it improves one’s social life and self-esteem, and it gives hope for a better future.

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