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The HOPE Project- Preventing sexual exploitation of children and women in the U.K. and Bulgaria

Helping Ourselves Prevent Exploitation” (HOPE), an EU funded project on raising awareness and prevention of sexual exploitation of  children and young women with disabilities, is approaching its 2nd year. The small consortium consists of the coordinator British Institute of Learning Disabilities (BILD), the Bulgarian partner Social Association “St. Andrew” (SASA) in cooperation with local partners, and EASPD. Already three partner meetings were held in in Birmingham, Varna, and Brussels. So far, a group of peer mentors has been recruited and trained to lead accessible learning programs which will promote an understanding of sexual exploitation in the UK (BILD) and in Bulgaria (SASA).

To support the future mentors, an easy to read workbook is developed to help vulnerable young people remember what they learned during the training. In the UK, more specifically in the East Midlands and Devon, a specific training course for the peer mentors was developed to enable them to understand sexual exploitation, good and bad relationships and how to co-present the workshops. The 20-hour course was delivered over 5 sessions. Certificates were presented to each peer mentor at awards ceremonies in Southwell (East Midlands) on September 23rd and in Plymouth (Devon) on October 30th.

The peer mentors have helped to develop the programme, activities, and resources for the workshops with the young people by the end of September. The aim was to provide a “toolbox of resources” which could be used flexibly depending on the needs of the young people.
In addition, the peer mentors contributed to the development of the workbook and action plan that each individual young person works through after the workshop. The revised workbook was completed by early October and 400 copies produced.

By the end of November 2017, the BILD team had identified which schools and colleges the HOPE Project will be working with. The first round of workshops has been well underway since October 2017 and these will be completed by May 2019. It is anticipated that the planned project outcome of delivering 18 workshops for a total of 144 young people will be achieved. The impact of the first round of workshops will be identified by return visits to check progress and action plans from January to June 2018. The development of the resources and activities will be completed by the end of March 2018 with the first round of workshops to be completed by July 2018. In this round, 5 workshops will be delivered for 80 professionals. 

The delivery of the second round of workshops is targeted for September 2018 to January 2019.

In Bulgaria, the focus is on Roma children and women as they are more likely to become victims of sexual exploitation.

Workshop with Social Association “St. Andrew” with young people with special learning needs from socioeconomically isolated Roma-Bulgarian village in the district of Varna, Bulgaria.


How precious is your love?

How do you recognize, that a boy likes you? For many girls of the target group of the HOPE project in Varna, Bulgaria, the answer is: “A boy likes you, if he buys and offers you something, that you want”!
That is one of the questions of the workshops and follow-up individual and group work done within the HOPE project, on which young people want to find new answers, that make a change in their lives - and in the life of their community.

In Varna, Bulgaria, the HOPE project is led by Social Association “St. Andrew” (SASA), in cooperation with local partners such as the “Co-Participation” Association. After a one-day ‘Train the trainer’ course for 11 participants (8 women, 3 men) with BILD in Varna, the development, and testing of first drafts of training materials, workbooks and action plans a three-day-peer mentor training with five peer mentor candidates (4 women, 1 man) and one assistant took place. The peer mentors are of Roma-Bulgarian origin, living in socioeconomically isolated Roma-Bulgarian communities, or with special learning needs, living in community-based social services or at home. The Peer mentor training was followed by six half-day workshops with 24 young people (11 girls and 13 boys).

The 24 young people are with special learning needs, living in socioeconomically isolated Roma-Bulgarian communities, where poverty and social exclusion often lead to risky behavior (especially for 15 to 25 year olds).
This includes: 
•    paid sexual work and pimping (including as “family-business”) and human trafficking for sexual exploitation
•    early marriages and early parenthood
•    girls and boys leaving school early with girls kept home until early marriage
•    low reporting of sexual exploitation because of lack of trust and prejudice against existing health, social and legal services
•    outreach workers are trusted and critical to improving the reporting of sexual exploitation.

After the workshops, each participant worked individually with their trainers and peer mentors on their personal action plan and its implementation. This included improving relationships with parents of the participants – especially girls who have little practice in controlling their own lives as their parents decide when to get married and what to do with their future; prevention of sexually transmitted infections including the use of condoms, hygiene, and prevention of human trafficking for sexual exploitation.

Assertiveness: Working groups on a self-confident person and not self-confident person.
Peer mentor training with Social Association “St. Andrew” in Varna, Bulgaria.


Keith Smith, Project Manager and Coordinator HOPE for BILD
Monika Heitmann, Project Manager HOPE for Social Association “St. Andrew”