What is the UN GIFT Box

The UN GIFT Box campaign is an anti-human trafficking campaign that uses public art to raise awareness about human trafficking and its victims. UN GIFT Boxes are large boxes (about 2 meters on a side and 2 meters tall). On the outside, the box looks like a present and includes phrases and ideas commonly used by traffickers to recruit victims. On the inside the walls of the box are decorated with the true stories of trafficking victims and information about how visitors can help combat human trafficking.

Campaign Background

The United Response Against Trafficking, (URAT),  network in Albania identified the UN GIFT Box as a potential project in December 2015. From January to June members of the network worked to get the GIFT Box funded and constructed. Construction of the GIFT Box was coordinated with Stop the Traffik in the United Kingdom. Stop the Traffik owns the rights to the GIFT Box and has the right to approve design and content decisions for all GIFT Boxes constructed around the world. URAT coordinated design, construction and content decisions with Stop the Traffik over the course of 6 months from January to June 2016. During this period, Stop the Traffik had all the required legal documents translated into Albanian so they could be signed by Mary Ward Loreto Foundation.

During this period, Mary Ward Loreto Foundation, as a member of the URAT Network raised money to cover construction costs and identified cities that could host the GIFT Box during summer and fall. Because of budget constraints only four cities (Durres, Saranda, Tirana, and Shkoder) were selected based on their strategic geographic location. Saranda and Durres have beautiful beaches and therefor they are tourist areas and hot spots for Human Trafficking, Tirana is the capital of Albania where half of the national population lives and Shkodra is one of the hot spots of Human Trafficking in Northern Albania known for traffickers as well as for victims. Once the cities and dates were identified URAT worked with the Ministry of the Interior and local authorities to identify locations where the box could be displayed, facilities that could be used for training, and the type of security that would be provided for the box.

Campaign Dates

The GIFT Box was scheduled for each city for approximately a week. The schedule in Tirana was adjusted to accommodate the demands of the Ministry of the Interior and facilitate their participation in the opening ceremony. The dates for each city were:

  • Durres: 26 July – 2 August 2016
  • Saranda: 3 September – 11 September 2016
  • Tirana: 3 October – 8 October 2016
  • Shkoder: 25 October – 31 October 2016

Volunteer Training

During all the hours the GIFT Box was open it was staffed by volunteers who discussed trafficking with visitors, distributed printed materials, and asked visitors to sign a declaration of support to fight human trafficking.

There was a training event for volunteers in each city. Training was conducted the day before the GIFT Box opened, except in the case of Tirana where training occurred several days in advance. Training was conducted by staff members from MWL Foundation and Different and Equal and covered basic information about human trafficking along with the logistics of working at the GIFT Box.

Volunteer Testimonials

 “The whole week was a training session for me, a very valuable one, useful for my everyday life”.

“The high level of engagement from the staff and the public in combating human trafficking was very motivational for me and led me to work harder and enjoy the work. I was satisfied also due to many people congratulating and were thankful for this initiative”.

“Best training I ever received! Looking forward to other trainings like this!”.

“I have volunteered very often, and I am delighted to have received such a good care by the staff”.

“if I weren’t involved in this campaign, I would be wasting my time and money in coffee shops”.

“I feel honoured to have committed myself in raising public awareness on human trafficking”.

“We feel on top, having so many friends around us volunteering”.

“As a first experience as a volunteer, I found it very motivating for further similar volunteering services”.

Opening Events

Each city hosted a grand opening event. At the event, members of URAT and local officials were invited to speak. Participants included representatives from the Ministry of the Interior, local police, and representatives from the local government (bashkia). The events were covered by local media and helped raise awareness about the GIFT Box.

Filming

Filming was conducted at Durres, Saranda and Tirana to make a UN GIFT Box Albania video. This video was shared at the URAT Film Night in October.

Results

The GIFT Box proved popular in each city. Both signatories and visitors were tracked:

City Days Visitors Signatories
Durres 8 3805 916
Saranda 8 3000 210
Tirana 6 3127 1189
Shkoder 7 6400 2290
Total 29 16,332 4,605

Although some visitors seemed aware of trafficking and its impact on Albania, many visitors associated trafficking with prostitution and were not aware of other types of trafficking. Some visitors felt like it was an issue that only affects women. In general, most visitors were receptive to the information presented by volunteers.

Visitor Stories

One of the days of UN.GIFT Box Campaign in Shkodra, a girl age 18, after reading the stories carefully inside the Box, approached us expressing her appreciation for the information we were sharing. She then told us the story of how her family had sheltered a trafficked young girl coming from Elbasan.  The girl in words had run away from the place she was being exploited and had arrived in Shkodra, not knowing where she was. She had knocked on this family’s door and they had taken care of her for one year. She was tracked by the traffickers and all the family felt in danger. At some point they had arranged everything for her to fly to another country.  Her parents thought she was dead, until a few months ago, when they were contacted by the people who helped her daughter when she was in need. At the present time, she is living and working abroad, thanks to the help that she was given by a random family who opened its doors and hearts for her. The girl at the Box shared a very important message telling this story, pointing out that every person can actually do something to support the victims of this terrible crime.

 “I am now aware that I might have had the same destiny as Iliri (the story written at the box)”. This was the confession of one man who was seeking for a better job with better incomes in Middle East. He said that he did apply for a job as waiter in Abu Dhabi, but he was never told the name of the restaurant or the owner. The agency he got this offer from, promised him a salary of $700. He was invited in Tirana to send his references, and was told that he won this job. For personal reasons he had to resign. The worker of MWL gave him some advices on how to protect himself from being exploited.

A man approached us at the Gift Box expressing his appreciation of this work and said that every parent must be informed on human trafficking and exploitation. He was a divorced man, but very cautious about the wellbeing of his children. He confessed that his daughter was a singer, and having such a profession makes them more exposed towards people who might offer fake jobs in clubs abroad. This man said that as soon as her ex-wife told him that their daughter went to Kosovo to sing in a night club, he got concerned. When he called his daughter and made questions about the club and the owners, he noticed something suspicious. On the next day he travelled to Kosovo to see the place where she was supposed to sing. He got inside and told someone that he was the father of the singer and wanted to see his daughter and to talk to the owner. He claims that no one accepted to meet him, and that he saw some men driving away with two cars. This man claims that he is sure that they would exploit his daughter for sexual service for rich clients.  Since then he calls his daughter all the days to make sure she is safe and protected.

Challenges

Some challenges were specific to a location; others were shared by all locations.

  • Lack of support from public institutions – The process for identifying a location for the box and securing permission to use the space was bureaucratic and time consuming. Even with the support of the Ministry of the Interior the process in each city required significant logistical work.
  • Participation of the bashkia – None of the mayors participated in the opening events even though they were invited. Although the vice-mayor attended in Durres and Saranda, no representatives came in Tirana or Shkoder. Lack of involvement from the bashkia discouraged other local government officials from participating.
  • Schedule changes – In Tirana, there were several last minute changes regarding the date and time of the grand opening that left URAT members scrambling to accommodate the changes and communicate them to volunteers.
  • Lighting – As the days got shorter, it became necessary to close the GIFT Box earlier since visitors could not read the stories inside the box. In Tirana, the GIFT Box closed at 5 pm – before most people have left work. Albanians tend to be outside more in the evening and with limited evening hours, there were fewer visitors.
  • Location – The location in Tirana was off the main sidewalk, and this meant fewer people stopped by the GIFT Box. Visitor numbers were higher when the GIFT Box had a location in the main pedestrian zone.
  • Volunteers – In Saranda, the GIFT Box was operated with only 7 volunteers. Although URAT was expecting fewer volunteers in Saranda, there were several last minute cancelations that created extra work for staff and the other volunteers.
  • Schedule – Having the GIFT Box in a single location for 8 days may be too long. In many cases, the same people pass the box every day and for volunteers working at the box for over a week is significant commitment. In general, it might be better to have the GIFT Box open for a shorter period of time and focus on weekends when more people visit the city center.
  • Preconceptions about public campaigns – In many places, potential visitors avoided volunteers because they associate people handing out flyers with ad campaigns.

Conclusions

Overall, the GIFT Box was successful. The URAT Network is happy with the number of people reached and the overall reaction to the GIFT Box. Members would like to see the campaign continue next year if additional funding can be secured. In addition, URAT will explore the possibility of letting third parties use the GIFT Box.

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