Elena Timofeeva, the 29 year old soft spoken psychologist is the Founder and CEO of Safe House Foundation based in Russia. Elena’s soft-spokenness can be misconstrued as reserved , this is however far from what she has set out to do and accomplish. Her organisation rehabilitates former victims of trafficking and empowers at risk groups through running awareness workshops and providing financial empowerment through her Jewel Girls Program.
We help trafficked survivors and at risk groups by providing them with psychological and social systems through engaging them in workshops and training and we also raise awareness on human trafficking in Russia in the society.
What is your role? How is a typical day being you?
I am the leader of the organization. My role is to inspire people to implement their work. A typical day starts with me waking up at 7am and I am in the office by 9am. Once at the office, I start with all the administrative work such as replying emails and dealing with any paper work. We then have a staff meeting in the middle of the day to discuss our activities. Thereafter, we have individual sessions and meetings with our clients, beneficiaries and partners. After all this is done, I go to the workshop based at the Moscow Protestant Church where we conduct practical workshops with the girls. This is where all the jewelry is made and also other workshops are conducted such as leadership and financial management workshop. My day then ends at about 9PM
How come that you took exactly this path that you have chosen? How has your journey been so far?
As a psychologist I have always wanted to work with people in need, people suffering from different issues such as violence. Initially, I worked with people living with HIV/AIDS but human trafficking caught my curiosity, I did not understand how other people would sell other people for money. One evening in 2004, I was driving around the city trying to find sex workers to talk to for the HIV/AIDS project that I worked with. I met a 10 year old girl and asked her what she was doing there (this was in St Petersburg) I approached her and asked her if she was lost. She said that she was not lost and was there on purpose looking for car drivers. She then narrated a sad story on how her parents had given her off to some guy in order to be a sex-worker so that she would make money to repay her parents debts. I went back several days later to look for but she was gone This was in 2004
After this experience I got very curious about sex workers and the trafficking industry. Whilst working as a Project Coordinator to a project on the prevention of HIV, I found a job with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Moscow working with the anti-trafficking team as a psychologist where we established the first rehabilitation center in Russia. This unfortunately did not last and the projects was closed in 2009 due to lack of sufficient funds especially since the government did not support the project.
I was hugely disappointed at the closure of the center. Nonetheless, I started working with an orphanage where I came to discover that 40% of the orphans there had been trafficked. This heart-wrenching discovery revived my spirit and I approached an NGO offering to start a project working with trafficked victims of which I would lead and fundraise for. In 2010 a former colleague from IOM joined me as a volunteer and we started making and selling the jewellery. On the same year, I was fortunate to win a Reach of Change competition which provided me with mentorship, access to different business companies in Russia and a full time salary for three years so I was finally able to focus on the work I was doing without worrying about personal financial issues.
What’s your next step? What’s your dream/vision?
This year is a big year for us, we have expanded our online presence with additional websites therefore we are able to reach more girls who are at risk or were trafficked. These websites also act as a sales and partnership platform for different organization to cooperate.
I would like to hire more people to implement programs and see our organization grow and have a louder voice in the community. My vision is to see the end of exploitation and human trafficking.
Why does this (the impact you are trying to make) matter to you?
Because it is necessary to help people and if every person can help another the world can be better
Tell us one thing about you that not too many people know about you. Any secret talents?
I love horror movies (Laughing) , I am also a movie maker and have shot some films for myself and that I use at work.
Why are you participating in the SE Outreach Accelerator?
It’s a good chance to develop my business, my business skills and my greatest achievement would be to see my organization working without my presence. Being in Sweden is a chance to experience a Swedish way of working, which I admire
What were/are your expectations?
Find a way to develop the program in an interesting, creative and innovate manner and also to find new sales channels for our products.
How has your experience been so far?
(Her eyes light up) Its been very good! I love it! I like the team I enjoy the different workshops, team building activities, meeting with different experts and listening to feedbacks since that is the way you understand yourself better
Any good tips you want to share with the outer world?You shouldn’t be a part of the problem, you should be a part of the solution