You’re Our Hero: Iana Matei


As landscape architects-turned-non-profit founders, we understand that even the best laid plans can transform pretty quickly. Today we’d like to share the story of someone else whose life changed suddenly when she was introduced to her true vocation through the stories of three young girls.

Iana Matei was vacationing in her native Romania from Australia when she received a phone call that would change all her plans. The police, knowing her background in child psychology, asked if she would take three prostitutes they had picked up to the doctor. Later that day, when she saw the faces of the girls – 13, 14, and 15 years old – she says she knew she would never go back to Australia. Instead, she stayed in Romania and opened Reaching Out, a non-profit that rescues girls and women who have been sold into sex-slavery.

The first three girls she helped that day had been sold into the sex trade by their own families. They told Iana that they thought they would be working in a restaurant but were sent to pimps instead.

Iana is now Romania’s leading advocate for the victims of sex-trafficking. Her work has occasionally called her to take part in “kidnapping raids” – searching for and rescuing girls being held in captivity by hardened criminals. In 2009 the U.S. Department of State declared Iana Hero of the Year for her work in both rescue and education. She has been honored with other awards in various countries, most recently becoming the Reader’s Digest European of the Year in 2010.

If ever you needed proof that modern day slavery exists, Iana Matei would give it to you straight. Speaking of the women she helps, she confirms that there’s no way to sugar-coat their dire situation. “Locked up, abused, and forced into sex, they are slaves – there’s no other word for it.”


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