By Crooked Trails Co-founder Christine Mackay
After having spent a few years supporting the fight against sexual slavery in the hill tribes of Thailand, we turned our attention to the girls of Nepal, who are heavily preyed upon as well. As many as 70,000 girls a year are trafficked from small, impoverished villages across the countryside into the brothels of cities as far away as Mumbai and Kolkata. Shedding stark light on this was the award-winning documentary The Day My God Died, by director Andy Levine, featuring an extraordinary woman named Anuradha Koirala who was rescuing girls from brothels and bringing them back to Nepal for hospice, love, and education at the center she founded, Maiti Nepal.
By the time I met Anuradha in person, she already had 500 kids at the school she started in Kathmandu. She also had a hospice center, a transit center, and three prevention schools. I was impressed with this woman and her courage and dedication. Anuradha has been given almost every major humanitarian award this world has to offer. I wanted to help beyond the annual fundraisers I had been hosting in Seattle, so I asked Anuradha if I could bring a small group of respectful travelers to bear witness to her work in the field and to raise funds doing it. Anuradha was hesitant, and initially said no, but agreed to my proposal after a few more years had passed. I promised that our group would be respectful, would not get in the way, and that we’d come no intention to meet or photograph any girls. Our purpose was to understand what was being accomplished in the field by her staff. Our first trip ran in 2011 and was a remarkable experience for our participants.
Instead of being heartbroken about the situation and the sheer number of trafficked girls, our group was inspired by the Maiti Nepal staff and what they accomplish against great odds. We saw former sex slaves standing at the border inspecting each bus crossing from Nepal to India, intercepting any girls being trafficked. They alone knew what to look for, having been trafficked themselves. We followed trained girls from a prevention school into a remote village to educate poor villagers and to inquire about missing girls. We saw high-quality street theater performed in places where few can read, warning villagers of people who offer jobs to their girls in order to traffic them in India.
The most stirring experience of all was to follow Anuradha as she moved across the Maiti Nepal campus, a whirl in her colorful sari, addressing each child by name, chiding them if they were missing a class or complimenting them on an exam. She knew every child’s story, and in her soft flowing voice would quickly describe another tale of sorrow and survival. It was humbling and inspiring at the same time. Her relentless work on behalf of the girls of Nepal earned her the CNN Hero of the Year award in 2010 and the Mother Theresa Award in 2014. The latter award is to honor individuals and organizations that promote peace, equality and social justice, and aim to encourage the cause of justice and peaceful coexistence while providing an impetus for society to imbibe these values. Anuradha has done this for her country and the world.
In 2015, while in the Nepali village of Chandani, I asked to look at the Social Studies textbook of a 9th grader. The first chapter of the text was titled “Challenges Facing Nepal” and the first thing listed was sexual slavery and human trafficking. I believe this would not have happened if not for the tireless work of Anuradha Koirala.
In 2012, Crooked Trails hosted Anuradha for a week in Seattle including a meeting with Bill Gates Sr. and Mimi Gates, executives at Starbucks, radio and TV interviews, and more. We raised over $30,000 that week, despite a huge snowstorm that caused havoc with the schedule. We’ve now run several group travel programs to Nepal with Maiti Nepal that are powerful and inspiring, and we continue to offer programs looking at trafficking issues in Nepal and elsewhere.
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