Sunday was one of the most incredible days that I’ve been lucky enough to experience here in Kathmandu. Megan and I took off on a wild, 10 a.m. taxi adventure – as it should be when there is only one named road in the entire labyrinth of Kathmandu streets filled with cars, bikes, people and cows. On our way there, we chatted with excitement about what our expectations were for my meeting. And when we road back, hardly a word was spoken; we were in awe of the incredible women we had just met.
I suppose Anuradha Koirala has that effect on everyone she tells her story to, leaving them awe-struck for days… which is why I am writing this post on a Wednesday. Even now, I am still struggling to find the words that can accurately describe the morning. So I will try my best.
When you first meet her, you are taken away by how strong of a presence this petit woman has. When she talks, she talks with such passion and confidence that you just get lost in her words. There were many points in our conversation that I was at a loss of words and had to stop and just think about what she was saying.
From an early age, she was involved in helping others. She told us about her childhood in India with her mother, who worked along side Mother Theresa. After she returned to Nepal and faced her own domestic hardships, she took under her wing a few women who were victims of trafficking and domestic violence. Demand for her aid continued to grow, and her message emboldened. As of today, she and her organization, Maiti Nepal, rescued, counseled and sought justice for over 12,000 women and children.
She told us of how most of the girls from the villages are tricked into thinking they are getting a nice job in the city and then are brought across the border into India. The brokers can be anyone, from relatives to complete strangers. In the brothels, the girls are beaten, drugged, abused and forced to have sex with as many as 60 clients a day. Keep in mind, most girls are aged 6 to 9 when they are first trafficked, according to Koirala. At the same time, it is the clients that usually tip off Maiti Nepal that they had seen a Nepalese girl in a brothel. Maiti, who has branches in Mumbai and Delhi, collaborates with the police to perform raids after the tip off. The girls are usually hidden in small crevasses within the brothel during the raid, but are generally found. The hard part is convincing the girls to come with them, since rumors are spread throughout the brothels that Maiti will not do anything for them and that it is a bad place.
On the contrary, it is a beautiful sanctuary doing incredible things for these women and children. We had the opportunity to meet a few girls who were willing to share their stories with us. The girls started their own organization as a part of Maiti Nepal to help spread the word to the village women and children about the prevalence of trafficking and the dangers of being tricked into it. They also want to talk to women who’ve returned to the villages and help rehabilitate them and give them there confidence and dignity back. These girls are the real inspirational story. They’ve lived through horrors that I cannot even comprehend.
It is this pain, suffering and hopelessness that Anuradha Koirala sees in the girls eyes that give her strength to keep doing what she does. Her biggest accomplishment, she says, is yet to come: they day she has to close the doors of Maiti and not a single woman or child is trafficked is the day she will rest.
If you would like to know more about Anuradha Koirala and Maiti Nepal, please visit their website – http://www.maitinepal.org, – or read about Ms. Koirala as a CNN Hero 2010 – http://edition.cnn.com/SPECIALS/cnn.heroes/archive10/anuradha.koirala.html.
When I return to the U.S., I’d really like to help out the incredible girls we met. They are separate from Maiti, so funding is limited. They only need around $500 to be able to go out into the villages for a few weeks to educate women and children about trafficking (pays for transportation, lodging, etc.) and I think that number could easily be reached. More to come on this idea later!