“Day after tomorrow”14 Jul 2008, by Uncategorized in
Arriving in Kathmandu was like a breath of fresh air, literally. The pollution here is bad, but not nearly as bad as in Kolkata this time of year. And the production center, where I’ll be living the next two weeks, is on the outskirts of the city in a lovely purple house. There’s a gorgeous terrace on the top floor, which on a clear day provides a scenic view of Kathmandu Valley.
The other floors provide residential space to 15 women, and a large workshop unit for Hatti Production. Every day, these 15 women produce gorgeous leather handbags that are sold by Made by Survivors in the US and Hatti Trading in the UK. Some of them are a little shy, but it’s amazing how confident and strong these young women have become in just the previous year. Having a job really does empower them!
Other than spending my time at the production center, I’ve been able to meet with the founder of Esther Benjamin’s Trust. This NGO rescues children from Indian circuses, most of whom were trafficked from Nepal at a young age. In many ways, the circuses are no better from the red light areas. Children suffer from extreme physical abuse, most of them are sexually abused by the circus managers, and all of them are underfed, overworked, and poorly paid (if at all). The founder, Philip, has done miracles in changing the mindsets of Indian circus owners. He says sexual abuse of the children has decreased because now the managers are afraid of repercussions should there be a raid. Philip’s center in Nepal provides social services to the children, excellent education, and vocational training. They operate Himalayan Mosaics, a tile mosaic company that takes orders on consignment from around the world, and of course TEN has ordered quite a few for our store and Kolkata production center. They also train girls in stitching, who are then hired to work fulltime at Hatti Production.
Another NGO in Kathmandu that we support is Apple of God’s Eye. Several years ago, a few Brazilian couples moved here and welcomed into their homes abandoned children and women coming out of prostitution (many of whom were trafficked into sexual exploitation at a young age). They have a large sign on their door claiming, "we are not a project or a shelter. We are a family and this is our home." It’s truly revolutionary – the mothers are literally mothers for all of the children. Each child is treated as an individual, given good clothes, good food, and a great education. And they also operate a small income generation project with the teenagers and older women, making rugs (child labor free, of course) and beaded jewelry. The reason they’ve chosen rug making is that many of the children they take in come from the infamous carpet looms in Nepal. Their parents "work" there, either as debt-bonded laborers or poorly paid laborers, and often the children were forced to "work" as well. Apple of God’s Eye has opened its doors to these children, sent them to school, and the older ones wanted to earn money by making rugs since they have the skill. But now they can use their knowledge in a safe environment where they are paid for their work, treated with respect, and set their own hours.
When I go into the city, first I have to avoid the flooding. As you can see, sometimes having a car doesn’t help much… I’m amazed at how many imported products are available here: Chinese silk, Japanese electronics, and even French wine. But when I asked about purchasing some Chinese hardware in bulk, I got the same answer I always get in India. "Yes, madam, no problem. Day after tomorrow."