Celebrating CNN Hero winner in the Movement to End Human Trafficking: Maiti Nepal founder Anuradha Koirala12 Nov 2010, by Uncategorized in
“First you have to take them into your heart as your own child. Then the strength comes out of you to protect them” Anuradha Koirala.
Anuradha Koirala, founder of Maiti Nepal (our first parner shelter) has been won a CNN Heroes Award, which she richly deserves to win – Anuradha is a true hero for our times. I first met Anuradha in 2004, when I visited her Kathmandu shelter along with Joe Collins and Brigitte Cazalis Collins of Friends of Maiti Nepal, the US arm of Maiti Nepal, with whom I volunteered for a year when I first became involved in anti-trafficking work. This amazing trip changed my life forever. In fact, it was Anuradha who planted the seed for the creation of The Emancipation Network, when I asked her what kind of help she needed most at that moment.
She talked about the need for jobs and economic empowerment for her older survivors, girls who were rescued after the age of 16, and many of whom had very little, or no formal schooling. Returning to kindergarten was not a great option for these teens and young adults, some of whom had children of their own to support. They were keen to find a way to support themselves and rejoin society.
Anuradha was working as a social worker in the late eighties when she became aware of the severe problem of girl trafficking from Nepal to India. 15-20 young Nepali girls a day are trafficked across the border to India, where they are sold as slaves into brothels in the major cities, or sometimes into private homes in India, or the Middle East. Many of these girls never return. About 22% never reach adulthood, 40% contract HIV/AIDS. All are traumatized and stigmatized to the point that they need intensive support to recover.
Victims that did make it back to Nepal (they escaped, were rescued, or were cut loose by slaveholders when they became too sick to be of use) were literally thrown out into the streets to die alone. There were no shelters that would take them in, and they were usually not welcome into their families and villages, if they could even remember how to get home.
One such story is Geeta’s. As reported in the CNN feature, "Geeta was 9 years old when she began wearing makeup, staying up until 2 am and having sex with up to 60 men a day" Geeta was rescued and sent to Maiti nepal. She is now a young adult working at Maiti Nepal as a peer educator. Geeta says that Anuradha is the person who gave her back her life and her faith.
In the early nineties, Anuradha started by taking a few girls into her own home for lack of any other options. Over time, her simple act of human kindness became a mission, a vision, and ultimately one of the world’s largest anti-trafficking organizations, including shelters (the largest houses up to 1000 trafficking survivors and their children in Kathmandu), nine prevention stations along the India-Nepal border, rescue operations, legal advocacy, and large scale public awareness campaigns.
Friends describe Anuradha as a cross between Mother Theresa and a drill sergeant! She is full of love and tenderness for her girls, who she treats as her own daughters. But when she confronts the people who sell and use these children, who are willing to accept the status quo and stand idly by while thousands of Nepali children are bought and sold, who refuse to educate or employ or even to allow burial rights to survivors, she is a force to be reckoned with.
During one visit to Maiti Nepal, , the police brought a trafficker to Maiti Nepal, so that the girl he had betrayed and sold could confront him, so that he could be photographed for Maiti’s archives, and so that the legal team could talk to him and collect evidence. This young man had sold numerous girls into brothels in India after ‘marrying’ them in false marriages in remote rural areas. He cringed in shame as one of his victims, a girl of sixteen, quietly confronted him with the terrible suffering he had caused her, and as Anuradha Koirala rather less gently took him to task for his wrongdoing. He looked so young himself, no more than twenty. With his baby face, it was easy to imagine how a young girl would trust him, and would see him as a peer.
We left the room, and out in the hallway, a mother was waiting to talk to Anuradha. She was a Tamang woman from the countryside, wearing the large earrings and traditional dress of that ethnic group. She had traveled for several days to get to Kathmandu, and she clutched a photo of her teenage daughter who had disappeared eleven days earlier, and who she feared had been trafficked to India. The look on that woman’s face is burned into my memory. As a mother, I can hardly imagine my devastation if my daughter was missing and presumed to be in a brothel. This mother knew she would likely never see her child again and her pain was beyond description. It was the worst suffering I had ever witnessed.
Anuradha held the mother’s hands and counseled her with the deepest compassion. Maiti staff would make a copy of the photograph and would use every resource to try to find her. She nodded towards the man accompanying the mother– a husband or uncle. “I am suspecting him,” she told us. The Tamang family did not speak English. The man did wear an uncomfortable expression, unreadable to me, but Anuradha has seen it all a thousand times before.
Check out these gorgeous cuff bracelets and logo bracelets made by survivors at Maiti Nepal, which support the economic empowerment of the survivors there. You can also earmark a donation for Maiti Nepal through secure online donation. 100% of donations received for our partner shelters go directly to the overseas shelters, where they are needed most.