Freeing Enslaved Girls in Nepal
The Nepal Youth Foundation helps to free children in Nepal who have been sold into slavery — and even prostitution. It also helps children who are suffering from poverty and malnutrition. When the children are brought back to health, NYF helps to ensure they receive needed education in order to break the cycle of poverty.
A prime example of what is possible thanks to NYF’s efforts is the story of Nirmala. Nirmala is a blind girl who was living in a very poor area. Her father died when she was just six years old, and there were no schools available for the blind to educate her. Her probable future: begging on the streets to survive.
With assistance from the Nepal Youth Foundation, Nirmala received the care she needed, including an education. She took full of advantage and later graduated from Colorado State University. Her sister who is also blind, was the first blind citizen of Nepal to earn a master’s degree.
The following is an interview with the Nepal Youth Foundation’s Greg Tully:
Does $100 U.S. dollars really buy back a girl’s freedom?
It seems shocking, but Nepali girls are sold into bonded servitude for around US$50 per year. Very young girls who aren’t capable of doing as much work are sold for much less. With a $100 donation, NYF can rescue a girl, convince her parents to let her stay at home and go to school, and continue our highly successful public awareness campaign that turns communities against the bonding practice.
How many girls have you freed so far?
NYF has liberated more than 10,000 girls from indentured servitude. When we did our last annual survey, in late 2009, only a few thousand girls were still enslaved. We plan to eliminate the tradition of selling Nepali girls into servitude within a few years.
What happens to the girls who are not freed?
The girls we have not yet rescued continue to labor as indentured servants. However, as our public awareness campaign spreads throughout the region where girls are enslaved, fewer and fewer parents are willing to send their daughters into bondage. Selling a daughter used to done in the open with pride, but in the areas where we have been working, it’s now considered shameful.
How do you identify which girls to help? Our staff are spread throughout the region where this happens and we rescue every enslaved girl we can find. In addition to liberating girls, we enroll many girls in our program who are at risk of being bonded, particularly the younger sisters of girls who have been sold.
Are the freed girls typically returned to their families?
We return the girls to their families and also teach their parents about the importance of education for girls and how traumatic it can be for these girls to grow up as laborers surrounded by strangers. The parents don’t want to sell their daughters; they feel like they need to in order to feed their other children, so they’re generally happy to have their girls at home. A small number of the girls we liberate don’t have acceptable homes to return to – either they’re orphans, they’re from abusive homes, or their parents would sell them into bondage again. We collaborate with other NGOs to operate children’s homes where these girls can live, go to school, and receive guidance and emotional support.
About how many children has your organization assisted in obtaining formal education?
We are one of the leading providers of scholarships in Nepal. Since NYF was founded 20 years ago, we have provided scholarships to around 5,000 children. We sponsor students in remote, rural areas as well as urban Kathmandu. Our social workers regularly check on every child, meet with their parents and teachers, and address any issues that arise. For students who don’t have families, the social workers fill the role of parents, providing guidance and emotional support as well as health care and all their other needs.
And to what degree of education?
One thing that sets the Nepal Youth Foundation apart from many other nonprofits is that when we sponsor a child, we commit to them for the long term, until they are able to support themselves. This typically means more than a decade of support. Many of the children go to college and even graduate school. We sponsor others in vocational training programs and then help them find suitable jobs. Unemployment in Nepal is close to 50%, and the vocational training is better for helping some kids establish careers than higher education.
Do children who have received assistance end up giving back to the foundation when they’re adults?
We make an effort to teach the children in our programs about the importance of giving back to the disadvantaged. Many of them grow up to be NGO employees, social workers, doctors, nurses and lawyers serving underprivileged populations in Nepal.
Do you currently still run shelters for impoverished children?
We run two excellent homes for children who have nowhere else to go. J House (for boys) and K House (for girls) each has less than 20 kids and a loving, homelike environment. The kids go to very good schools, and we provide them with everything that parents would give them.
Do most of your funds come from individual donations?
Yes, most of our money comes from donations from people all around the U.S., in addition to many donors in other countries. A lot of our support comes from smaller donations, particularly from people who give $100 to rescue a girl from bonded servitude. We also receive grants from foundations and a small amount from corporate giving.
Do you offer volunteer programs so travelers can visit Nepal and
your shelters and do some work with your organization?
We have a partnership with a company called Projects Abroad which specializes in connecting volunteers with projects throughout the world. They help with the practicalities of traveling in a developing country and ensure the volunteers have a fulfilling experience. Through Projects Abroad, people can volunteer at our children’s homes, one of our centers for severely malnourished youth, and our center for children with HIV/AIDS.
What are some of your future plans to help the youth of Nepal?
The Nepal Youth Foundation will continue to identify the greatest needs of youth in Nepal and find sustainable solutions to meet those needs. Our focus is to provide impoverished children with education, health, human rights, and loving homes. There are so many issues facing Nepali children that we are only limited by the donations we receive.
Last month, we began to support a program called the New Life Center that treats children born with HIV. Kids and their parents live at the center for a few months, free of charge. During that time, staff give the children all the treatment they need to become healthy and educate the parents in nutrition, hygiene and sanitation. By eating healthy food and following a lifestyle that avoids opportunistic infections, the kids will typically be able to live fulfilling, happy lives for decades. We hope to raise a lot of money for this program so it can expand to help many more HIV-positive children.
Nepal Youth Foundation is holding a Freedom Dance Fundraiser on Saturday, July 24, in Sausalito, California.
photo credit: Nepal Youth Foundation