November 27, 2010

Anuradha Koirala - CNN hero of the year 2010 - saving girls from sex trafficking

Anuradha Koirala - CNN Hero of the Year 2010
Just imagine what would happen if your daughter was standing there ... what would you do? How would you fight? So you have to join hands - you have to take each child as your daughter. I want a society free of human trafficking. I hope I will make it happen one day.
                                                                 -Anuradha Koirala, founder of Maiti Nepal


Last night I flipped on CNN and landed in the middle of the annual CNN Heroes award ceremony. Apparently I missed the opening where the Chilean miners were given tribute, and I also missed out on the presentation of the first four heroes. But the last six heroes kept me glued to the screen. There was an Indian man who spends his life feeding and bathing the poor - showing them respect and love they don't get any other place; a Cambodian man who spent his childhood as a soldier for the Khmer Rouge forced to plant land mines - now he is spending his every day repenting in a very practical way: clearing land mines; a Kenyan man who makes and distributes solar powered lights for school children who otherwise don't have light to study by; a woman from Mississippi who is challenging her whole state (America's most obese state) to start exercising; a Texan who builds free homes for wounded war veterans; and finally: Anuradha Koirala, the founder of Maiti Nepal.

I remember when I did fieldwork for my MSc thesis in a village outside Kathmandu in 1995-1996 that we came across one village that was said to be totally devoid of girls between 12 and 25. My assistant gave me the story: every now and then a rich looking man would come to the village saying he had work to offer girls. The families would be paid an immediate cash sum with promises of later regular installments. Incidentally that was why this was one of the villages where every house had a tin roof, a rare status symbol in that area - instead of a traditional thatched roof. The girls would work as maids for rich families, they were told.

But actually, the girls were taken across the border to India and sold to brothels. My assistant was just as shocked as me to hear the story. This village became one of the first villages Maiti Nepal became involved in. The families were informed about the real situation; some if the girls were even rescued from India - but few of them could face the shame of what happened to them and return to the village. The lucky ones rescued would be taken care of by Maiti Nepal and Anuradha Koirala - but many were never found.

Anuradha Koirala and Maiti Nepal have rescued around 12 000 Nepali girls and women from human trafficking. On average the organization is able to stop 4 girls a day on the Nepali-Indian border. When the winner of the Hero of the Year 2010 was announced, it was no surprise that it went to Anuradha Koiraila. Click here to see the touching video profile on CNN Heroes.

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