In my last post, I mentioned that two encounters in Kathmandu turned out to be most powerful. The second of the two was a visit to Maiti Nepal, a facility run by Anuradha Koirala, CNN’s Hero of the Year in 2010.
Maiti Nepal is an amazing place. Women and children who have suffered at the hands of human traffickers find a safe space at Maiti Nepal, where they are nurtured physically and emotionally (and cared for if their injuries are too severe to recover from), become educated (for many, it’s the first opportunity they’ve had to learn to read and write), and develop life skills needed not only for their own survival but also for their continued role as advocates for themselves and women and children just like them. The message of self-empowerment tied to the importance of advocating for others reminded me of the advice often given to cancer survivors: start by focusing on your own health and then explore others’ experiences with cancer and do what you can to help them heal.
While at Maiti Nepal, we talked briefly with one 13-year-old girl. While she resembled my own 13-year-old daughter in some ways–both of them caught somewhere in the passage between girlhood and womanhood–the young woman before me had already experienced so much of the world. She had been trafficked out of the country at a young age and forced to work in the sex trade industry, serving between 10 to 20 men a day. When Maiti Nepal rescued her, the girl was quite sick. Since her arrival at MN, she had begun receiving ARV drugs to counter some of the effects of HIV, and she appeared healthier, happier, and engaged.In fact, we met as she was running from one classroom building to another at the on-site school.
We had the opportunity to tour Maiti Nepal with Anuradha herself, thanks to our friend and colleague Dina Bangdel, whose mother is Anuradha’s cousin. Anuradha’s quiet, strong presence is what I’ll most remember about being in this place. I’ll also remember the message that has been painted on the interior wall for all visitors to Maiti Nepal to see: “Being a CNN HERO doesn’t make us proud but reminds us that the problem still exists and we need to join hands to fight against it.”