Written by Adrienne Lee ,Planeterra Blog
Three years ago, long before I began working with Planeterra Foundation, I travelled to India and Nepal to volunteer with an organization working towards abolishing modern-day slavery in one of the world's epicentres of human-trafficking. According to the Global Slavery Index, India and Nepal rank 4th and 5th in the world for prevalence of human-trafficking in the country's population. One of the most pervasive of these practices is forced sex work with conservative numbers averaging anywhere between 5,000 to 10,000 girls trafficked to India each year and an estimated 200,000 currently forced to work in Indian brothels.
I went to work with Shamrakshak Samuha Nepal (SASANE – Nepali meaning “Help Ourselves”) a grassroots organization run by survivors for survivors. The organization trains survivors to be certified paralegals and places them in full-time employment in police stations around Nepal. This way, the survivor is the first point of contact for victims that enter the police station, breaking the cycle of corruption that is all too common in the Nepalese justice system.
It was at SASANE that I met Shyam, the Managing Director and Founder of the organization. His story is remarkable.
Shyam had been working as a lawyer and a special court superintendent for the Supreme Court of Nepal for 18 years. Well established, and an expert in the field of human-trafficking, he was solicited to work as a researcher for a large international NGO whose mission was to support survivors. He saw that there was a gap between the services the survivors were receiving and the actual local need of the women. The large international organization was not listening to the people it was suppose to be benefitting. Shyam would hear a hundred times over: Non-victims do not understand the victim’s pain. They can not empathize.
When he voiced his concerns and they were ignored, Shyam resigned from the organization. For years Shyam had seen the failure of the bureaucracy that took place in large NGOs, the corruption that occurred in the justice system, and the sheer innovation from the survivors that was being wasted. He connected with some of the girls on how best to combat these issues, and with his life-savings, he and the survivors started SASANE.
Since it’s inception, Shyam’s work has been controversial. It is culturally inappropriate to leave a well paying, established job in Nepal to dedicate your life to non-profit work — Shyam’s family was disappointed. He even had a knife to his throat from one of the largest perpetrators of trafficking in Kathmandu. Yet telling this story, he nonchalantly laughs this situation off. Shyam has dedicated his life to ensure that people without voices are represented justly, and that it is his duty to bring justice to an emerging society.
And now I’ve come full circle. Remarkably, in January, three years after my visit this project is set to launch as a Planeterra Project. We are expanding the services and entry points for some of the girls to enter full-time training and employment in the tourism industry. Some of the survivors will lead tours to the sacred temples in Kathmandu and cook authentic meals for our travellers in their volunteer home. They will have a platform to tell their story and be the voice for the thousands of girls that don’t. These tours will be included in G Adventures’ itineraries providing long-term income to SASANE — generating sustainable income for their paralegal program. It will empower more women to have a greater voice in their community, and generate income to combat the extreme poverty that leads to this horrible practice of selling girls into slavery. We can all be a voice for the speechless. And travel truly can change the world.
Adrienne Lee is Planeterra's Program and Communications Manager for Asia and Africa.