“I think they’re going to be a force,” proclaimed Erica Stone, president of American Himalayan Foundation, about the new Stop Girl Trafficking (SGT) Project initiative she announced today. After 15 years of preventing the trafficking of girls in Nepal by funding their school costs, San Francisco’s AHF is helping these girls, now young women graduates, form Alumni Associations.
Empowered by their education, enthusiastic about their potential, and appreciative for their freedom, these remarkable young women intend to help their communities emerge from stark poverty. The Alumni Association initiative was a SGT response to graduates saying, “We need leadership training because we want to try and be leaders.”
When SGT offers to support a girl through school, she is usually about seven years old and chosen because she is in “very real danger” of being enslaved. Stone said that otherwise such a girl’s best outcome of many nightmare scenarios would be to become a child bride as young as ten years old, which is a “solution” when her parents no longer have the means to feed her.
Yet her most likely fate would be to become one of the 20,000 Nepali girls every year who “goes missing,” a euphemism there for being sold or trafficked. As young as nine, these girls are captive as sex trafficking victims in Indian brothels or as domestic servants as far away as the Middle East.
Fifteen years ago, the Himalayan Foundation decided to tackle this atrocity, and their approach was a “straightforward, simple model,” developed in partnership with a visionary Nepali, Dr. Aruna Uprety. The strategy was to “rescue without the suffering.” In other words, the SGT Project prevents the girls from being trafficked in the first place by educating them.
Because girls have such little value in Nepal, they are rarely educated. Their illiteracy makes them even less valuable in households where only boys will be kept in school when parents have to choose. Stone shared a Nepali saying that demonstrates their attitude: “to educate your daughter is to water another man’s garden.” That other man is her eventual husband.
But an educated girl only is not an asset in the home by virtue of being able to read and proficient in math, but she also raises the status of the impoverished family among their neighbors.
This prevention approach only costs $100 per girl per year, and the success rate is 100% . “We have not lost one girl to trafficking,” Stone attested. 10,000 little girls over 15 years, all in great peril, yet every one is safe and free.
How many would have sold or married by 10 if not for SGT? In some districts, “girls are raised like cash cows.” There, Stone said, every one of them would have been trafficked. In others, she estimates up to 70% would be enslaved today. Overall, 75-80% of these 10,000 girls would be captive in hopeless suffering.
Now, beyond having their liberty safeguarded and their education funded, SGT graduates have another prospect ahead that would have seemed impossible at the beginning: becoming business and community leaders. One alumni association converted a clothing drive into cash so a few of them can take public speaking, English, and computer training. Once completed, they will then train other association members in the same skills.
Members of another SGT alumni association are pooling their monthly savings as micro-credit from which individuals can borrow and launch their own enterprises. For the first time in the history of any of their families, these young women will be literate, businesswomen mothers, serving as role models for their daughters and proving the inestimable value of every girl in the province.
You can be a part of this story of rescue without suffering and the women-powered future of Himalaya by donating to the American Himalayan Foundation here: http://www.himalayan-foundation.org/donate