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VOF Month 1 (The Angel of Mercy)

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A thousand things play in my head as I wait for Ms Anuradha Koirala to come to her office. “She does not talk much to journalists.” I remember one of my friends telling me. “Well, I am not a journalist, at least not for this meeting.” I say in defense to myself. How could she, a petite and almost frail looking lady, be perhaps the strongest opponent to girls’ trafficking in Nepal? How could she do all that she has done? What inspires her each day? What makes her work so hard despite all the threats and challenges? I had done my homework well and I knew what I was going to ask her. I was excited but nervous. Who wouldn’t be? She has been a huge role model for many young women in the country including myself.

As she walks in with her endearing smile, all my apprehension fades away. There is a certain magnetism about her that immediately draws a person towards her—may be it’s her soft eyes, her easy candor, or her firm conviction—whatever it is, Ms Koirala exudes an aura that’s certainly appealing.

From being a Professor of English to the crusader against girls’ trafficking, she has embarked on her journey with the courage of a warrior. “Not only society, even my family questioned my chastity. They blamed me of being a prostitute,” she said sadly. However, her innate perseverance shined through when she added that, “In the absence of challenges, there is no need to work. If we stop working with the fear of challenges, we cannot improve the society.” For all the courage, quite inevitably, numerous awards have come her way, including, Celebrating Womanhood Award (2002), The Courage of Conscience Award (2006), Queen Sophia Centre Silver Medal (2007),The UNWO Nepal Certificate of Appreciation (2008), Outstanding Management Award (2009), among others.

In her quest to protect Nepali Girls’ and women from crimes like domestic violence, trafficking for flesh trade, child prostitution, child labor, and various forms of exploitation and torture, Ms Koirala started Maiti Nepal (literal translation ‘Mother’s Home’) in the year 1993, with the little money she earned as a lecturer, and the support of a group of socially committed students and professionals like teachers, journalists, lawyers, and social workers.

A Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2009 published by The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) states that “Nepal is a source country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and involuntary servitude.” Although there is a lack of reliable statistics, it is estimated that 10,000-15,000 Nepali women and girls are trafficked to India annually, while 7.500 children are trafficked domestically for commercial sexual exploitation. Additionally, women and girls are also trafficked to The Middle East, and other Asian destinations including Malaysia, Hong Kong, and South Korea. The trade is backed by poverty, gender disparity, illiteracy, and greed. Little girls averaging 7-14 years of age are given away to brothels, where they must service 5-25 clients a day. Resistant girls are tortured, gang raped, and threatened until they submit. Many girls contract HIV as well as other STDs, and are forced to endure numerous abortions.

What Ms Koirala started by making personal loans of NRs 1,000 ($15) to eight female beggars and prostitutes to set up Nanglo Pasals (small stalls) with the hope to reshape their lives, has transformed into an organization that not only prevents trafficking for forced prostitution, but also works to find justice for the victimized girls and women by engaging in criminal investigation and waging legal battles against the criminals.

Among the many roles that she has taken up, Assistant for Ministry for Women, Children and Welfare was one of the most depressing one. For a person brought up in a family that valued discipline and time, it was hard for Ms Koirala to fathom the realities of the Ministry, which she says had no sense of discipline and time. Through her stay, the first thing she changed was the languid attitude of the employees, by emphasizing on punctuality and dedication. She also raised the agendas of girls’ trafficking, adoption laws and sexual exploitation of children during her brief tenure at the Ministry.

She was referred to as an “Angel of Mercy” (the title is also given to Mother Teresa of Calcutta) by Prince Charles after his visit to Maiti Nepal’s Shelter Homes in February 1998. Touched by her work, Prince Charles did something he had never done before. He used a tabloid newspaper to sell 500 prints of water-color he painted of Annapurna Himalayan Mountain Range for £150 each in his bid to raise funds for her endeavors. The newspaper had also printed a letter from Charles mentioning "selfless dedication and sacrifice" of Ms Koirala, who, he mentioned to be "living under constant threat of retribution."

Despite everything that she and her organization is doing from building shelter homes to transit points, to prevention homes and hospice, Ms Koirala is still struggling to get government’s support to address the issue. “I cannot create a world free from trafficking without government’s effort and support of other I/NGOs,” she expressed.

In addition to seeing a world free from trafficking, her yet to be fulfilled dreams include the establishment of Maternity Homes and Children’s Hospital in the Eastern and Western regions of the country. Like the determined spirit that she is, she is struggling hard to realize her dreams even at this age.

After my close encounter with this Angel of Mercy, as I leave the Maiti Nepal office, I think about the documentary made by Ms Koirala where a victim of trafficking says, “The day I was sold, was the day that my God died.” This powerful and well researched documentary acquired the title “The Day My God Died”. But maybe God never died for the girl, because He was never “born”. He is just among us in different forms like Anuradha Koirala. After all, God does act in mysterious ways.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 31 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most forgotten corners of the world. Meet Us.

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Comments

giftypearl.abenaab's picture

Beautiful story

Khush,
i like how you were honest with your feelings making us feel your tension as you waited to interview your subject.

You have captured details giving me more insight in child trafficking, an area i love to discuss.
Great work done and all the best.
Love, Gifty

Gifty Pearl Abenaab
Founder
Greight Foundation
www.greightfoundation.org

Khushbu's picture

Thank you

Hi Gifty

I am so glad that you like the story. Meeting Ms Koirala was amazing..seeing her passion for her work was inspiring....

Thanks again

Love,
Khushbu

Khushbu Agrawal

Jensine's picture

Well done!

Ms. Koirala is one of my she-ros! Excellent interview, and I enjoyed how you told this interview through your eyes. We feel almost in the room with you, as your anticipation builds. I remember well meeting the producers of "The Day My God Died" - we also featured it in a past World Pulse Magazine along with Maiti Nepal. She truly is a woman the world can learn from, and the more the world knows - the more we can support her efforts. It seems that her model could spread far and wide, to other countries as well. I wonder if anyone has captured her successful model and curriculum to paper?
Cheers!
Jensine

Jensine Larsen
World Pulse

Khushbu's picture

I will find out

HI Jensine

I am so glad that you liked the picture i painted. Thank you very much for all the appreciation.

You are right when you say that her model could be applied to other countries as well. I will try to find out if anyone has captured her successful model and curriculum on paper. If not, i will try to contact her office and see if they themselves have done so.

Will get back to you asap.

Lots of love
Khushbu

Khushbu Agrawal

Khushbu's picture

Ms Koirala is the CNN HERO 2010

Hi Jensine

We in Nepal are all celebrating as Ms Koirala has been awarded the title of CNN Hero of the year 2010. Wanted to share the news with the community:)

http://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/11/21/cnnheroes.hero.of.year/index.html?h...

Love
Khushbu

Khushbu Agrawal

The Afrika way's picture

Hi Khushbu, I did not want

Hi Khushbu,

I did not want your story to end....you write to well and more importantly Ms. Koirala's story is so inspiring. You should write her autobiography...the world needs to read this.....you tell the story of the women in your country well......

Love,
Grace

Khushbu's picture

Thank you

Dear Grace

Thank you so very much for all the appreciation! I really appreciate it..you are right...her story should come out for all to read and soak in it....its a very noble thought....

Love
Khushbu

Khushbu Agrawal

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