Nepal: January 9th

9 Jan 18
Kathmandu, Nepal

We went to bed near 7:30 p.m. and weren’t asked to report to breakfast until 9:00 or so, so I was excited to catch up on sleep! Unfortunately, as tired as I was, my internal clock was pretty screwed up and I only slept about six of those. On the other hand, Paul slept like a rock and was so still and quiet, I actually checked to make sure he was breathing!

After breakfast, we took a twenty-minute walk from the Shechen Guest House to the headquarters of Shakti Samuha. This was the first of many meetings of its kind on this trip. We entered the building, were introduced to some people who worked there, asked to remove our shoes, and then ushered into a room, where we sat on pillows lining the perimeter. There we spent 1-2 hours listening to a presentation on who Shakti Samuha is, how the group began, and their mission in Nepal. Our conversations were translated by Sarala, a native of Kathmandu who works for Shakti Samuha and was assigned to accompany us on our entire trip. She has worked as a project coordinator for Shakti Samuha since 2012.

We were welcomed with *tika* and white scarves. We were then served milk tea, which we discovered throughout our trip, is a staple welcome in Nepal.

Kathmandu headquarters of Shakti Samuha

Notes from my meeting with Shakti Samuha:

Shakti Samuha translates to “power group”, meaning a group meant to empower those within and around it. It is the first group established and run by survivors of sex trafficking, whose goal was to “convert our tears into power.” In 1996, five hundred women were rescued from brothels in India- 300 of these women were Nepalese. Repatriation into Nepal culture was extremely difficult for these women returning home because there were no government programs for them to adapt back to “normal” life and many shunned them because of their experiences and line of work in India. In fact, the government-run centers that some of them were able to go to treated them badly. It was difficult to get identification in Nepal and for health reasons involving HIV, the Nepal government did not even want to bring the girls back in the country to begin with. Eventually, seven organizations petitioned the government to recognize the trafficked girls as citizens of Nepal bring them back home. In all, 128 women migrated back to Nepal- the rest had fled or married in India. They were met at the airport by journalists and publicized as prostitutes, therefore making their homecoming even more difficult.

At some point, fifteen of these women attended a ten-day empowerment training together. The message they received from this training was your experience was not your fault. Together,  they brainstormed for a name and began Shakti Samuha organization. This organization is different because it doesn’t just work for survivors but with survivors. Notice that they so often refer to survivors in these terms, rather than “victims.” This is intentional- a victim is one who is living under the oppression of trafficking. A survivor is one who has determined that trafficking does not define their character and actively seeks healing and a better life.

There are thirteen districts in Nepal that are especially prone to human trafficking. Though they lack specific data on many of these areas, open borders and older infrastructures make trafficking easier here than in many parts of the world. A major earthquake in 2015 in proximity to India and China gave even more opportunity for this to happen.

Shakti Samuha receives some government support.

Almost all castes are affected by trafficking, but the poorest castes are affected the most.

Shakti has a sister organization (unnamed) who treats survivors who return with HIV/AIDS. It is difficult to reintegrate survivors into their families- it is a patriarchal society and these women are often seen in a harsher light because of their experiences. Shakti will routinely assess a home situation when a survivor returns to Nepal, to determine the risks of reintegration and being re-trafficked. If a woman cannot return to her original home, they work on social integration into society, helping her find education and/or a job, based on her skills and interests. They provide education, art therapy, and help if the women wants to pursue prosecution of her trafficker. (though there is no pressure to do so)

Shakti Samuha does not directly rescue women who are trafficked, but does coordinate with groups who do (mostly in India).

How are women trafficked? Usually, trafficking happens through a family member or trusted acquaintance who promise a young woman higher education or work abroad. When the family and/or girl take up this person on the offer, they do indeed send them abroad, but not to the destination anticipated. Sometimes, the trafficker will even send regular reports and a little bit of money to the family so they believe their daughter is successfully working or studying as intended. This also makes it more difficult to prosecute a trafficker later because they family was paid in part for the trafficking. Sometimes trafficking occurs through false marriage- a marriage that is carried in Nepal but not considered legally binding in Korea, China, etc. Young girls “fall in love” on social media.