A “Night of Hope” in Chesapeake Helping Stop Human Trafficking in Nepal

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Regent students model Elegantees designs sewn by rescued Nepali girls.
L- R: Sarah Beth Stone, Namie Bimba, Samantha Garrett, Gwenna Hendrickson, Amy Taylor, Katie Martinez, Kathryn Gross, Janelle Young, Kristen Schuman, Katie Johnson, Jenner Cotton, Melanie Cassie.Photo by Autumn Edwards

A shared passion to bring an end to human trafficking in the kingdom of Nepal recently brought together a NYC fashion designer, Regent University students, a local non-profit, the founder of a Nepali humanitarian organization, a local sister singer/songwriter duo and a crowd of people at the Chesapeake Marriott.

Dubbed the “Night of Hope” by organizers of the Nepali Rescue Project, the November event included a fashion show of unique attire sewn by the rescued girls, live music and a radical challenge – to raise $50,000 for more border stations to help close the gaps along the porous India/Nepal international boundary where traffickers flee with their Nepali victims.  Unless traffickers are apprehended at the border crossings, their victims, some as young as twelve years old, are taken out of their homeland and generally enslaved in brothels in India or nations beyond.  Once out of Nepal, they have virtually no hope of ever making it home again.

The Nepali Rescue Project (www.nepalirescueproject.com) is a 4-year old collaborative effort between the Chesapeake based non-profit international mission organization, RUN Ministries, and Greenbrier Church, in partnership with a Nepali non-government organization (NGO), which has been effectively rescuing 20,000 girls and women from human trafficking each year! Together they have established 11 border stations, providing surveillance and counselors ready to spot and stop human traffickers on their way out of Nepal with unwitting, often terrified victims in tow.   The “Night of Hope” event aimed to raise awareness and funds for additional border stations so that all 18 crossing points into India are staffed with “rescue patrols.”

A Nepali Rescue Project counselor interviews rescued girl at border station. An average of 55 girls are rescued each day.

Friends for over a decade, the founders of both organizations have expanded the scope of the Nepali NGO’s efforts.  Today it has a comprehensive intervention and restoration program. Their staff work up to 16 hours a day at the existing 11 border stations, standing watch at the busy international crossings where merchants, travelers, farmers and others crowd the roadway on foot or on bikes or scooters, sometimes atop oxen carts or in buses, in a continuous flow of people going back and forth across Nepal‘s international border with India.

Over the 2011 Thanksgiving holiday a group of 14, mostly women, from Greenbrier Church spent 10 days in Nepal, traveling across the country, with stops in cities and villages, even hiking into a remote Himalayan village.  They saw the Nepali Rescue Project’s broad scope and well developed anti-trafficking work. The Chesapeake team was “on site” at a number of  border stations where formerly rescued girls are now themselves the trained staff to interdict human traffickers,  turn the traffickers over to border police and rescue the victims.

The team of Greenbrier Church women was privileged to interact with many of the rescued girls during their visits to several safe houses.  They spent three days together with the rescued girls and women, teaching on restoration, assisting with the girls’ job skill training, and sharing hope and love.  The ladies brought many gifts of personal toiletries and supplies needed for other micro-business ventures such as hair products for their salon training.  The safe house residents were very receptive and eagerly invited the women to return in the future.

Greenbrier Church team in Nepal. Bottom row L to R: Jenny Lindstrom, Lynn Brunke, Lexie Cupp, Stacy Busby, Cassidy Parroco. Top row L to R: Melanie Bedogne, Ian Watt, Eric Watt, Pastor of Greenbrier Church and Founder of RUN Ministries; Becky Watt, Denise Parroco, Angie Robinson, Kathleen Hawkins, Kiersti Watt and Nancy Baxter. Photo provided by RUN Ministries.

Initial local involvement included Chesapeake area women supporting this effort by selling jewelry and knit items handmade by the girls rescued from trafficking.    Additionally, ladies in the Chesapeake area made specialty kids clothes with all proceeds going to the Nepali Rescue Project.  RUN Ministries offered the Goats for Christmas campaign (www.goatsforchristmas.com) where, by making a donation, one “virtually” buys a goat online for the rescued girls who are trained in animal husbandry and economically empowered for the first time (and this effort continues this year).  Sewing machines are also purchased online for the rescued girls who are trained and equipped with micro business skills.   A goat or a sewing machine can make the difference in whether or not a rescued girl can ever return home.

Last year the Nepali Rescue Project partnered with Katie Martinez, founder of Elegantees, a NYC based fashion line committed to investing a portion of sales to bring help and hope to victims of trafficking in Nepal.  Martinez now sends pre-cut fabric to Nepal to have the rescued girls sew some of her clothing line.  She was invited to present her newly launched design, “the Hope Dress,” sewn by rescued girls at the “Night of Hope” event (www.elegantees.com).  Regent University students served as models to showcase Elegantees’ unique designs and the garments sewn by rescued girls.  Cassidy and Tess Parroco, a local duo, performed original songs and sold their newly released EP with 100% of proceeds donated to the Nepali Rescue Project.  Moved by Cassidy’s experience in Nepal last year as part of the Greenbrier Church team, these high school-aged sisters will donate all their December EP sales to further the work of rescuing girls from trafficking in Nepal (www.cassidyandtess.com).

Greenbrier Church’s Denise Parroco and Melanie Bedogne share with rescued Nepali girls.

In a culture where daughters are often regarded as second class, poor families sometimes knowingly sell their daughters to traffickers because simply cannot feed another mouth.  Additionally, some victims go unsuspectingly because of the promise of employment and a better life elsewhere. Yet, once sexually exploited by the trafficker, as all are, victims are rejected and unwanted by their families.  Now considered a “broken egg”, a rescued girl has no place to return.

However, through the Nepali Rescue Project, she is given sanctuary at one of the residential safe houses that provide a six month program to help victims recover from their trafficking ordeal.  The safe house setting offers a safe and loving home where they receive spiritual and emotional counseling, medical care and job skill training to prepare them for re-entry into their villages.

Armed with newfound employment skills, former victims return to their villages with unprecedented respect and dignity.  Many return home not only able to support themselves but often their entire families as well.  In many cases, rescued girls return to their villages with income generating capabilities and become business owners, money lenders and even leaders in their communities.

This partnership of Chesapeake individuals and organizations is truly helping to confront the plague of human trafficking in Nepal.  Yet the statistics for this tragic version of modern day slavery can be overwhelming.   Globally, human trafficking is big business (in excess of $32 billion, according to the UN).  After drug dealing, human trafficking is tied with the illegal arms industry as the second largest criminal industry in the world today, and it is the fastest growing (International Justice Mission; US Department of Health and Human Services). The UN estimates between 700,000 and 4 million women and children are trafficked annually.

The prospects of making any difference can seem daunting.   Yet our community is pushing back, taking on this enormous problem by focusing on bringing change in at least one country.  For more information about helping to stop human trafficking in Nepal or to learn how to join the Nepali Rescue Project’s efforts, visit our website at www.nepalirescueproject.com or on Facebook at The Nepali Rescue Project.

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