Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Help Fight Human Trafficking in Nepal!

Partly thanks to Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, the Liam Neeson flick Taken and the insightful columns of Nicholas Kristof, Western audiences are finally waking up to the harsh realities of human trafficking and the modern day slave trade. In the United States of America where (at least in the Union states) our sense of political values and social justice are largely inherited from ante bellum Abolitionism, many citizens whose consciousnesses have been expanded to this present evil are eager to learn what they can do to help. Unfortunately, the worst of the worst of this problem is confined to the domestic slave markets of Africa and Asia and thus it is daunting for stateside abolitionists to get involved. However, two of my activist friends are organizing to do some real promising work to fight human trafficking in Nepal – and they would appreciate your help.

The first of these modern day abolitionists is my old pal Dan Linden from Katonah, New York. Dan is perhaps the most unlikely of activists – he is a classical Spanish guitarist by training, a music instructor by trade, and he has spent the past few years teaching Nepalese schoolchildren about scales and chords. Nevertheless, the blatantly visible commerce in sex slaves in his adopted Nepal has so horrified Mr. Linden that he has been roused into action as a matter of conscience. In his own words:

Nepalese girls, as young as six and at a rate of about fifteen a day, are drugged and taken to India by people they know and trust, or are lured my false promises of job opportunities there. It is estimated that there are 200,000 sex slaves in the Kamathipura district of Mumbai alone, living in horrific conditions in what are known as “the cages.” Upon arrival, those who refuse will be raped, brutally beaten or burned with cigarettes or even threatened to be buried alive until they break. They will then begin a routine of forced sex with as many as forty customers a day. The younger girls may be forced to live most of their childhoods under a bed until they are old enough to be desirable to customers.

While in Nepal I was pleased to observe firsthand as a woman from Maiti Nepal boarded the bus I was on and questioned passengers, deciphering whether one of the girls on board might be a victim. Maiti Nepal is an organization founded by Anuradha Koirala which works on many fronts to fight sex trafficking including raising awareness in the villages most at risk of losing their daughters, intercepting traffickers and those being trafficked on bus routes, and providing health care, a home and career opportunities for those who have been rescued.

In an effort to support Maiti Nepal’s courageous efforts, Dan is hosting a fundraiser on June 14 at 6 PM at the Katonah Village Library in Katonah, NY. There will be a viewing of the film The Day My God Died followed by a discussion with the Massachusetts non-profit organization Friends of Maiti Nepal, who work in partnership with Ms. Koirala. For more information, or if you would like to make a donation online, please visit Maiti Nepal or Friends of Maiti Nepal.

Other abolitionists are working to combat human trafficking via more non-traditional methods. My lovely cousin Anya Cherneff has spent the past five years studying for her Masters at the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies and campaigning against human trafficking. Understanding that slavery is fundamentally the symptom of underdeveloped economies and sheer desperation, Anya decided to try a new demand-side angle to the problem; If so many women and men find themselves in bad “jobs” because they are forced to take risky offers to survive, why not create an alternative for them—a space for choice?

Anya’s fiancée Bennett Cohen has been implementing fossil fuel use reduction strategies and studying natural resource management for the past five years. After years of working to affect change in the developed world he had an idea: why not get it right the first time with community-scale renewable energy projects in the developing world?

So Anya and Bennett decided to join forces and combine their passions to promote gender equality and clean energy in marginalized communities. They set off for Asia in search of inspiration and understanding. They met with organizations in Nepal, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand running community development projects, setting up social enterprises, micro-financing, fighting against sex trafficking, and bringing renewable power to marginalized communities. Everywhere they went people were interested in using renewable power in their communities and creating more jobs at home to reduce the need for migration and improve women’s social position. And so they are launching Empower Generation —an initiative to advance community sustainability and gender equality through the promotion of renewable energy technology, micro-enterprise and natural resource management.

For their first project, Anya and Bennett are trying to help out a Nepalese woman named Sita Adhikari who wants to set up a biogas system construction and maintenance company . The biogas systems will use locally available organic wastes – i.e. human and livestock fecal matter – to produce methane gas for energy supply. Empower Generation's current fundraiser provides the start-up capital for Sita's biogas business. To learn more, check out their blog and help contribute to the loan that Sita needs to start her biogas business! produce methane gas for energy supply.

I've already received some criticism for this post along the lines of "Hey Zac, I thought you had drank the Ayn Rand bug juice and you're totally against foreign aid. But now you're making a pitch for us to make donations?" I'm very sorry if my scribblings of criticism of foreign aid have given anyone that impression.

I'm not a critic of all aid projects - I'm just a critic of bad aid projects which don't work, because they discredit and denigrate those aid projects which do have greater potential for actually making a difference. I think that the philanthropically-minded amongst us should certainly act according to our hearts and donate our time, resources, and yes, sometimes even some of our expendable income to such projects. But before you cut a check to anyone, it's absolutely necessary to do a thorough job of researching the cause and the means by which Charity X, Y or Z aims to remedy the problem.

I think that Dan, Anya and Bennett's activism is worthwhile not just because they are my friends, relatives and soon-to-be relatives. Believe me, I have turned down many, many prior requests from good friends to utilize this blog as a soapbox because it takes a lot to win the Zac Mason Seal of Approval. Maiti Nepal is an established human rights organization that is working on the ground in that country to fight human trafficking, and from what I've read, I only have reason to believe that they are spending their donations in relatively cost-effective, sound avenues. And though Empower Generation has yet to become a household name, that is because this initiative is brand new and just about to take off. I think that Anya and Bennett are brilliant young activists with the human rights know-how and the technical prowess to establish an organization that provides actual market-based solutions to the fundamentally economic problem of human trafficking. Like with any fledgling enterprise, there is of course an element of risk to investing in something new - but I trust these individuals so much that I must conclude that investing in Empower Generation is a risk worth taking.


Hester said...

Eloquently put!

Redspect said...

"If you haven't any charity in your heart you have the worst kind of heart trouble" to cure it
Help people, let's unite for one good cause, be a volunteer"save lives"!