Ten days into our trip to Nepal, we boarded Buddha Air Flight U4 554 from Pipara Simara to Kathmandu. It was late morning – not a typically scary time of day to be traveling – but up to that point, we had traveled exclusively throughout Nepal by van. The fact that the flight was not on our itinerary and was taking off from a remote airport made a few in our group nervous.
“Hey, Pete. Can you take over if the pilot gets incapacitated?” asked a couple of my teammates.
“Absolutely. Just like riding a bike,” I said.
Fortunately, the flight, which lasted all of 17 minutes and saved us an eight-hour road trip, was uneventful. And while we were physically fine, the thought of heading home the next day made us feel despondent. We had seen so much. Lives were being changed daily. We suddenly realized just how insignificant our own work was.
Ten days earlier we had landed in Kathmandu, road tripped four hours west and spent the next three days trekking Nepal’s central mountains. There, we witnessed the harsh realities of life for the people who lived there. Up and down steep terrain is all anyone in these communities knows. There is no electricity or running water and few jobs. Moreover, Nepal is a patriarchal societywhere the men are the leaders of the family and are considered superior to women. The povertyand harsh conditions make young girls who desire for a better life easy prey for those who would exploit them. Older men entice them with a chance at marriage. Women offer to help them find jobs in the city. This is their only way out. Once the girls trust these people, being taken advantage of is easy.
When Ramesh Sapkota was a young man, his mother invited a woman dying from HIV into their home. Despite being ostracized by the neighborhood, his mother knew it was the right thing to do. The woman, who had escaped a brothel in India, birthed a daughter while trapped there. Shebegged Ramesh and his mother to travel to Mumbai to find and rescue her. It was her dying wish. They made the long trip, but sadly, could never find the girl. Ramesh couldn’t shake the experience and felt led to do something. In 2009, he started Our Daughters International (ODI). Since then, over 18,000 girls, affectionately known as “Our Daughters,” have been rescued and rehabilitated.
We met many daughters who have gone through the program and now work for ODI. For these graduates, it’s a way to give back, and fulfills a purpose. With unmeasurable bravery, they stand at the Indian border and stop vehicles carrying kidnapped girls. Today ODI rescues, rehabilitates and trains approximately 1000 girls (of the estimated 12,000) captured annually.
Others go on to own a food cart or hair salon business. Some work as a seamstress for Nepalese companies or in support of the brand Aasha Wears, owned by ODI. Some even becomeindependent fully certified electricians. Yes, ODI is breaking down gender barriers as well. To combat demand, ODI has started a program called Man Up Defend Her. Here, Nepalese men learn what being a husband and father truly means.
During our trip, the team got to meet over forty rescued daughters staying in the Dream Home. They are full of hope and aspiration as they work through their pain. With counselling, ODI is helping them move through their traumatic past. For those of us who made the trip, our lives will be forever changed. Our eyes have been opened to the realities of life far beyond the ones we know, and cannot be shut now. How can we help? I have already thought of several ways,including helping to build and market the ODI and Aasha Wears brands.
If you’d like to follow along in my journey, or offer your time or money to support this work, please reach out to me. We can put a team together to use our skills to market and promote ODI’s important work to our personal networks. As I’ve said before, one person is strong enough to plant the seed, but we need many people to plant a garden. And with that garden, true growth can happen.