'Hero of the Year'

When Anuradha Koirala became a CNN "Hero of the Year" in 2010, the network estimated she had rescued more than 12,000 girls and women from sex trafficking in the two decades since she'd founded the nonprofit Maiti Nepal.

Koirala will speak on "Protecting Humanity: Learning from the Heroes Among Us" at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 16, at the Meese Auditorium in the Center for the Visual Arts at Southern Oregon University. It's free and open to the public.

Maiti (Mother's Home) Nepal performs "interception" at Nepal's border with India, rescuing females from sex trafficking, child prostitution, child labor, domestic violence and other forms of exploitation, she said in a Skype interview.

"Sex trafficking is very bad in Nepal, after drugs and arms — and it comes from poverty, no jobs, gender discrimination, lack of education and a 1,700-mile open border with India," said Koirala, who is touring the West Coast to promote understanding of the huge problem of the sex trade and to seek donations to her organization.

Maiti Nepal operates a network that includes transition homes in border towns, an academy in Kathmandu and preventive homes in the country, where victimized females — often rejected by their families — may heal from trauma and disease and learn skills to run their own businesses, said Bishwo Khadka, director of Maiti Nepal.

"It's rewarding work, doing something for community and country about this problem, which the government has almost failed to address," said Khadka. "So it has to become the responsibility of individuals to save the innocent ones."

Exploited girls range from age 7 upward, with the younger girls being in great demand because of the myth that small children will be free of HIV, said Khadka. He added the girls are often injected with hormones to make them appear older.

Traffickers transport the girls mostly to India and the Mideast, where they end up in brothels, discos, "beer clubs" and the homes of the wealthy, who use them for domestic help and sex, said Koirala.

Traffickers tell families they are taking the girls to jobs in large cities, where they will make good money, she said, so resistance education of families is a big part of Maiti's work.

Most of the girls in Maiti's care were found at border crossings to India, said Khadka, but some are rescued from brothels by Maiti workers posing as clients. The workers interview young prostitutes, find out their circumstances and then perform rescues. Sometimes, girls on their own will urge clients to alert Maiti to rescue them, he added.

Friends of Maiti Nepal in Boston is a top source of funding from America. It gets grants from the U.S. State Department, including a two-year grant for $500,000 in 2010, and from foundations and donors, said associate director Joseph Collins, who lived in Katmandu for more than 20 years and is on Koirala's speaking tour of the Western U.S.

"We provide a range of services, firstly, trying to return them to their families," said Collins, "but often (because of HIV and other diseases), the families don't want them back. If so, we take them to Kathmandu to feed, house and educate them and give them a vocation so they can go into Nepalese society.

"These girls have been discarded. They are stigmatized. We get them in the best condition so they can compete in society. We get several thousand girls a year."

Maiti provides loans for girls to operate their own businesses. It does caretaking for those with psychological trauma and physical wounds. Maiti operates a hospice for girls with HIV and other lethal diseases and, noted Koirala, "we teach them why not to go to India."

Donations may be given at www.friendsofmaitinepal.org or 63-6 Commercial Wharf, Boston MA 02110. The Facebook page is www.facebook.com/friendsofmaitinepal.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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