Although I was initially excited about visiting Kathmandu to see first hand the work that Maiti Nepal does, I began to dread it as my trip grew closer.
As a father of two young daughters, I wasn’t sure how I’d react to seeing girls the same age struggling to piece together lives wrecked by human trafficking. Would there be scenes of hysteria? How would I cope seeing tiny infants battling HIV? And how would they react to a stranger invading their ‘safe’ territory? All of these thoughts were running through my head, and I couldn’t help picturing scenes of despair.
But how wrong I was. Unlike the city’s streets, which are a deafening cacophony of car horns and motorbikes amid throngs of people, Maiti Nepal was a tranquil haven. And more importantly, it was a safe haven.
Of the 450 girls and young women who live on site, many were attending Maiti’s fully functional school (the Teresa Academy), which also educates local children from underprivileged families.
The pre-school was full of attentive six-year-olds, keen to show me kite paintings which they had prepared for the forthcoming Dushera festival.
Meanwhile, the 11-year-olds were in the middle of English lessons, and seemed happy and relaxed amongst their peers.
In the creche, there were eight children under two, some of whom had just woken from afternoon naps and were running around, greeting us with their hands clasped together and adorable chants of ‘Namaste’. I was smitten.
On the face of it, it seemed just like any other busy local school.
Then came a few home truths. Most of these children had actually been affected by human trafficking in some shape or form. They were either abandoned as babies or had escaped early lives of servitude. Most of the children I met were either orphans or had lost contact with their parents – who had no way of knowing where they were. It was heartbreaking.
Despite this, these were the lucky children. They had been rescued by Maiti Nepal, which is doing all it can to combat human trafficking. A huge worldwide problem, at least 12,000 people are lured into exploitation from Nepal every year. Many are taken across open borders into India, which is why
Maiti has implemented 14 checkpoints that employ former female victims of exploitation to directly challenge trafficking suspects. But this is only the start. Especially when you consider that the border between Nepal and India stretches across 1,850km.
The stark realities facing Maiti Nepal’s founder Anuradha Koirala are vast. But she is a true inspiration; not only is she the first female governor of a Nepalese state, but at 70 years old, she has the energy and drive of someone half her age.
In its 25 years, Maiti Nepal has rescued more than 36,000 women and children, while its rehabilitation services have helped more than 25,000 victims. Altogether, 1,400 women and children have also been provided with formal education, but the efforts of government and non-governmental organisations are insufficient.
One Family's mission is simple; to protect the important services helping people every day, to enhance what is already there through the power of technology, and to invest in social enterprises which can help Maiti Nepal to its ultimate aim of self-sufficiency.
As I left Maiti to return home, I passed a distraught couple sitting in reception.
Their 11-year-old daughter had gone missing, and they feared she had fallen into the hands of traffickers. While I was looking forward to seeing my own girls back in the UK, I wondered how many more sets of parents would wait for news of their children in that room before my next visit. No doubt many hundreds more.
As a proud ambassador of One Family, I implore you to support our Anti-Trafficking Fund, so we can help incredible charities like this to do more. On its own, Maiti Nepal’s reach is limited, but with our help, we can all make a mighty difference.