But there is one organization who's been diligently fighting against the slavery of Nepalese children for the past two decades. Nepalese Youth Opportunity Foundation(NYOF) is that organization. NYOF was founded in 1990 by Olga Murray, a retired lawyer from San Francisco, California. When she visited Nepal in 1984 and 1987, she has witnessed a terribly impoverished situation of many Nepalese young girls who are sold to slavery for a few dollars. Olga Murray and Gregg Tully, the development director of NYOF explains the efforts and the missions of the organization in this interview.
Q: HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE GOALS AND THE MISSION OF NYOF? NYOF’s mission is to transform the lives of impoverished Nepalese children by providing them with what should be every child's birthright – education, housing, medical care, and loving support. NYOF’s goals include eliminating the tradition of selling Nepali girls into bonded servitude, reducing the prevalence of child malnutrition throughout Nepal, and making education more widely available to the most downtrodden children in the country.
Q: TELL US ABOUT THE UNIQUE EFFORTS OF NYOF THAT MAKES IT A PARTICULARLY EFFECTIVE MEANS OF RAISING THE AWARENESS OF TRAFFICKING In the areas where we have been working for a number of years, it is now shameful for parents to sell a daughter into labor, whereas, it was a matter of pride for a family to do so prior to our awareness raising campaign effort.
Q: THAT SOUNDS LITTLE BIZARRE TO SOMEONE LIKE ME WHO IS NOT FAMILIAR NEPALESE CULTURE. WHY WOULD ANYONE TAKE PRIDE IN SELLING HIS OR HER CHILDREN? (Olga): This has a historical context. In certain ethnic groups in Nepal, many fathers had been bonded laborers for generations. They lived and worked on the land of others. They were largely paid in crops, so when they needed money for various reasons such as medical care or clothes or a wedding, they borrowed it from the landlord, often at exorbitant rates. They could almost never pay off the debts during their lifetimes, and when they died, their sons were liable for the debt. This practice was made illegal in 2000 and the debts are forgiven. During the time of their bonding, if the landlord wanted a servant, the laborers wife or child were sent ot the landlord's home to work, often without compensation. Or someone who needed a servant would come to the villages to buy the services of daughters for a year. Though bonding service became illegal in 2000 and the government promised to rehabilitate the former bonded laborers, they failed to do so. Most were evicted from the land, they had lived on, and were living in shanties. So, when these freed laborers needed money desperately, they sold the labor of their daughters even more willingly. To them, this was a natural process, and no social stigma was involved in the practice in 2000 when NYOF began our efforts.
(Gregg) The custom of selling daughters into virtual slavery exists in the Tharu ethnic group, which is native to the hot flat parts of Nepal. They are traditionally uneducated farmers. In the past, other ethnic groups moved into Tharu areas, bought the land the Tharu farmed on, and the Tharu became sharecroppers. The prices that the landowners charged the Tharu were exorbitant, and the Tharu soon fell deeply into debts they could never pay. To pay some of the interest on the debts, they would send their daughters to work in the landowner’s houses. This developed into the custom today of Tharu parents selling their daughters to be trafficked all over Nepal, and sometimes into India. Many of the girls are trafficked into prostitution, and have spent so much of their lives as servants that they do not understand that they have the right to refuse to do what people tell them to do.
Q: CAN YOU GIVE US AN EXAMPLE OF YOUR EFFORT TO END TRAFFICKING OR CHILD SLAVERY IN NEPAL? NYOF’s public awareness campaign has been instrumental in the success of the program. NYOF’s staff informs people about the importance of education for girls and the plight of bonded children. As a result, local communities have turned against the bonding tradition, making the impact of the program sustainable. Further, NYOF trains other nongovernmental agencies in its methods, so the program can be replicated.
PBS broadcasted a story on these former domestic servitude victims to advocate for their rights and other Nepalese girls to be freed from their indentured servitude. Their effort of awareness raising not includes Marching on the street with their traditional instruments and a big band and loud singing, but also public speech by the victims crying out for ending the tradition of exploitation as well as a stage play performed on the street by the former victims.
Q: HOW DO YOU SEE NYOF EVOLVE IN THE FUTURE? Year after year, more people are supporting NYOF, even during the recent economic turmoil. NYOF’s programs in Nepal also continue to grow and transform the lives of more children. We are in the process of choosing new projects to expand our impact on the children who comprise the future of Nepal.
Q: HOW MUCH WOULD YOU SAY IT'LL COST FOR A GIRL TO LIVE A MONTH IN NEPAL? Expenses vary a lot in Nepal. The cost of living in the capital city of Kathmandu can be a lot more than in a rural village. But the cost of supporting children in Nepal is far less than in any developed country. NYOF gives college scholarships to impoverished children who do not have families or whose families are utterly unable to support them, and provides all the children’s clothes, food, housing, and health care, for only $750 per child per year! A scholarship for a young child in a rural area whose parents can take care of them and feed them, but don’t have the money for school fees, uniforms, and books, is just $75. For these amounts of money, the urge to help is almost irresistible. (According to PBS, an average Nepalese makes in a village makes $1 a day).
Q: HOW CAN PEOPLE SUPPORT NYOF AND ITS INITIATIVES? I encourage people to visit www.NYOF.org to learn more about NYOF. People who want to support our projects can donate online through our website and they can mail a check to NYOF at 3030 Bridgeway, Suite 123, Sausalito, CA 94965, USA. They may also contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-866-FOR-NYOF to discuss other ways to contribute.
NYOF is close to eradicating slavery in one ethnic village. But they have four more villages to reach out for further endings of slavery of Nepalese daughters. Development , regardless of culture and geographical locations, is certainly a long and difficult process to implement. One former UN senior official once said that one is lucky if he or she can change a traditional practice (such as indentured servitude in Nepal) in a decade or two. If this is hard to understand, look at the post-communism countries, for instance. Many have failed to completely step away from their communism culture even after two decades or so. In this respect, NYOF's success in eradicating slavery in a district just in two decades is not something to be overlooked. For more information on NYOF, visit www.NYOF.org.