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Winnipeg's Nepali community on mission to help rescue girls

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On Sunday afternoon at St. Vital mall, waiting for my 11-year-old daughter and her friend to finish seeing Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, I watched children and their parents scurrying about in frenzied activity. A movie ticket, a stuffed bear, a sandwich and a blue velour octopus won at the arcade are all symbols of time spent together.

Such casual moments shared by young people and their family and friends, whether at the mall, the kitchen table, the park or on the trap-line, are what really matter in life. In such moments the delicate fabric of society is being woven as young people learn that they are valued for being who they are.

While at the mall, I chanced to meet Rinchu Dupka and Upendra Mani Pradhan, graduate students at the University of Manitoba who are from the small mountain town of Darjeeling, bordering Nepal in the eastern part of India.

I have been working with them to organize a visit to Winnipeg by Nepali human rights activist Anuradha Koirala. Koirala is the founder and head of Maiti Nepal, an anti-human trafficking organization that has rescued 12,000 women and young people from forced prostitution and slavery.

These young people themselves become a product that is marketed and used in the most cruelly violent and dehumanizing ways in a complete abrogation of their human rights.

Human trafficking -- which includes sexual exploitation, forced labour, and the selling of human organs -- is a $65-billion global marketplace that operates in all parts of the world, including Canada and the U.S.

Dupka and Pradhan note people from the Winnipeg Nepali community have met recently to talk about Koirala's visit.

The Nepali community in Winnipeg has grown to nearly 1,000, with the vast majority of the people arriving in the past two years. Many are Bhutanese of ethnic Nepali descent who come from one of seven refugee camps in eastern Nepal. Some who had lived in the camps knew Diji (big sister) Anuradha. When some of the girls had been stolen from the camp, she found them, rescued them and brought them back.

Koirala has met many women who had escaped violence and heard their stories. Her first action was to start a retail shop where some of these women might be employed. This began what has been a 20-year journey that has involved rescuing girls and women held in brothels, raising awareness in the rural areas of Nepal and intercepting traffickers at the Nepal-India border. In 2010, she was named CNN Hero of the Year.

The Nepali community in Winnipeg is raising money over the next month to send to her organization.

On Wednesday, at 1:30 p.m., Anuradha Koirala will deliver the 10th Annual Sol Kanee Lecture for Peace and Justice at the University of Manitoba.

Laximikant Timsina, a former refugee and now a student at the U of M, personally witnessed the work done by Koirala's Maiti Nepal in rescuing girls who had been lured away from the refugee camps in Nepal. She said it will be meaningful to have an opportunity to thank her personally for her work.

These epic human rights issues may seem to belong in distant parts of the world, far removed from a balmy fall Sunday afternoon in a Winnipeg mall. But the violence of human trafficking hides within the midst of our societies. While here in Winnipeg, Koirala will visit Sage House, a program of Mount Carmel Clinic that offers services to victims of sexual exploitation.

Samantha Power, an American academic, author and diplomat who currently serves as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has argued an engaged citizenry committed to human rights and social justice is critical to ending violence of genocidal proportions. The only way forward is to come together at the crossroads of local and global, grassroots empowerment and government action. We must work together to end human trafficking and infanticide, and the poverty and sexism that sustains it, to make our world more safe for children.


Jessica Senehi is associate professor of peace and conflict studies, and associate director of the Arthur V. Mauro Centre for Peace and Justice, at St. Paul's College, University of Manitoba.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 1, 2013 A9

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