What it means to make an RTM Bracelet

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Within the first few minutes of being in the safe home, I saw several girls weaving Red Thread bracelets, either on their beds, the porch, or in the kitchen. This touched my heart immediately. I was introduced to Red Thread Movement and Eternal Threads at Abilene Christian University during undergrad. Seeing the bracelets being made and hearing how this venture helps rescued girls in Nepal instantly piqued my interest. It was hard to imagine the difficulties they faced before arriving at the safe home. Even making simple bracelets showed bravery and confidence. A few years later, I was honored to have the opportunity to work at Eternal Threads and see the positive impact of the bracelets more frequently. Every time a shipment came in or Linda brought back a suitcase full of bracelets, our whole staff would get excited. So, when I first arrived in Nepal in September of 2013, I was thrilled beyond words. In fact, I was so excited that the girls looked at me questionably, as if to ask, “Why does this make you so incredibly happy?”

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What does it mean to the girls to make Red Thread Movement bracelets? Yes, an income is an aspect of it, but it is so much more than that. During my time there I saw how making bracelets affected the girls in many positive ways. They are able to earn and save money. It gives them a simple yet useful skill to learn and have ownership over. It encourages them to work hard; the more bracelets they make, the more money they save. It fosters community with the girls. I can’t tell you how many times groups of girls sat together inside or outdoors, chatting away while they thread bracelets. To top that off, the girls know where the bracelets are going and what these red threads mean to those who purchase them. The girls know that they are thought of and loved from afar.

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Chances are, you already have a bracelet, but there is no limit to how many one person can buy! You are welcome, and encouraged to buy more, for you (especially when yours wears out), and for you and your friends and family. In addition to buying bracelets, you can expand your impact by SPREADING THE WORD about Red Thread Movement. POST about us on your social media. INVITE your friends to follow us. When more people are aware, more partner to sign on to sell bracelets, and more rescued girls earn money and confidence.

 

YOU can make a difference!

 

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In the Midst of Tragedy, Hope Springs Forth!

When I heard about the earthquake in Nepal, I was on a women’s retreat. One of the other ladies on the retreat had grown up in Nepal. Since I wasn’t sure where the earthquake was and how serious or widespread the damage, I asked her about it. She told me of the severity, which caused some anxiety for me. Were my friends, or as I think of them, my “Nepali Family” okay? Thinking of the staff I got so close with during my time there, and the rescued girls and other staff working throughout the country, my heart became heavy. I Facebook messaged an especially close staff member. Thankfully she responded quickly, saying she and the rest of the staff and girls in that area were safe. However, she said (at that point), that a few thousand in Nepal were found dead.

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It didn’t really hit me until I got back from the retreat and looked at articles online. Nepal is a beautiful country with kind-hearted people. They are hard-working, yet the majority struggle with poverty. This makes them more vulnerable to natural disasters than many other countries. They were not prepared for this tragedy, and are now struggling to pick up the pieces. My heart breaks for those who have passed away or are injured. So many deaths, and so many missing! I cannot imagine the difficulties they face. It makes my first-world frustrations and “problems” look like nothing.

I am not in Nepal right now. But here are a few things I know to be true for Nepalese people as a whole:

  • Nepali people are strong and determined
  • They look for the positive in things
  • They are grateful for what they have

Because of these and several other resilient qualities, I firmly believe that the people of Nepal will not only service this tragedy, but will come through it stronger than they were before.

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Though they are far away physically, they are still our neighbors. WHAT WILL WE DO to support them, to help them overcome this tragedy? Stay informed about what’s being done to help our fellow man, and spread the word! Another practical way is to donate funds. 100% of your donation will go directly to the relief efforts in Nepal. Few organizations can say that! Simply go to https://eternalthreads.org/donate/ and type “Nepal Relief, next to Program-Other.

The Nepali Government has entrusted 6 specific municipalities within the Gorkha region (the area most severely affected by the earthquake) to our Partner and his team to provide immediate care – tents, blankets, food and water supplies. In all, they have been entrusted with the care of approx. 36,000 people in this region. An initial shipment of tents has been sourced in India. Over $50,000 has been donated so far through Eternal Threads (http://eternalthreads.org/), and more is needed!

YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE!

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A Story of Hope

Hello, my name is Amita*, and I am from central Nepal. My family is very poor, and when I was young my mother left us and eloped with another man. My father remarried, and soon after he and my stepmother started to verbally and physically abuse me. I was only 7 years old at the time. Unable to tolerate the abuse, I ran away to a tourist city. There I worked as a dish washer at a hotel. After a while I met a kind woman and ended up staying with her and her family. They sent me to school. At a school picnic, I met a boy. We exchanged phone numbers and grew close very fast. Eventually we got married and I went with him to India, but he and his father abused me there. Later, we went back to Nepal and stayed at a hotel in Pokhara. My husband left me there, and though I waited for him some time he never came back. Out of desperation, I got on a bus and rode for twelve hours to the border in hopes of finding him. Two KI Nepal staff workers stopped me. They listened to my story, educated me on human trafficking (a high risk if I were to travel to India alone), and gave me the option to go to a safe home to learn a trade. I decided to go to a safe home. There I learned tailoring and beautician skills. I am grateful for this opportunity!

*Name changed for protection

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Amita making bracelets with her friends

I had the honor of meeting Amita and getting to know her during my time in Nepal. She has a determined personality and a kind heart. Amita also makes the best Roti (see description in “Food” blog post) I have ever had. Her story was shared with me after knowing her for a few months. My heart broke each time I heard a new story of a girl I’d been sharing life with. It’s hard enough to hear tragic stories when you don’t know the individual. But when you spend every day with that girl, learn her personality, see how she interacts with others, and find out her aspirations and dreams, hearing the reasons why she ended up in a safe home can nearly rip your heart out. What do you do? How can you process through the cruelty of the world negatively affecting a precious, innocent girl? How can a westerner (from a loving family) comprehend the abuse so many go through? I still haven’t figured it out. However, it is completely worth getting to know those girls. The relationship far outweighs the pain. Watching them overcome their troubles give you hope, inspires you, challenges you. You don’t get to “slide by” in life anymore, ignoring the poverty, the crimes against humans, and the issues that plague our world. You have to address them, in your own heart, and in the world around you. You have to do something!

Amita, along with so many other girls, changed me. They continue to challenge me with how they overcome, how they look at life, they’re positive attitude. I am forever blessed to know them to have a glimpse of their world.

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Daily Tasks in the Safe Home

When it comes to fresh food, Nepal knows how to do it! Our meals at the safe home consisted of veggies (often taken from our garden) cooked in fresh curry seasonings (hand-ground that morning) lentil soup and rice. From what I understood, this is a typical meal, especially for those living in rural villages. Meat, usually chicken, is a luxury that is enjoyed occasionally. I learned to make traditional Nepali chicken and have yet to try it in the U.S. Part of my hesitancy is that the spices are expensive or unavailable. But, I also know I won’t be able to make it like the girls do! Nepali girls are such good cooks. A few times I had goat mutton, and every once in a while I had buff (water buffalo). Beef is uncommon in Nepal since the grand majority of the population is Hindu. Let’s just say I missed steak and burgers.

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Safe home garden.

I learned quickly that cooking from scratch takes time. As mentioned in a previous blog, two girls were assigned to cook for the day. They got up earlier than the others and picked and washed the veggies, ground the masala and garlic, and prepared the meal. Cleaning up after a meal took time as well. In Nepal, people rarely use disposable plates or utensils, electric dishwashers, or washers or dryers! What I noticed about this, however, was that cooking and cleaning has a social aspect. Without instant meals “prepared” by one person, you’re able to interact and bond over grinding fresh spices and cooking an enormous pot of rice. Hard work builds character, and sometimes fosters community.

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These are Nepal’s very tasty and VERY spicy peppers!

This brought up a thought that would continue to come up amidst other lessons I learned in Nepal. Do we (as westerners or Americans) really have it better? We have whatever we want at our fingertips, sometimes more than what we need. However, we tend to be some of the most dissatisfied individuals today. What’s wrong with this picture?! I truly believe there is something to be said for having less and working hard. Do I enjoy it? Most of the time, no. Is it hard to choose it when an easier option is available? Yes! But there are sweet treasures we can experience when we don’t take the easy way.

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Rescued girl preparing a meal.

Here is one example out of hundreds I could share: one Saturday morning I was up on the roof hand-washing clothes with a couple of the girls. (No joke, this took me several hours every week, with help!) We’re scrubbing and scrubbing, talking in English and Nepali. A young boy on a roof several houses down heard us. He yelled “Hello, how are you!” at me over and over in English. I responded in English then told him, “Good job!” in Nepali. We attempted to converse for about twenty minutes. It was such a fun moment, and I’m thankful I was on the roof that day. If I hadn’t been scrubbing clothes, I wouldn’t have talked to that little boy. This experience was one of my most fond memories of Nepal.

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Roommate and girls helping me with laundry!

What does this mean for you? If you’re reading this, chances are you do live in the U.S. and have many conveniences. It is different for everyone. It could mean not buying the most expensive clothing, or choosing not making sure you have the latest technology. It could mean going on a short term trip to a developing country to get a taste of what live is like in an under-privileged context. It could mean focusing more on money that you’ll give away rather than money you’ll spend on yourself. Who knows! Think about what matters to you most in regards to helping others. Start making small sacrifices with your time or finances to support that cause or population. You can make a difference wherever you are!


A Welcoming Environment

What happens to a girl after she is rescued by KI Nepal staff at the Nepal/India border and decides (with the help of her family and staff) to go to a safe home? Depending on the girl’s situation, she stays at a temporary shelter close to the border office, then travels with a staff member to one of the safe homes. There she is welcomed by the safe home staff and girls. When I say welcomed, I don’t mean a polite but distant welcome from strangers. I mean a welcome similar to a family welcoming a new member. The girl may feel uncomfortable at first, and depending on the level of trauma she experienced before rescue, barely able to interact with the others. However, the girls and staff invite her in with great care and kindness. Within a few days (or less for some) she feels comfortable with the other girls, participates in daily activities and is one of the group.

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Rescued girls doing a “trust fall” during a leadership training

Experiencing this nurturing environment first-hand brought a whole new meaning to the description I read on our website about the rescued girls’ safe home experience. Not only did they treat each new girl this way, it was the same for me, a foreigner! From the moment I set foot in the safe home, the girls treated me as one of the sisters!

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Several girls and me making an afternoon snack!

In reflection, I feel that some of this is because of their culture. Nepali people, in my experience, are welcoming and hospitable in general. I also feel that some of it has to do with the fact that they have fewer material things. Being a privileged American who has many things is often seen as a blessing, and is in many ways. However, the more “things” we have, the more we can miss out on what is truly important. When people have less, their relationships are deeper. I saw this a lot. The Nepali people aren’t distracted by the latest technology. Their dominant communication is not through text, or even phone calls. They spend time with each other! They put people before their schedule. For an American who is distracted by technology and tends to focus more on the schedule than the person, I had a lot to learn. However, I say conviction, it was entirely worth it! My perspective was changed, and my worldview has been different ever since.

How can you enhance your perspective on cultures and the world?


Start A Revolution!

As we walk into the New Year, I encourage you to make a change where you are! There are many ways to get involved, not only with anti-trafficking organizations (Red Thread Movement), but also other causes that fight for the underprivileged and those in need. Make this the year you step out and MAKE A CHANGE!

On a personal note, I have always had a heart for women who are victims of sex trafficking. In 2006 I attended a mission conference called Urbana. At this conference, I went to a seminar titled “Sex Trafficking” sponsored by International Justice Mission. I had no idea this one decision would change the rest of my life. At the seminar, I learned many things: sex trafficking is happening in most countries around the world. What a shock for me to find babies as young as one being sexually abused! Americans make up a large percentage of customers world-wide for trafficking. How unspeakable!

As appalling as this news was, it also stirred me. I didn’t know how, but I decided that day my goal was to work against trafficking. Though I have left many conferences with new passions that slowly fade over time, my desire to fight trafficking only grew stronger. It started with doing research and spreading the word. My passion has evolved over the years, and has shaped my choice in a degree and jobs. With each step, I become more determined to fight this evil. In 2011 I spent six weeks in Bolivia with Word-Made Flesh, learning from staff who serve women in prostitution in El Alto. In 2013 I embarked on a journey to Nepal working with KI Nepal, an anti-trafficking organization. I lived and worked in a safe home with rescued girls. I am honored to have spent seven months there and to partner with them in the U.S.

One rescued girl told me something I will never forget. After being in Nepal a few months, we sat together with another girl who helped translate. Sunita said, “Thank you for coming and spending time with us in the safe home. I will never forget you taking the time to come here from far away and spend time and care for us girls. Thank you.” I cannot tell you how encouraging this was! To get feedback from one of the very girls I mentored in the safe home meant the world to me. Things like that spur me on to do more!

*Name changed for protection

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Sunita and me last January. Identity protected.

What is your passion? What is your story? Whatever it is, it matters! You can make a difference in the world around you, and I challenge you in 2015 to start or continue on that journey!

What will you do? START A REVOLUTION!


Sharing and Caring: Happy Holidays!

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As I reflect on my time in Nepal, many fond memories come to mind. One thing that sticks out is the way in which the girls share and care for each other. Americans so often have a sense of entitlement to our possessions. In Nepal, however, I realized quickly that not everyone is that way. The girls share everything before being asked, and without expecting anything in return. They also share food. For example, if you have an orange and are in the presence of others, you share part of the orange with them, no matter how small it is. I found out quickly how entitled I feel, even of small snacks like oranges! One girl made the comment, “Americans don’t share food with each other”. My gut reaction was, “Yes we do!!” We make meals for each other, and on occasion may pay for another person’s meal at a restaurant. In a family, we share meals, of course. However, as I thought about it more, I realized that we don’t share with just anyone. It opened my eyes to one of the differences between our cultures.

Below is a story of one of our rescued girls who exhibited these characteristics:

My name is Shristi. I am from western Nepal and lost my parents at a young age. Though my aunt took care of me, she was neglectful. Throughout childhood I always believed that if my parents were alive, they would have taken care of me and given me a good education. After a while, I made plans with some friends to go to India and find a job. We believed there would be many opportunities to earn good money. At the border of India, KI Nepal staff stopped me and learned of my plans. They told me of the dangers of travelling to India as a young woman without protection, and the risk of being trafficked. The staff gave me the option to go to a safe home to receive skills training. I gladly went to the safe home. Living in a great community with other girls like me helped me grow and heal. I appreciated how well they loved me and treated me like a sister. After finishing sewing and beautician skills training, I became one of the sewers who make products that are sold in America. I am grateful for the healing and opportunities I received from KI Nepal.

*Name changed for protection

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I was so encouraged to know Shristi and spend time with her during my season in Nepal. She loved her “sisters” and staff, worked hard at everything she did, and had a positive attitude.  I saw these characteristics in all the rescued girls: they were positive and joyful after experiencing terrible trials, as well as loving and caring to those around them. To be honest, I am usually negative even in small trials. Also, during difficult trials, I tend to focus only on myself and struggle to be intentional with those around me. The rescued girls continue to convict and inspire me today.

Coming up on Christmas, I can’t help but share about the holidays I celebrated while in Nepal! Did you know that Nepal is a predominately Hindu country and therefore celebrates Hindu holidays more than Christian holidays? One of these holidays is called Diwali, which means “festival of lights”. It is celebrated in November, yet reminds me of Christmas! Here’s why: many families decorate the outside of their homes with strings of lights! When I was out past dark, I enjoyed the “Christmas” lights that covered numerous homes. What a treat! Even our next door neighbor had lights up. Different cultures are full of surprises, and what is more surprising is that some of the differences aren’t so different.

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I hope these words give you a little glimpse into the culture of Nepal and the valuable things I learned while living there. Be encouraged that your partnership with RTM makes all the difference in the world!

Have a restful and enjoyable holiday season!

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Trafficking Summit- Reflections and Connections

Trafficking not only is an issue in developing countries like Nepal; it is also an incredible problem in the United States. According to statistics shared at the Children at Risk Trafficking Summit in Dallas, the grand majority of trafficking victims in the U.S. are American-born citizens. To be honest, this was a surprise to me. I have heard that trafficking happens here, and that many foreigners are trafficked into the U.S.. However, I didn’t realize just how many Americans are victims. One resource from Children at Risk states that the common characteristics for victims are runaways, those with a history of sexual abuse and those with low self-esteem. They go on to share the typical characteristics of traffickers: those who often know the victims, “view the victim as a commodity” and are “masters of manipulation” (“Sex Trafficking 101”, Children at Risk). Wow! For many years I have focused on international trafficking, especially in developing countries. This summit not only opened my eyes to the issue in our own country, but also the need for Americans to learn more and fight the problem here.

Trafficking Summit

OK, so I’ve been talking about statistics of human trafficking in the United States. How does that relate to our rescued girls in Nepal? For one, trafficking is a human rights issue, as it is a global issue. Though there are many differences between cultures and languages, trafficking, unfortunately, is one thing we all have in common. In talking with a professional in Dallas who works with at-risk youth, I realized how similar trafficking in Nepal is to the U.S.. There are two common tactics traffickers often use: 1) offer a great job opportunity that will make lots of money and provide for the individual’s and/or family’s needs; and 2) pursue in a romantic way, making promises of love and marriage, providing for them, and after stealing their heart, selling them into a brothel or to a pimp. I cannot tell you how many of our rescued girls in Nepal have suffered from one of these two types of traffickers. It’s shocking! I think about Cita, who after being romantically pursued by a young man over several months, decided to travel with him to India to “meet his family”. When stopped by KI Nepal staff at the border, her boyfriend immediately ran away. The staff waited with Cita at the border several days in a row for the young man to return. He was never seen or heard from again. (Thankfully she found healing and strong community in a KI Nepal safe home). Another girl who comes to mind is Alina, who was pursued by a woman who promised a well-paying job in India. Shortly after they arrived, the woman sold Alina into a brothel (She later escaped! Read her story https://redthreadmovement.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/safe-house-update/) They’re doing the same things here in the U.S.. The stories may be a little different, and the needs of the girls may vary, but the tactics remain the same.

*Names changed for protection

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Girl being interviewed by KI Nepal staff at border

What does this mean for us? Several years ago, the U.S. saw trafficking as a foreign issue. Thanks to social media and readily-available research, we’ve learned that not only is trafficking taking place on our soil, our citizens are the most common victims. Trafficking is abhorrent in any culture, but considering the fact that we are a developed and privileged country, the occurrence of trafficking here is unacceptable. The more I learn about trafficking, the more determined I become to whatever I can to fight it. Who’s with me?

YOU CAN MAKE AN IMPACT. Start a club on your campus. Get a group together and go to a seminar on trafficking. Whether it is through Red Thread Movement to help girls rescued in Nepal http://www.redthreadmovement.org/, or getting connected to others passionate about ending it in the U.S. http://www.polarisproject.org/ or http://childrenatrisk.org/content/, (and so many others) you can fight human trafficking!

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Rescued girls with RTM Founders


Food!

Living in a safe homes for rescued girls was a profound and rich experience.  I loved learning about their culture, language and daily habits.  Structure for these girls is very important when they live in a safe home.  Daily routine and house-keeping tasks provide security and stability.

I found it interesting how the meals are prepared.  In Nepal food is always fresh, and cooked just for that day.  There is hardly any waste or leftovers.  In our safe home, the girls take turns (two at a time) making the meals each day.  As in any group home, there are different cooking skill levels.  Most of the girls have learned to cook in their homes.  One of the girls I was very close with (we’ll call her Sita) was a good cook.  However, she didn’t think she was.  “I am not a good cook!” Sita would say.  Of course, the rest of us enthusiastically told her how much we love her food!

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In photo: one of the girls preparing roti

Cooking was often a fun group activity.  Sometimes girls would help out even if it wasn’t their turn.  A “favorite” item for the girls (and myself) is roti.  Roti is similar to a tortilla, made from scratch with whole wheat flour.

The girls were always willing to show me how they cook.  One day I wanted to learn how to make the dough for roti.  There were many giggles and laughs from the girls as they watched me roll out the dough.  To no surprise, my roti did not look as good as theirs.  Lumpy and bumpy best describes my work!  The girls, however, praised me for my efforts.  And we ate it anyway!

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In photo: Prepared roti

These girls are such a treasure to everyone around them!  I cannot express in words how grateful I am to have lived with them and learn so much from them.


Helping Girls in Nepali Villages

Our partner, Kingdom Investments Nepal (K.I. Nepal) works against trafficking on numerous levels, including prevention and finding the source of the problem. In one particular village, they began visiting a few years ago and building relationships because it was considered a high-risk community. As they learned more about the people and their circumstances, they realized that the lack of running water put girls and young women at risk of being assaulted and trafficked. Here is a story of one of these individuals:

My name is ­­­Maya. I grew up in a small village in Nepal. My family has always been very poor. Our village did not have running water, I had to travel by cycle for one hour just to get clean water for the house. One time when I was going to retrieve water , three men stopped me along the path and abused me.

Thankfully, K.I. Nepal was already working in my community because it is considered a high-risk trafficking area. Since their staff knew me well, they noticed a change in my behavior. I told them what happened, and they invited me to live in the safe home for six months. There I would learn sewing and beautician skills, and have a safe place to heal from the trauma. The safe home was wonderful. Not only were the staff kind and nurturing, but I became very close with the other girls. While there, I healed and learned the skills quickly, and became a role model in the home. I was also a spokesperson for my community and led a small group there to empower other young women. Recently I moved to the Kathmandu safe home to study for my SLC exam and get further education. My confidence has grown significantly, and the opportunities I will have with further education will not only help me provide for my family, but also give me a promising future, free of the fear of being abused or trafficked.

*Name changed for protection

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In photo: Maya meeting with her women’s group to record their progress in sewing training

I (Abby) had the privilege of living with and getting to know Maya. She taught me many things. I am blessed to know her, and deeply encouraged by her bright future! K.I. Nepal not only helped raise money to put two wells in this village, they continue to help with other needs to keep girls like Maya safe from trafficking. Their work has helped countless girls and young women.

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 In photo: Maya and me during a trip to the village (face covered for protection)


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