The Forgotten Faces of the Nepal Earthquake

When Nepal shook more than a year ago, the world quickly responded with an outpouring of aid and support. In the aftermath of the disaster, a dark and sinister threat has been lurking beneath the rubble, just waiting to pounce.

As thousands of livelihoods lay in ruins, and humanitarian organizations scrambled to save lives and rebuild flattened communities, opportunity knocked for evil men. Fueled by a growing demand for child labor in nearby countries and fed by the perverse desires of a growing sex industry, these men had one goal—to exploit the desperation of local Nepali families.

Hoping to build a better life for their children, unsuspecting moms and dads are lured with false promises and quickly fall into the debt of evil men. With no way to repay, women and young girls are being trafficked across poorly patrolled borders. And without anyone to police, or prevent this horrific injustice they are being abused, exploited, and completely forgotten.

In the most remote Nepali villages, young women and girls are at great risk of being trafficked across open borders.

World Concern has been active in Nepal ever since the earthquake hit, working tirelessly with the local church to rebuild communities and reach the most vulnerable with livelihood support, and income generation opportunities.

Recognizing that trafficking is a threat in the poorest Nepali villages, World Concern is actively leveraging its Child Protection experts to provide in-country training. The aim is to raise awareness of the problem, and begin mobilizing a network of local partners to seek out and stop the threat of trafficking in high risk communities.

“There is a huge opportunity to prevent human trafficking in Nepal,” says Selina Prem Kumar, World Concern’s Sri Lanka Country Director who is in Nepal training church and community leaders to prevent trafficking. “Women and children are being trafficked into forced labor and as sex workers into neighboring countries with no border patrols.”

Having established a comprehensive child protection program after the bloody Sri Lankan civil war, Selina is now taking what’s she’s learned and accomplished across Southeast Asia, and is well aware of the dangers families face in the wake of an emergency.

The communities she’s visiting are within a few miles of the India border, where no visas are required to cross, making it an extremely high risk area.

DSC_0172Braving heavy rains, flooding and mountain road closures due to mudslides, Selina and her team traveled close to the Indian border, and into one of the trafficking ‘hot-zones’ to conduct the workshops. Proof that World Concern truly does go beyond the end of the road to serve those in need.

Expectant for change and eager to become more active in fighting trafficking in their communities, more than 40 volunteers from local churches, schools, and human rights groups attended.

“People walked through the jungles to get here,” Selina says. “Some traveled for over 7 hours—the landslides and floods turning what would have been a 3-hour journey into a day long trek.”

While there is much to do in Nepal, Selina is hopeful, “There is a lot of meaningful and deep possibilities in Nepal. We will continue working to train and mobilize border villages, churches, and organizations to prevent human trafficking.”

Even in the darkness, there is always an opportunity to shine light, and the work happening in Nepal is proof that there’s always hope for a brighter future.

A Girl Named Prishna

Last month, Family Life Radio hosts Stacey and Johnny Stone visited World Concern’s work in Bangladesh. The following post was written by Stacey, who was particularly touched by the life and dedication of one young girl she met.   

I’d traveled a long way to visit with young Prishna.

I had heard many amazing things about this girl and she now sat on an office chair in front of me. It was an exciting moment, and the room had filled with people all eager to hear her story.

The first thing I noticed about this precious girl was how thin she was. She was much smaller than other teenage girls, and I discovered afterwards that it was because Prishna had been severely malnourished growing up. This was my first introduction to how invasive poverty can really be.

As people mingled around her, Prishna’s head was down and her eyes fixed on the floor. But every once in a while she would look up and glance at me. Please God, make my face pleasing to this girl who needs to see your love and compassion through me.

Prishna escaped child marriage and now helps other teens do the same.
Prishna escaped child marriage and now helps other teens do the same.

That was my very quick prayer as we settled into the World Concern office in Bangladesh. To my amazement, it was within moments of my prayer that Prishna lifted her head and smiled at me. Thank you Jesus.

Some staff members began to sing, and while they were singing (albeit a little off key), I noticed Prishna start to giggle. Her smile was incredible, and it was an act of worship all of it’s own!

After the short service, Prishna continued to smile and laugh as the men served tea. Maybe it was a shared sense of humor toward awkward situations, but Prishna and I shared something special after that worship service. It was all unspoken but her smile, and determined attitude brought comfort to this weary traveler.

But when Prishna started to speak, and tell her story, I realized my life would never be the same again.

Prishna sat with another woman and started to tell us about her life, and why she was now sitting here with World Concern. Having grown up in a culture where girls as young as 10 become child-brides, Prishna had been one of the few that escaped this shocking cultural practice. Determined to now help other teenage girls, Prishna visits poverty-stricken neighborhoods with World Concern staff.

Since she was just a little girl, Prishna’s family had planned to marry her off on her 10th birthday.  It sounded unbelievable to me, but for girls in the poor villages of Bangladesh, becoming a child bride is a dark and frightening reality. Poverty forces families to do the unthinkable, but together with World Concern, Prishna was now showing them how to avoid child marriage altogether.

Prishna is now a familiar face in the villages, as she bravely shares her story of escaping child marriage with other girls at risk. Her encouragement is simple … to say “NO”.

She first rejected child marriage at the age of 10 … then 11 … and each year after that. By the time Prishna was 14, she was so determined to make something of her life that she was fully enrolled in school, safe from being married off, and helping other girls find their voice.

So, what gives girls like Prishna hope? You do.

Your support of World Concern gives girls like Prishna a chance to stay in school and avoid child marriage. Without you, families trapped in poverty have no other choice but to pull their daughters from school and marry them off to complete strangers.

Today, Prishna wants to finish her studies and become a doctor. Her dream is that she will return to this community and ensure the families here have access to good health care.

As I listened to Prishna speak, I become even more empowered to stop this terrible practice. Through her courage, and in the face of such poverty, I could see that she was just the beginning of generations of young women who will stand up, and say, “God made a way when there seem to be no way.”

As for me, I want to now share Prishna’s story with everyone I meet, and tell them that there is a way to bring child marriage to an end.

Is This What Child Trafficking Looks Like?

The strange white car pulled up beside me as I walked to school.

I was only a few hundred yards from home and remember turning to see if my parents were still out the front of the house, waving me off. But they had long since gone inside.

My heart started to race … I was all alone.

The car pulled in front of me and the passenger door immediately opened. The smell of cigarette smoke filled my nostrils as a man I’d never seen before extended his hand and offered me a ride to school. He wore a thick black sweater with faded white graphics on the shoulder, and smiled politely through yellow and crooked teeth.

I was close enough to also see that another man sat in the back seat … watching … a large black garbage bag balled up on his lap. Almost 35 years later, I can still see this second man’s face—unshaven beneath a dirty baseball cap—his eyes fixed on me, waiting expectantly for me to join him.

I was nine-years-old when this happened.

A week or so later, I was playing safely in my bedroom when my parents told me that the police had arrested a local man fitting the description I had provided. I can’t imagine how different life would be had I stepped into that car.

I’ve thought a lot about that encounter recently, and realized that my experience is the terrifying daily reality for many of the world’s poorest children. And for these kids, the stories don’t always have a happy ending. They may not have parents to run home to, a safe place to hide, or any local police keeping an eye out for them. But most of all they lack the knowledge, and are easily tricked by evil men.

Throughout the month of May, World Concern is focusing its efforts on raising awareness of child trafficking, and giving you the opportunity to protect a vulnerable child from the threat of exploitation, abuse, and slavery.

It started with an event—the 8th Annual Free Them 5k—a family fun-run that attracted more than 1,400 participants and raised more than $200,000 to help stop trafficking. And this effort now continues with a special initiative that allows you to go one step further, and help cover a child in God’s love and protection.

These children live in poverty, so when something happens you won’t see their stories featured on the evening news, or an article written about their disappearance in a local newspaper. An Amber Alert won’t interrupt your television program, and you won’t see their faces on the community notice board at the local grocery store.

These children need our help.

From an early age, I was taught about the dangers around me. I was educated and kept safe in a loving home and nurtured by a community of people that cared and looked out for my well being. But in villages across Southeast Asia, children don’t have this blessing, or the awareness that potentially saved me all those years ago.

So when I think about the men in the white car, and what could have happened that day—it makes protecting a child an easy decision.

No Child Should be Sold for Sex

For the past year I had an anticipation about turning 40, which happened in January. I attempted to crush the world’s voice in my head that often chants silly and pity-filled blues about turning 40. I on the other hand, was ready to enter my 40’s with jubilation and eagerness for what was to come in my next 40 years.

The topic of how to celebrate my birthday was a conversation with many friends and ideas were flowing in and out of my mind on a daily basis, but nothing seemed to stick. Then one early fall morning, I woke up at 4 a.m. and had a vision of what I was going to do. I pictured myself standing on a stage holding a big cardboard check made out to World Concern for $40,000. I went back to bed, in a bit of a fog, but when I woke up it was clear what I needed to do. I was going to use my 40th birthday as vehicle to gather everyone I know and raise $40,000 for World Concern and help save the lives of 1,000 children. That stuck. That grabbed my heart.

My family has been involved with World Concern for years now and I knew it was a perfect partnership for my fundraiser. World Concern is brilliant at their ability to love and serve the world, and they’re experts at protecting children in some of the poorest places. It did not take long to decide that I wanted to raise money specifically to help end child trafficking, because…

No child should be sold for sex.

Doing a fundraiser to help end human trafficking forced me to stop and think about the ugly sinful capability of mankind. It forced me to realize that as I sit in the comfort of my life with three precious kids of my own, there are horrific crimes occurring against young children. It forced me to ask questions and be curious about how this crime even happens and more importantly how it can be put to an end.

I sat in those thoughts, angered, indignant, and uncomfortable. It produced in me a call to action. I felt I had to do something. In that call to action, I had the chance to bring others into that thought life, a thought life about others around the world and this despicable crime and a way to make it end, because…

No child should be sold for sex.

So, I did it. I rallied my friends, family—everyone I knew—and together, WE did it. My family and friends gave generously because they also considered the ugly thoughts of what this fundraiser was about, they knew the impact their donation could make, and they responded to the call of action. That night, I stood on a stage holding a big cardboard check written out for $40,000. Because of that, 1,000 precious, innocent little ones will be safe from the hands of traffickers.

People responded to a call to action, because…

No child should be sold for sex.

Think about that: A child sold for sex. What would it be like for you to sit with the uncomfortable thoughts about this sick crime of child trafficking? I guarantee your heart will become restless, unsettled and want to act.

So today, I am calling on you to rally with me. We can work together as we participate World Concern’s Free Them 5k. Will you join me on Saturday, May 7, in Shoreline and take a stand to protect children and refuse to ignore this problem?

When you register for the Free Them 5k, you’ll have the opportunity to invite your friends to support you in this cause, knowing that they’ll be eager to act on this too, because…

No child should be sold for sex.

Mindy Lee Irvine is a mom of three and passionate supporter of World Concern. In January 2016, she celebrated her 40th birthday by raising $40,000 to protect children from human trafficking. She will be participating in the 8th Annual Free Them 5k to Stop Human Trafficking on Saturday, May 7, 2016 at World Concern’s headquarters.