Winner of CNN Heroes Award Fights Sex Trafficking in Nepal

Filed under: In The News

Anuradha Koirala picture

Anuradha Koirala is fighting sex trafficking. Credit: John Shearer, WireImage


It seems that every bold-faced name supports a cause these days: Al Gore has the environment, George Clooney has Sudan and Bono is saving Africa (and anything else you can think of).

There's no denying that their famous faces shining from the pages of glossy magazines help draw the world's attention to important issues. Let's give them all a well-deserved hand.

But there are others, those doing the bulk of the hard work behind the scenes, who also deserve some appreciation. People whose faces we've never seen and whose names we've never heard; the people who spend countless thankless hours touching lives. People like Anuradha Koirala.

Koirala, the founder of Maiti Nepal, an organization working to stop sex trafficking in Nepal, currently is visiting in Los Angeles, where she is being honored as CNN's Hero of 2010. The CNN Heroes All-Star Tribute, hosted by Anderson Cooper, is scheduled to air on Thanksgiving Day.

But Koirala isn't using her time in California to bask in the glow of adulation; far from it. While there, she is working to raise awareness of sex trafficking and fund-raising for her organization.

Koirala used her own money to start Maiti Nepal in the early 1990s, which she began as a small safe house for girls living on the streets of Katmandu.

Once Koirala learned about the sexual abuse and trafficking the girls had been subjected to, she expanded Maiti Nepal into a multi-faceted organization that rescues girls from traffickers and brothels, houses them and provides medical care, counseling and vocational training.

She says she never allowed herself to be deterred by the size of the problem, or the dangers of fighting traffickers.

"Someone had to start something," she tells ParentDish. "if you think there are threats, if you are scared, if you think you might be murdered, you might be shot, then who will work for the children?"

A mix of low education rates among women, endemic sexism and searing poverty, along with its porous border with India, make Nepal ripe territory for sex traffickers. In addition to the work it does in Katmandu, Maiti Nepal stations former victims of sex trafficking at border crossings to India to help make sure girls are not being taken out of Nepal against their will.

The work can be so treacherous that many volunteers must travel with body guards.

For her part, Koirala is quick to dismiss talk of bravery.

"Every woman and every body is brave," she says. "If someone comes from behind and gives you a blow, you cannot save yourself. But even if a strong person comes from in front to fight with you or discuss, even if you cannot push him one yard, you can push him an inch."

In other words, even little victories count and everyone can play a part, Koirala says.

"Trafficking is a heinous crime. It's a shame to humanity and all of us have to join hands and make a society free of trafficking," she tells ParentDish.

Her advice for those who'd like to join her in the fight?

"They have to raise their voices," she says. "They shouldn't just read about it and forget it and put the paper in the dust; they have to feel the issue and take it as their own."

To that end, ParentDish AdviceMama Susan Stiffelman and activist and filmmaker Chelo Alvarez-Stehle will be co-hosting a fundraiser for Maiti Nepal in Malibu on Nov. 23. Stiffelman will emcee the evening, and Koirala will speak at the event, which also will feature a screening of "Tin Girls," a documentary about sex trafficking in Nepal. Alvarez-Stehle served as a consultant on the film and conducted the interviews.

Despite the seemingly intractable nature of the problem, Koirala stays focused on her goal.

"I hope one day I can close Maiti Nepal, because I don't want any trafficking," she tells ParentDish. "But there is still so much to be done."

To make a tax-deductible donation, please visit FriendsofMaitiNepal.org, and watch Koirala's acceptance speech.

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