For two decades, Anuradha Koirala was a teacher in Kathmandu, Nepal. She says she always knew that she wanted to help and serve people and that’s what made her go into education. A great source of inspiration to her is Mother Teresa. After teaching for a long time, she decided to take the next step and help protect girls and women from abuse, exploitation, and trafficking.
In the early 1990s, Koirala would pass the Pashupatinath Temple on her morning walks and see women on the street begging. As she mentioned in her 2015 TEDx Talk, she started speaking to women and they told her about their lives and how they had been victims of several gender-based types of violence.
“Every day, there was battering. And then I had three miscarriages that I think [were] from the beating. It was very difficult because I didn’t know in those days where to go and report [it], who to…talk to,” she told CNN in 2010.
Her own traumatic experience made her get into this line of work as she wanted to help other women in similar situations.
She proposed to help them support themselves if they would stop begging on the streets. She also started to educate these women about the empowerment of women and about gender-based violence.
Initially, only eight women accepted her offer. Koirala gave each of them 1,000 rupees, out of her own pocket, in order to start small street shops. Daily she would take two rupees from the profit and she used this money to give the women security and help other women economically as well.
In 1993, she went a step further by founding the non-profit organization Maiti Nepal. For the last 26 years, she has helped women and children who were exploited through her foundation. She has tried to help young girls from unprivileged backgrounds who were forced into sex slavery. Focussing specifically on tackling sex trafficking is what she mostly did during her career.
“These are poor regions with high illiteracy rates. If a relative or friend turns up offering someone a job, it is often the girls’ parents themselves who encourage them to go, without realizing what is really happening,”she told the Guardian. “It is the perfect breeding ground for traffickers.”
The organization Maiti Nepal has helped over 1000 children and now also includes three prevention homes where young girls who are at risk are helped and educated about the dangers of trafficking. That is not all, the non-profit also runs 11 transit homes that shelter rescued girls who need immediate help, a formal school and two hospices that treat HIV/AIDS infected women and children.
The 70-year old Koirala has been called the Mother Teresa of Nepal while she is still fighting against sex trafficking through her organization. The organization assembles many initiatives such as female empowerment programs, skills training and campaigns to include awareness.
In cooperation with local law enforcement, the organization regularly conducts rescue operations and try to stop trafficking by patrolling 26 points on the India-Nepal border. Over 18.000 girls were rescued in the 26 years the non-profit has existed, said Koirala at the Global Peace Leadership Conference of 2012.
“When I see their pain — their mental pain as well as physical pain — it is so troubling that I cannot turn myself away. This gives me strength to fight and root this crime out,” she said in a phone interview with the Borgen Project.
Thanks to Maiti Nepal, over 700 traffickers have been prosecuted.
Koirala realizes that not all survivors of sex trafficking are able to recuperate from their trauma and not all are able to live full lives again. Some victims have contracted HIV and need antiretroviral therapy to control the disease. This therapy can reduce the chances of transmission and slow its progression. For this reason, the organization offers access to the treatment to affected women and children. A safe place to live is also provided by two hospice centers of the organization.
Koirala has been awarded several international and national awards and is widely recognized for her work. One of the awards she won was the Padma Shri, the fourth-highest civilian award of India. CNN named her Hero of the Year in 2010 for which she won $125,000 to continue her work.
“Just imagine what would happen if your daughter was standing there, and if your daughter was there, what would you do? How would you fight? So you have to join hands. You have to take each child as your daughter,” she said in a video played during the 2010 CNN Heroes program.
“I want a society free of human trafficking,” she added, as tears welled in her eyes. “I hope I will make it happen one day.”