Global Hero of the Week: Anuradha Koirala

Heroes: they come in all forms. They come to us under the guise of “survivor,” of “friend,” of “advocate.” And nowadays, more than ever, it seems everyone in the world could use a hero. Meet Together for Girls' hero of the week, Anuradha Koirala.

Anuradha Koirala, the founder and executive director of Maiti Nepal, a non-profit that works to end domestic violence, trafficking and sexual exploitation in Nepal, especially on the Indian-Nepali border, has welcomed more than 12,000 “daughters” into her house in Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal. Many of the girls have been trafficked and sexually exploited.

“Maiti” means “mother’s home”; Koirala, who founded the organization in 1993 in her small house with her own savings, helps the girls rehabilitate from their traumatic experiences by giving them a place to rest and regroup.

Supporting survivors, however, is not enough for Koirala who also advocates for criminal justice against their perpetrators and works to prevent the trauma through a program of border surveillance involving 12 intervention outposts. These outposts serve as safe houses, providing temporary shelter and care until the girls can get to Kathmandu, to Koirala’s home. The volunteers running the safe houses are survivors themselves, having been rescued from Indian brothels by other Maiti workers. At the outposts, they coordinate with Nepali law enforcement to watch for suspicious activity and to help identify traffickers. Because of their work, hundreds of offenders have been sent to jail. The work of Maiti Nepal has prevented an estimated 45,000 children and women from being trafficked.

For those girls and women who have been rescued, the rehabilitation process can be agonizing. Some are pregnant. Others have the scars and complications of sexually transmitted infections and abortions in the brothels. Rates of HIV among survivors at Maiti Nepal are as high as 60 percent in the youngest girls and many have infants who have been infected in pregnancy. A large population of the survivors are also infected with and/or at a high risk for tuberculosis. Because of the stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV, tuberculosis and sexual abuse, it is difficult to find doctors and specialists to give medical attention to survivors. When the girls are reconnected with their families, some family members shun them—deepening their pain and increasing the chances they will die from their untreated conditions.

Maiti Nepal created two hospices to shelter survivors of trafficking suffering from emotional trauma and a variety of illnesses, including hepatitis, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS. For those who can heal and move forward after receiving psychosocial services, Maiti Nepal offers vocational education, where young women can learn food service, carpentry, mechanics, security guarding and handicrafts.

Working for Maiti Nepal is dangerous. Maiti Nepal’s main office in Kathmandu has been destroyed twice and workers must travel with a bodyguard when conducting rescue missions in India. As if they hadn’t already done enough, in the wake of the earthquake that ravaged Nepal this past April, Koirala and Maiti Nepal worked on the frontlines, providing refuge to earthquake survivors who were homeless, and therefore, at heightened risk for being trafficked.

At 68 years old, Koirala is a fearless matriarch of the Nepali people. A mother superior, indeed.

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