Anuradha Koirala is an amazing woman that people refer to as the Nepal’s Mother Teresa. She did not get this title just for being Anuradha, but she earned it through hard work helping many women.
Her life path lead her to a higher calling in life, protecting women and girls from abuse, and fighting human trafficking, and exploitation.
This lady in the nineties of the last century worked as a teacher educating students for more than 20 years. In those days, she would walk every day by Kathmandu’s Pashupatinath Temple, where she would meet various women begging on the streets. She initiated a conversation with each one of them finding out that they were all survivors of gender-based violence.
She knew exactly what these women have gone through as she had also dealt with the physical and emotional trauma caused by her abusive ex-husband. Her traumatic personal experience and the experiences of these poor women triggered something inside her to do something more.
At the moment she still had her teaching post, but then she decided that she needs to do something more recalling the teachings of Mother Teresa.
“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 decided that her purpose in life is to help the ones who have the great need of help, and she first started with 8 women giving them 1,000 rupees each to start small street shops. Her earnings were not a lot, but through a portion of the profit of the small shops, 2 rupees collected from the women every day, she could offer security and economic opportunity to other women in need as well. She initiated the movement of “paying forward”, you help one person, and that one helps another, and so on.
Very soon the results of her work showed, and in 1993, she founded the non-profit Maiti Nepal. She educated women about empowerment and urged them to stop begging. Later on, she focused on a major problem in Nepal, sex trafficking.
Nepal was the Mecca for traffickers as a result of illiteracy and great poverty. The traffickers promised to their victims jobs so that they can earn money, but behind that was the gruesome reality of sex trafficking.
“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. “
The traffickers targeted girls and women from underprivileged sections of Nepal and later on sold them into sex slavery in India. Anuradha was well aware of this situation, but she ingeniously found a way how to rescue all these young girls and women.
The transfer to India is made via the 1,750km border between Nepal and India that is open and porous. Her organization, Maiti Nepal, along with the local law enforcement, have rescued women across 26 different points on the border.
It has been reported that human trafficking across that border has increased by 500% since 2013, and according to NGOs this number could go even higher, up to 40,000 in each year.
The sex trafficking has risen after the 2015 devastating earthquake, and many women and girls have been fooled that there is a better life in India.
“The earthquake hit many places where trafficking was already a huge problem. In the year after the earthquake, 4,000 women and girls were intercepted by the guardians at the border between Nepal and India.”
Maiti Nepal is in charge of 11 transit homes that shelter recently trafficked women. These women are given roof on their heads, but also are being educated to become independent and productive in society. They can also participate in the fight against trafficking as Maiti Nepal hires former victims to conduct searches at border transit points and also trains them to identify possible trafficking victims.
Her organization is in charge of many activities like women empowerment programs, trainings, offering legal support to the needy, awareness campaigns, community sensitization programs, rescue operations, capturing traffickers, and health care for women infected by HIV and antiretroviral therapy (ART) to children.
In addition to this, it takes care of over 1,000 children who visit a formal school, and also runs two hospices for children and women with HIV/AIDs, and three prevention homes for at-risk girls to educate them about the threats of trafficking.
Recently, Maiti Nepal has opened a cafe in Kathmandu where former victims works as waitresses, cashiers, or chefs. This organization has assisted in capturing trafficking criminals, and in the prosecution of more than 700 traffickers.
During the years, Koirala rescued over 18,000 women and children, and as a result of her work she has been continuously awarded. She gained 38 national and international awards, among which are CNN’s Hero of the Year in 2010, India’s prestigious civilian award, and the Padma Shri.
In 1998, she was awarded with Best Social Worker of the Year Award- Nepal, in 1999 with Prabal Gorkha Dakshin Bahu Medal, in 2002 with Trishaktipatta Award, in 2006 with the Courage of Conscience, in 2007 with German UNIFEM Prize and Queen Sofia Silver Medal Award, and The Peace Abbey.
Anuradha Koirala also obtained another title for its contributions to society, an Assistant State Minister of Women Children and Social Welfare.
The Government of Nepal has established 5th September as an anti-trafficking day thanks to her amazing efforts during the years.
Today, Anuradha Koirala is 70 years old and still works relentlessly for her cause and she will continue till the day she dies.
She finds the strength in the victims and that makes her fight even more.
“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.”
In 2010 CNN Heroes program, she stated:
“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.”
Her greatest desire in life is a better world, and still strives to achieve that.
“I want a society free of human trafficking. I hope I will make it happen one day.”