Reaching out to the lost, the last, and the least!

Article by Opportunity Village Nepal
Province of Central East India-Nepal 

 

Nepal is a land-locked country nestled between China to the North and India to the South and belongs to the Province of Central East India-Nepal (CEIN). The country may be rich for its linguistic, ethnic, and religious diversity, but it remains one of the world's poorest – listed as one of the bottom 25% of countries in the global Human Development Index. Nepal's pride are the mighty Himalayas, but under their shadows the people have struggled with access to basic healthcare, poorly developed transportation and communication systems, poverty, illiteracy, women's low status in society, and the myriad of suffering caused by widespread human trafficking and child exploitation.

 

In 1998, the sisters in India reached out to the poor and marginalized of this rugged landscape by founding Opportunity Village Nepal. The project was established to further the mission of the Congregation by providing health services, education, and vocational training to disadvantaged girls, women, and children at-risk or vulnerable to trafficking. Since its foundation, provision has extended to include residential care, counseling services, awareness-raising and orientation sessions, prison ministry, and a mobile health clinic. Since 2018, the work of the Good Shepherd mission in Nepal has been extended and strengthened thanks to the support and strategic direction offered by Good Shepherd International Foundation (GSIF) Nepal.

 


A sister and partners in mission provide outreach in one of the dance restaurants.
 

One example of how Opportunity Village Nepal (OVN) has transformed lives can be told through the story of Seema (not her real name). Seema was only able to remain in school until she was thirteen years old before her family's situation forced her to migrate in search of better opportunities. People in her village had told her that she would find abundant opportunities in Kathmandu; so, to escape the torture and violence from her stepmother, she decided to migrate to the city.

 

However, the reality was different. She was forced to work in a Dohori Sanjh restaurant, where nightly folk songs and music are performed live. In September 2018, Seema was deceived by her co-worker, who invited Seema to accompany her on a visit to her brother's place. One of the guests there offered to drop her home in his car. However, she was forcefully taken to another isolated restaurant at the edge of the city, where he raped her. Despite her attempts, neither her friend nor her friend's brother came to her help.

 

Seema had previously come into contact with an OVN outreach worker at her work and had learned about women's rights and the need to liberate herself from violence, torture, abuse, exploitation, and other risks. She contacted the staff at OVN for support, and they immediately responded to her cry for help. The police rescued her from the restaurant where she worked and arrested two people who assisted the man who had raped Seema. The OVN project hired a legal consultant to support Seema in the prosecution process, and a case was filed at the District Court Kathmandu, where the perpetrator was accused of human trafficking and rape. Though he escaped, the two people who had assisted him were imprisoned for two years. However, last February, the court ordered the main culprit to be arrested under charges of raping the young girl. Seema is grateful to OVN for rescuing her and for providing shelter, protection, and counseling during these traumatic years of her life.

 

Seema's story is just one of many of the girls, women, and children who the project has supported. During this past year alone, OVN has been able to provide knowledge and skills training to 178 youth working in the entertainment sectors of Kathmandu and Pokhara, psychosocial counseling support to 132 youth, and vocational training to 34 youth (16 of whom have set up their own business and three of whom have found employment).

 


Sisters and partners in mission distribute food packages and sanitation materials
to families in Pokhara affected by COVID-19.

 

Thankfully, work has been able to continue in one form or another through the present pandemic. As it did during the massive earthquake of 2015 and the widespread damaging floods and landslides of last year, during which the sisters and partners in mission continued to provide critical support in times of personal and national catastrophe. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, food packages and sanitation materials have been distributed to 868 households severely affected by the pandemic, and 40 youth working in the heavily affected adult entertainment industry have received support to run micro-enterprises for sustained livelihood.  So too, the work in anti-human trafficking and child protection has continued through five protection committees engaged in the border-surveillance of suspected cases of trafficking and three transit centers that provide emergency protection to survivors of trafficking, sexual exploitation, and abuse.

 

By 2022, the Good Shepherd mission in Nepal, in partnership with GSIF and Child Workers in Nepal Concerned Center, will have supported 20,000 women, adolescent girls, and children living under poverty, at risk of human trafficking and unsafe migration, and vulnerable to various forms of violence and discrimination, to live in more responsive and safer communities and have improved their socio-economic conditions. The mission to prevent, protect, rehabilitate, and reintegrate continues, and the sisters and partners in mission will persist in making small ripples of change in the lives of girls, women, and children, taking risks to innovate and creatively respond to the lost, the last, and the least!