Archive for April, 2011

More from Nepal: Monkey-ing Around

by   |  04.27.11  |  Uncategorized

Rule Number Ten (While in Asia): Monkeys apparently love ice cream.

One monkey in particular decided that he loved MY ice cream! A friend and I went to visit the Monkey Temple in Kathmandu yesterday. The Buddhist temple is on a hill overlooking Kathmandu. It’s very beautiful at the top, but the hike up that hill is a haul. There are over 100 steps, and they’re so steep I felt like I had climbed Mount Everest by the time we reached the summit. We decided to cure our exhaustion by eating ice cream! Little did I know, the monkeys at the Monkey Temple do not play nice. They’re wild, and dozens of them run around the temple (thus its name); however, they are quite accustomed both to tourists and thievery. Right after getting our ice cream, a monkey spotted the delicious treat in my hand and began moving toward me with an alarming determination in his eyes. I got a vaccination for rabies right before leaving, but I had no desire to be bit by this aggressive little creature. So, in order to save myself from attack, I sacrificed my ice cream by throwing it on the ground. Within seconds the little bugger had snatched it up and started licking away.

I’ve been in Kathmandu for four days now. I’m staying with a family affiliated with the Nepalese organization Red Thread works to support, and my oh my, do they know how to cook (now I know how Buddha got his big belly; homemade Nepalese food is incredible)! Last night, I helped make homemade momos! I didn’t think I would be able to eat that many, but the family jokingly told me if I couldn’t commit to eating 20, then I wasn’t allowed to eat any period! Needless to say, it was not hard at all to eat the delicious dumpling-like delight.

On Friday, I met with the International Organization for Migration to learn more about their work to combat sex trafficking in Nepal and if there may be room for future collaboration. IOM does work in counter-trafficking and has, within the last few years, been researching rehabilitation strategies for victimized people returning to Nepal. However, the strategies of IOM and the organization the RTM supports are very different. IOM focuses on reintegration and rehabilitating Nepalese people who are returning from India and the Middle East following a situation of trafficking that resulted in slavery. Approximately 200-300 Nepalese victims of slavery abroad are returning every year to Nepal; this includes victims of both labor and sex trafficking. IOM is seeking to provide livelihoods for these individuals, while helping them gain citizenship. In Nepal, citizenship is obtained after the 16th birthday. As many people are trafficked out of Nepal before turning 16, it is currently difficult for them to return to Nepal and gain their citizenship. This is due to the fact that citizenship is passed through family affiliation, and, due to stigmatization, many families are unwilling to claim family members who have been victims of human trafficking.

While IOM is working toward a noble cause, the organization we support has found it most effective to combat trafficking through prevention, as thousands of girls are being trafficked into India on a yearly basis for purposes of sexual enslavement. While reports list the number somewhere around 12,000 girls per year, NGO’s predict the number to be closer to 30-40,000 women and girls being trafficked from Nepal into India every year. Rehabilitation for people who have survived enslavement is certainly necessary, but in my opinion, the bigger problem lies with preventing the trafficking before it has a chance to result in slavery.

The Nepalese organization we partner with is working to eliminate the need to rescue and rehabilitate women and girls who have already been enslaved outside of Nepal by both stopping these women and girls on the border before they cross into India. They are also working to develop communities by empowering women and girls in villages toward successful business practices and anti-trafficking education.

This morning I also had the pleasure of meeting with the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator. He is the head of UN programs in Nepal and took nearly an hour out of his day to be briefed on the Red Thread Movement and the work of the Nepalese organization we support. Every three to five years, the United Nations programs operating within a country get together to set new goals for the upcoming three to five years. It is a time for them to reevaluate and decide how they can best serve the people of that country. New goals are currently being compiled by the United Nations programs operating in Nepal, and the UNRC informed me that upcoming priorities for the UN will include assisting vulnerable and sexually exploited women and girls in Nepal. The meeting I had with UNICEF later this afternoon also spoke to this goal. These meetings both provided information into the UN’s work toward anti-trafficking in Nepal and opened the doors for potential collaboration down the road.

“Who Am I?” Project By Student Drew Thomas

by   |  04.27.11  |  Uncategorized

In the Core 120 (The Question of Identity) course that Drs. Cullum, McCracken, and Stephenson are teaching, students are producing creative “living artifacts” as the course draws to a close. Here is Drew Thomas’s project, which analyzes the question “Who am I” by looking at certain pieces of paper. It was filmed on his laptop.

More From Nepal…

by   |  04.26.11  |  Uncategorized

After Awhile, Crocodile
By redthreadmovement

Rule Number Nine (While in Asia): They will assume you have rhythm and like to dance.

I have been to my fair share of countries, so I think I’m qualified to say that, compared to the rest of the world, Americans are rhythmically challenged. Apparently, the Nepalese are not aware of this because I cannot count the number of times they have asked me to dance. I think they assume that I have some moves they’ve never seen before (which is true, my dance moves probably have never been seen before, but that’s because I’m so bad at it!) I should probably also clarify that when they ask me to dance, they’re assuming that I am just going to dance, by myself, in front of them, to Indian music I’ve never heard before. Yeah, no thank you!

I had two new experiences today:

1. I learned how to drive stick shift. Perhaps I should clarify. I was not actually in the driver’s seat (if I was I probably wouldn’t have lived to be writing this post). The driver simply allowed me to move around the stick while he drove, so that I could learn how to change gears…baby steps.

2. I rode on a motorcycle! I am now convinced that the first vehicle I purchase will have two wheels (and a motor! My mom and dad thought I should also only have two wheels for college, but their version involved pedaling).

A woman in the market yesterday asked me where I was from. When I told her the United States, she seemed thoroughly shocked. She told me that my face was so cute, I must be from the Middle East! While I’ve been told that I look Middle Eastern before, it’s never been justified by the fact that I have a cute face. I got a good laugh out of the encounter!

This morning, I met with the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Analyst. We had met by the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu on my previous trip to Nepal in January, so this time I asked him if he would like to come out and visit one of the border stations supported by the Red Thread Movement. I enjoyed going back to the border and visiting some old Nepalese friends, while showing him around. He is doing research right now for the 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report that will come out this summer, featuring a section on the trafficking in Nepal. To read last year’s report, check out the 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report.

I also left for Kathmandu today. It was really hard to say goodbye to the girls. I am an emotional wreck when it comes to goodbyes, and as soon as someone else starts crying I just lose it. So, it was a pretty tearful farewell. I only have one brother, so I’m not exactly sure what it feels like to have a sister, but I think it’s safe to say that those girls really became like the sisters I never had. Despite being victimized by trafficking, cheated by love and deceived by lies, these girls taught me what it means to be “home,” how to love purely and fully and what it looks like to be lit from the inside by this contagious joy. I may never see all of these girls together again, but I consider them my adopted family, and the virtues they’ve taught me will stick in my heart for a lifetime.

More to come from Kathmandu:
Tomorrow: Meeting with International Organization for Migration
Monday: Meeting with UNICEF and UNDP

April 16, 2011
Happy New Year!
By redthreadmovement

Rule Number Eight (While in Asia): Not only is Nepal 10 hours and 45 minutes ahead of the Midwest, it is also ahead by approximately 57 years!

Yes, on April 14, I celebrated New Year’s for my second time this year (this due to the fact that Nepal runs on a different calendar than most of the world).  In honor of this happy event, the girls and I went for a picnic in a park about three hours from the safe house.  They loved the field trip, and the drive to the park was beautiful!  I am a native Minnesotan, so even the foothills here look like mountains and take my breath away.  What also took my breath away was how close our driver got to the edge of the road driving on these “mountains” (I’m not so good with heights).

On New Year’s we also celebrated the House Mother’s birthday with a delicious black forest cake that I hunted down in the market.  The birthday party was a blast as we ate and danced to Nepali/Hindi music (I was also so relieved to get some sugar back into my system).  The Nepalese people, probably for the best, don’t tend to eat many sweet things.  They much prefer salt, lots and lots of salt (oh, and don’t forget the chili peppers).  Needless to say, my mouth has been on fire for most of my time here!

Sugar cane juice has taken the place of coffee in my life!
Yesterday, one of the girls offered me this digestive tablet that you’re supposed to chew to help you digest your food.  The girls were all eating them with genuine delight, so I figured they must be good (and I can use all the help here with digestion that I can get).  I should have known, however, that if the Nepalese liked them, I was probably in trouble.  Chewing that little tablet was like drinking salt water from the Dead Sea (which I have accidentally done), and it was probably one of the top five grossest things I have ever tasted in my life (with pig intestine soup also being on that list). It took chugging a litre of water to get the taste out of my mouth.

In my personal opinion, Nepal’s two greatest attractions are its mountains and its markets!
Since being here, I have also learned some of the girls’ stories, as to how they ended up at the safe house.  The following is only one of these stories, but it provides great insight into what the trafficking process looks like and how it operates.  For the girl’s safety, I have not included her name:

This is the story of a 13-year-old girl who studied to grade six.  Due to the size and poverty of her family, she could not complete her studies, so she helped her mother in household activities and her father on their farm.  Her parents were very happy with her, but she was not happy because she had to drop out of school.  One day, a stranger came into her village and proposed that she marry him.  She was young and scared to marry him and initially refused his proposal.  However, the man was not ready to give up, and he and his parents forced her to marry him.  He was 26 years old, twice her age.  Although she did not accept her marriage, she was complacent to go with her new husband when he asked her to leave Nepal for India.  He promised that he would keep her happy, and she believed him, so they went.  On the border of Nepal and India, they came to a border station supported by the Red Thread Movement, where a counselor working there asked the two of them questions regarding their travel into India.  The man told the counselor that they were married and beginning a new life outside of Nepal.  However, the counselor did not trust the man, because he was so much older than the girl.  So, both were separated and asked questions individually, and the girl told the counselor how she had met the man. The counselor explained to her what trafficking was and told her that she had encountered and rescued many girls with stories like her’s, who had been forced to marry men intending to traffick them.  It was then that the girl understood she was going to be sold by this man now claiming to be her husband.  The counselor offered the girl an opportunity to leave the man and receive shelter and additional training at a safe house, and the girl agreed; the man was turned into the police stationed at the border.  After a year at the safe house, the girl has just returned home with an education in sewing and a new chance at life in her village.

Brittany Partridge, Honors Student, Blogs From Nepal About Working With “Red Thread Movement” To Stop Sex Trafficking

by   |  04.26.11  |  Uncategorized

Geckos Are Not Your Friends

By redthreadmovement

Rule Number Seven (While in Asia): Nepalese geckos are wild animals, not pets.

I saw these little critters running around my bathroom, the walls of my bedroom and all over the safe house kitchen, and I couldn’t get over how cute they were.  I used to have two lizards as a kid, and I thought it would be fun if we were to catch one of these “geckos” running around the house and make it into our pet.  Jokingly, I told my idea to the House Mother, and she just laughed at me.  It was then that another one of the girls informed me that these cute little lizards are in fact extremely poisonous!  If they bite you, there is no cure, and you will die.  Comforting!  I have gone from affectionately watching these little guys crawl around on our walls to running at the sight of them.  From now on: No Asian pet lizards for me!

Anyone reading this who has traveled to a developing country will understand what I mean when I say that Cipro is your best friend while abroad.  I almost didn’t bring any of this potent medication with me on my current trip to Nepal, as I hadn’t needed any while I as here in January, but last night, I was ever so thankful that the doctor had convinced me to pack it.  For those who don’t know, Cipro is what you take when, politely speaking, the digestive track is a bit out of whack.  I am not sure what I ate yesterday to throw my body into this awful frenzy, but thanks to my handy dandy traveling pills, the pain should be over soon.  Moral of the story: Never leave home without Cipro!

On a happier note, a few days ago I had the pleasure of attending a graduation ceremony.  It was a bit different than the ones seen in the States, complete with caps, gowns and fancy diplomas, but it was nevertheless still as meaningful to those graduating.  The ceremony took place in a village about an hour and a half from the safe house; the primitive “road” to get to this particular village made for a rough journey, but I’m kind of partial to these eventful roadtrips!  All of those graduating were women and girls, and we were attending to present them with certificates signifying that they had completed six months of sewing training.  Such an accomplishment is particularly meaningful in Nepal, as many of the girls in this country are not educated and do not have an opportunity to receive such training.  This training will lead to a sense of purpose for them in their village and will serve as a preventative measure to decrease their vulnerability to trafficking.  The women and girls were all incredibly joyful, and I was fortunate to be a part of such an important event in their lives.

Yesterday, I learned how to make milk tea for the first time!  It has become my favorite drink in the entire world (literally), and it even tops coffee in my book, which is a rare achievement.  It is made by boiling whole milk with black tea, this fantastic organic sugar, masala and cinnamon.  The combination of these ingredients leads to pure bliss in a cup!  You can try making it at home, but I assure you the best milk tea can only be found in Nepal!

I am off to sewing training!  My punjabi is coming along, but I afraid I may not ever go out in public wearing it.

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April 7, 2011

Black Out!

By redthreadmovement

Rule Number Six (While in Asia): The electricity may go out while you are showering.  If this happens, remain calm, and try not to slip and fall!

I hadn’t showered in three days (I know, even I didn’t want to be around me anymore), so last night I decided it was probably time to clean up a bit.  I got in the shower after dark.  The electricity had already gone out (it cuts at random times during the day), but the generator was working in my room, so I was using that light to see in the bathroom.  Unbeknownst to me, the generator also happens to shut off at random times during the day (making it somewhat useless?), and it just so happened to turn off while I was in the shower.  I did manage to get some of the dirt off me, but all I could think the entire time was…”Only in Nepal!”

Yesterday, my Nepalese friend took me to the market to do some shopping.  I had to pick up some fabric for my sewing training, so we went to a vendor I had purchased from a few days ago.  He knew who I was (I have only seen one other non-Asian in this city since I got here); nevertheless, he still tried to rip me off.  Now, I have been to Israel a couple of times, and Israelis are the world’s master barterers.  They apparently trained me well.  I sat and bartered, via my friend, with this Nepalese vendor for nearly ten minutes, but he finally gave into to the price I was asking.  Afterward, he was laughing and saying something over and over in Nepali to the vendors nearby who had been listening in.  I asked my friend what he was telling them, and she just smiled and said, “He is telling them what a clever girl you are.”

I got to help cook yesterday at the safe house!  Back home, I am a Food Network junkie, so I know my way around a kitchen.  However, cooking in another country is a bit different from preparing Rachel Ray’s cuisine.  For one, if you open any of the drawers in Nepal to get cooking utensils, you will get the utensil, along with a cockroach the size of your thumb and a few ants.  After a few minor freak-outs, I got over my disgust for the insects and figured that we could use some extra protein in our diet.  In Nepal, I have also figured out, after some confusion, that they have three meals: lunch, breakfast and dinner (in that order).  So at 3 pm, I helped prepare breakfast!  The name of what we prepared, I am unsure of, but it tasted something like Malt-O-Meal, which happens to be my all-time favorite breakfast (it’s actually manufactured in my home state of Minnesota, so perhaps that’s where my affection derives from).  While in the market, I had picked up some dried coconut, so we added that to the concoction.  If you have never tried it, dried coconut is one of the most fantastic things I have ever tasted!  I am not sure where to get it in the States, but I intend to find out when I go back home.

I have acquired three new positions at the safe house: pilates instructor, math teacher and cosmetologist!  The girls and I have been doing pilates every day, which they love!  They giggle the entire time and all groan that their muscles hurt.  Yesterday, I taught them how to flex their biceps and kiss each arm like Hulk Hogan!  We also worked on their addition, subtraction and multiplication yesterday.  It’s a bit difficult to teach the girls, as they are all at different levels of their education, but we started with the basics and used Cheese Puffs to help them learn how to count and do math (some of them ate the Cheese Puffs before we got started though, so that idea kind of backfired)!  The girls and I also put on a fashion show and modeled for pictures one afternoon.  They absolutely love getting dressed up and having me do their hair.  They have the most colorful clothes and make-up, and it was a lot of fun to get dolled up and do something girlie with them!

I am now off to sew the pants to my Nepalese outfit.  I finished sewing my sample punjabi, and now I get to make the life-size version.  I’ll let you know how it goes, but don’t expect great things!

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April 4, 2011

ABC…it’s easy as 123

By redthreadmovement

Rule Number Five (While in Asia): Don’t bare your sole in Nepal!

I found this little tidbit out on my previous trip to Nepal in January.  While in the United States, it is considered disrespectful to point your finger at someone, in Nepal, it is considered impolite to point the soles of your feet at another person, as they are an unclean part of your body.  I am constantly catching myself doing this though, so I am doing my best to keep both feet firmly planted on the ground!

I have begun to teach the girls here at the safe house English.  The office worker here, who is just one year older than me and speaks a fair amount of English, has become a quick friend, and she is helping me translate my lessons.  In college, I taught English to refugees, but I am still finding myself somewhat unprepared for this undertaking here in Nepal.  Nepali writing uses the Devanagari script rather than the Roman alphabet, so I began yesterday by simply teaching the girls the ABC’s and how to spell their names in English.

It’s amazing what you can do in foreign countries without a degree; it’s making me rethink all of my college tuition bills!  Not only am I now an English teacher, I am also the resident counselor for the safe house, a position I am particularly enjoying!  Using curriculum created specifically for women and youth seeking healing from abuse and sexual trauma, I led my first counseling session with the girls today!

We each drew a picture of our family members and shared about them.  The girls put a lot of effort into their pictures and each got up in front of the group to share her picture and what she had written about her family.  Most of them began by telling what each family member did (i.e. “my father is a farmer, my mother is a housewife and my younger brother is in Class One in school”).  Most would then end by saying how loving their family was.  There was one girl who told us that her father and brother were both working in India, which made me wonder if this is how she ended up in a situation of trafficking.  From what the girls shared, it does not appear that many, if any, of them came from abusive families, and, while not knowing their individual stories, I would guess that most of them were influenced toward going to India by the promise of a job, as having a job to support one’s family or living as a housewife is very important in this culture.

Counseling is not a common practice in Nepal, and since being here, I’ve recognized that the girls are very shy about sharing anything personal within the group setting.  So today, after each girl shared about her family, I told them about mine as well and a little bit more about myself, in hopes that they might feel more comfortable talking about their stories in the future.

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April 3, 2011

It’s a Jungle Out There

By redthreadmovement

Rule Number Four (While in Asia): Side effects of malaria medication are generally mild but may include vivid dreams and hallucinations, which are heightened by exposure to sunlight.

Before coming over here, I debated whether or not to take the medication.  I figured getting malaria might just be better than hallucinating; my doctor informed me otherwise.  I was not having too many problems with the medication until yesterday, when I spent about six hours in the Nepalese sun wearing jeans and a long-sleeve.  When I got back to the safe house, I felt incredibly nauseous and dizzy (most likely from dehydration), so I went to bed early.  All night I had the strangest and most vivid dreams of my life, and I woke up this morning not sure if those things had actually happened to me or not, because they seemed so real.  From now on, I plan to stay indoors as much as possible!

Despite the side effects of that six hours in the sun yesterday, I had a great time exploring the city that I am living in.  Church service is held on Saturday here, so, in the morning the girls and I got dolled up and walked over to the church building.  I was intending to dress up more than I did, as I didn’t think jeans would be appropriate, but the girls told me I could wear whatever I wanted, so, in the end, I opted for the jeans.  As we began walking, I was increasingly more thankful that I had worn those jeans.  No one had specified to me where the church was, so I had just assumed it would only be a few blocks from the safe house.  Not the case!  The church was, in fact, a few miles from the safe house, and the path to get there took us through a small river.  I have never appreciated a church service so much in my life, after what it took for us to get there.

I didn’t actually understand any of the church service, as it was all in Nepali.  At the beginning of the service, everyone began turning around to look at me, and I was extremely confused.  By this point, I am used to be gawked at on the streets, but I didn’t understand why so many people at church decided to gawk all at once!  As it turned out, the pastor had been introducing me to the congregation, and I hadn’t even realized it.  I spent most of the service simply observing my surroundings.  There were about 50 people in attendance.  The men all sat on the left side of the building, and the women all sat on the right.  The younger people sat closer to the pulpit, with the older congregation sitting in the back.  The majority of the worship involved singing, and to my surprise, the primitive church building was equipped with a drum set and guitar.  At the close of the service, everyone went around greeting one another by saying “Jai Mashi,” which means “I recognize the Spirit of the Lord within you.”

Following the church service, the girls and I went to what they considered a park and what I considered a near death experience!  At this “park,” were dozens of animals caged up in thin barbed wire pens.  By animals, I am referring to a leopard, Himalayan black bear, python, vulture, hyena and jackal.  Next to these cages, there were also rabbits and guinea pigs, which seemed to me an odd pairing.  Once I got over the initial shock of how dangerous the situation appeared to be, I was able to enjoy the experience of being so close to such exotic creatures.  There were also beautiful trees at the park, with leaves bigger than my face!  All of the trees’ trunks are painted with a white and red stripe.  I thought this was maybe a sealant to keep bugs from eating the tree, but the girls told me it was just for decoration.

Despite being sick, yesterday exposed me to a lot of Nepalese culture that I had not experienced before.  I am realizing more and more how beautiful this small country is!

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March 31, 2011

This Little Piggy Went to Market

By redthreadmovement

Rule Number Three (While in Asia): No forks.  No spoons.  Just your right hand.

It is easy to set the tables here, because no silverware is used.  For meals, you just eat everything with your right hand.  For those of you lefties out there, I apologize.  Using your left hand to eat is considered extremely unsanitary and somewhat offensive.  This is because your left hand typically replaces toilet paper!  I also found it interesting that the girls here only paint the fingernails on their left hand, as they do not want to contaminate their food when they eat.

Today, the girls and I went to the local market.  We got fancied up in our punjabis (the customary Nepali dress) and walked about twenty minutes to what Americans would consider a Farmer’s Market.  There were dozens of vendors sitting on the ground under blue tarps selling freshly grown vegetables and lots and lots of bananas (this is the fruit in season right now).  I tried two new drinks while I was there.  One was freshly squeezed bamboo juice, and it was fantastic!  I actually watched the vendor mulch the bamboo shoots to extract the juice.  The second was much less appealing.  In Nepal it is considered a “soda,” but after two sips, it was clear that the drink was merely carbonated water with lime juice and salt.  Not only did it taste awful, but drinking the water here is not a pleasant experience for foreigners, so I am expecting digestion problems in the near future.

I began sewing lessons today as well!  The girls at the safe house receive sewing training for two hours everyday, so that when they leave the safe house after 6-8 months, they have a trade that they can bring back to their villages.  In middle school, I dreamed of becoming a fashion designer, and I designed clothing day in and day out; however, I never actually learned how to make the clothes I designed.  So, I have decided to buckle down and learn how the make the traditional Nepali outfit!  We’ll see if I am actually able to wear any of my creations!

A few nights ago, the girls talked a lot about trafficking, and it was a great opportunity to educate them further on what trafficking is.  A staff member from the Nepalese organization operating the safe house had come to visit, and she had not met any of the girls currently at the safe house.  She asked the girls to introduce themselves, giving their name, their age, their education level and where they came from.  I learned so much from these introductions.  Most of the girls did not go too in-depth into their stories, as it was a public setting, but they did share enough for me to better understand their situations.  None of the girls here have been educated beyond the tenth grade level, and one of the girls only has a third grade education; she is 13 years old.  The majority of them left home because of poor or abusive family situations or poor financial situations, and they were stopped on the border before they went into India.  Although not all of them had previously encountered a trafficker when they were rescued, their intentions to travel alone to find work in India would most certainly have landed them in a brothel.  Because of this, not all of the girls here understood all that trafficking entails and the realities of  sexual exploitation and of the brothels, so we had a time of educating them on what we learned in Mumbai about sex trafficking, what happens to the majority of Nepalese girls leaving Nepal for India on their own and how they can educate their villages and protect themselves from further exploitative situations when they go back home.

I am thankful that some of the girls here were rescued before they encountered sexual abuse, but that has not been the case for all of the girls.  Some of them were forced by their families to marry men that secretly had intentions to traffick them after marriage; this is becoming prevalent in situations of sex trafficking.  And there have also been girls that have come to the safe house pregnant.

I am learning more and more about just how vast human trafficking is.  There is no cookie-cutter trafficker, and that makes it an extremely difficult injustice to both prevent and stop.  Parents traffick their children, husbands traffick their wives, employers traffick their workers into brothels and the list continues.  This is why education pertaining to sex trafficking is so important, so that the girls themselves are aware of what trafficking entails, so that families and communities learn to respect and value women, protecting them from the realities of what is occurring in their midst, and so that women are no longer viewed as a commodity to be exploited.

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March 30, 2011

Brothels 101

By redthreadmovement

Rule Number Two (While in Asia): It is not customary to say “thank you” every time someone serves you or pays you a compliment.

My first day at the safe house, one of the few words in my Nepali vocabulary was dhanyabahd, Nepali for “thank you.”  In an effort to impress the girls here with my new word, I used it at every opportune moment!  It seemed natural to me, but according to my Nepalese friends, Americans overuse this phrase, and I am now laughed at whenever I say the word dhanyabahd!

Due to a lack of electricity and internet availability, I was unable to write in detail about my time in India.  However, visiting the brothels in Mumbai was a life-changing experience that not many people have the opportunity to encounter, and, as much as I can, I want to give you the clearest picture of what it was like.

A brothel is a building.  So when I say that we visited the brothels, picture a small community of buildings in a run-down area of town.  We visited only two of these brothel areas, with one being primarily worked by Nepalese girls, but there are many in Mumbai.  As these areas do not become active until the evening, we went around sundown, when most of the girls are sitting outside of their “shops.”  The streets in these areas were dirty, with ducks and cows roaming about and cars and people traveling by.  In a certain sense, the whole setting seemed natural and not out of the norm; as we stood beside the brothels, people were walking by us acting as if nothing were wrong or out of the ordinary,which to some extent is true; brothels in Mumbai are not out of the ordinary.  It was just altogether an eerie and dark atmosphere, as we saw dozens of girls sitting alongside the streets, their faces caked in brightly colored make-up.

There was one instance where we lingered in the street long enough to arouse suspicion, and an older man appeared from inside one of the brothels that appeared to be a pimp.  Apart from that, the only pimps I encountered were, ironically, in my opinion, women.

As far as I can gather, the majority of the clients visiting the brothels in Mumbai are tourists, with many coming from Germany and the continent of Africa.  However, Indian men also frequent the brothels, especially before marriage, as Indian women are expected to keep their virginity until married.

Here were the reactions of some of the Nepalese staff after visiting the brothels:

“I was very sad in the brothels.  I called home the night we visited them and told my wife that we must care for our daughter as much as our son and not discriminate based upon gender (it is common to favor the son in Nepalese culture; girls are typically seen as someone’s property).  I saw my daughter in the position of those girls in the brothels, and I felt like crying.”

“I worried about the children I saw in the brothels.  What will be their future and security?”  (Likely the boys will grow up to become pimps or traffickers and the girls will become prostitutes).

“I’m free, but they’re in captivity.  We are all human beings, but I am exercising my rights, and they are deprived.”

“I have a question in my heart: There are many organizations working to end the trafficking of Nepalese girls, but why are there still 20,000 of these girls in bondage in one area (that which we visited)?  Despite this, I am still saving girls on the border; my focus is on each girl individually.”

I was once told that you have to understand the larger problem to be effective at what you’re doing to solve the issue on an individual level.  Human trafficking is occurring internationally.  One person is not going to change that.  You are not responsible for the whole thing that seems impossible, but you are responsible for what you see and what you know.  Therefore, if we understand the problem of trafficking at large, we will be most effective at working in our communities to solve it where we encounter it, and together, across the world, we will create change!

“Whatever you do will not be enough, but it matters enormously that you do it.” -Gandhi

p.s. the girls taught me how to make a Red Thread bracelet today!

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March 29, 2011

Namaste, Nepal

By redthreadmovement

Rule Number One (While in Asia): When women wear matching toe rings it means that they are married.

I was not aware of the meaning of this “fashion trend” when I bought my toe rings in India.  When I put them on, I got a few strange looks from the people traveling with me (who know I am not married), and then someone finally explained to me the symbolism.  I chose to continue wearing them in Mumbai to ward off the shameless Indian male paparazzi that kept insisting that I be in their photos.

“Welcome to Nepal!”  This is what the red and yellow arch greeting me at the border read.  After two solid days in moving vehicles, I have finally arrived back at the safe house!  I must say, the journey across India by train will go down as one of my fondest memories to date.  One of my favorite movies is Slumdog Millionaire, and the Indian train scenes in that film made me a bit nervous to get onboard with this mode of transportation; I half expected all of my belongings to be gone by the end of the trip.  While the train ride, thankfully, did not live up to this expectation, it came through on all the others I had: the bathrooms were a hole in the floor (and on a moving train, need I say more), the bunk beds we slept on were stacked three high (being 5’ 8,’’ my feet stuck out the end) and I danced and sang the hours away with my Nepalese friends to their cultural songs (I taught them a few Justin Bieber songs too; they had never heard of him).  I am now convinced that the only way to travel is by rail.

I just moved into the safe house tonight!  It was the sweetest welcome; on my way in, I was greeted in the street by two of the girls I had previously met in January.  I was so excited to see them again, and I am so blessed to spend the next month with all of these beautiful girls.  Stepping into the safe house truly felt like coming home; it is such a place of joy and warmth.

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March 25, 2011

From the Brothels to the Border

By redthreadmovement

Getting ready to leave India and take a 36 hour train ride to Nepal! I have heard that the train is fitted with bunk beds that we will sleep on during the trip. This should be a most interesting experience, as I am about one foot taller than any Nepalese person! I will not have internet for a few days, but I will write more once I am at the safe house.

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March 24, 2011

CNN Freedom Project

By redthreadmovement

Check out CNN Freedom Project, and comment on Red Thread Movement in Bombay Brothels!

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March 23, 2011

Bombay Brothels

By redthreadmovement

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed and justice never goes forth. – Habakkuk 1: 2-4

Yesterday, I visited one of the Red Light Districts in Bombay, India. In this one district, there are 20,000 Nepalese women and girls in bondage to sexual slavery.

By the age of 16, 60 percent of the girls in this District have contracted HIV.

Within three years of being trafficked to the brothels, these women and girls abandon all hope of freedom and sadly embrace this way of life as their ‘karma.’

In January of this year, I stood on the border between India and Nepal. As I watched the masses of people going back and forth at the border stations, I knew that on a daily basis traffickers were taking Nepalese women and girls into India to sell them to brothels.

However, it is one thing to know something, but it is an entirely different thing to see the reality of what you know staring you in the face.

Upon entering this Red Light District, it was immediately evident that the women and girls working at the brothels were Nepalese. I am in India with Eternal Threads’ Founder and one of its Board Members and the staff from the Nepalese organization the Red Thread Movement partners with. Watching the Nepalese staff’s reaction to the brothels enslaving their own people was heart-wrenching. Having, myself, seen numerous documentaries and movies related to trafficking and modern-day slavery, I had expectations of what the brothels here would be like, but the staff had nothing to prepare them for what they saw.

At one point, we visited a day care center in this particular Red Light District. The day care provides a safe place for the children of the women and girls working in the brothels to go while their mothers are servicing clients. The day care center was in what was once a brothel house, and the metal rods that used to hold the curtain room partitions were still intact. The room was only about 10 X 16 feet, but the beams indicated that seven women had serviced clients in that one small space. We were told that before the day care center was established, the children would play under the beds in that room, while their mothers worked.

It is stories like these that make me wonder if there is any humanity left in the world.

However, seeing the Nepalese staff react with such pain, coupled with intense compassion, for these girls, their own people, reminded me that there is still good in this world. There is still a spirit of hope and determination spurred on by love, even in the darkest places. I was reminded too of the girls at the safe house in Nepal and how truly privileged they are that this Nepalese staff I am here with in India stands and keeps watch on the border between Nepal and India to rescue girls like them from the brothels we have seen!

‘”Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.” I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me.’ – Habakkuk 1:5; 2:1

Honors Students Present at National Convention of Alpha Chi Honor Society

by   |  04.25.11  |  Uncategorized

Eight ACU students and two faculty sponsors represented the ACU Texas Psi chapter at the bi-annual National Convention of Alpha Chi Honor Society (national college and university honor society), March 31-April 2 in San Diego.  The convention, attended by 450 students, featured scholarly, creative, and artistic presentations by more than 260 students.  Alpha Chi has some 300 chapters in 45 states and the District of Columbia.  Members are selected from the top 10% of juniors, seniors and graduate students in all academic fields.  The ACU Texas Psi chapter is one of the association’s oldest chapters, joining the organization in 1922, Alpha Chi’s inaugural year.

Three ACU Honors College students presented their undergraduate research as papers or posters at the convention:  junior Nutrition major Monica Parodi of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and junior English majors Elizabeth Bernhardt of Pearland and Kaleigh Wyrick of The Woodlands.

Parodi’s poster presentation was titled “Nutrition Problems in Villages in Togo, West Africa.  Literature session presenters included Wyrick, “Plotting Resistance: Mothers and Daughters in American Literature” and Bernhardt “Shining Armor and a World of Shadows: Arthurian Legend in BBC’s Merlin.” Also attending the convention were Dr. Mikee Delony, assistant professor of English, the chapter’s voting faculty delegate and content judge and Dr. Lynette Austin, assistant professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders, chapter co-sponsor.

In February, the Alpha Chi Honor Society held a candlelit induction ceremony in Chapel on the Hill.  Prepared and hosted by current Alpha Chi officers, the ceremony officially recognized our current officer team and formally inducted 55 of the 179 newly registered members of the Texas Psi chapter.  ACU Provost, Dr. Jeanine Varner, the featured speaker, challenged new members to continue their pursuit of excellence and scholarship.

Dr. Stephenson Attends Washington D.C. Conference

by   |  04.21.11  |  Uncategorized

To supplement what Josh has been blogging about the trip to Washington, DC, as part of the Council on Undergraduate Research’s “Posters on the Hill” event, I thought I would give some of my impressions.

First of all, I would like to say that this event was one of the finest I have attended in a while. The presentations—both by the students and the keynote speakers—were top notch, and everything was well organized. The CUR did a good job facilitating visits with our congressional representatives, and generally it was a very pleasant trip.

I don’t want to duplicate everything Josh has already mentioned, but I would like to add a bit to his description of the luncheon event on Wednesday, April 13. The fourteen students whose posters were on topics in the humanities presented their work, and it was very nice to have such a small group. (The evening event for science posters had sixty posters.) Everyone at the luncheon was able to spend plenty of time at the posters they wanted to visit without feeling crowded or rushed. Josh is too modest to admit it, but his poster was especially popular, with many people stopping by to hear his explanation of his research. It was also one of the first posters the CUR filmed, since they wanted to make sure they had it on record.

The speech at the luncheon by Dr. John Churchill (Ph.D. from Yale, by the way), the executive secretary of the national Phi Beta Kappa, was a highlight of the trip. Dr. Churchill challenged the popular idea that we can’t afford to fund the humanities, basically saying that we must have the humanities to have a civil society. As he summed it up near the end of his speech, “Critical thinking, sympathetic imagination, contribution to the survival of the experiment of popular democracy, the exultation of the human spirit:  that’s what’s at stake in the humanities.” I was sitting next to a congressional staffer from California, who afterwards told me that he and his boss were on board to continue funding for educational programs.

The visit to Washington was especially fun for me, since I had worked on Capitol Hill when I was about Josh’s age for a senator from my home state, the Hon. John C. “Jack” Danforth (M.Div. and J.D. from Yale, by the way). (If you are old enough, you may remember that Danforth, an ordained Episcopal minister, presided at President Reagan’s funeral.) Though a few things have changed—such as much tighter security to enter all the buildings—it was remarkable how much I remembered about how to get around and the way things worked in Washington.

I submit this picture as evidence that I once was skinny.
I will make it a priority to see that our Honors College students submit proposals to CUR’s “Posters on the Hill” event in the future. It was definitely a highlight of the year for me, as well as a prestigious honor for Josh.

Update From Washington D.C. Conference

by   |  04.15.11  |  Honors Events, Honors Student Achievements

On Wednesday, Dr. Stephenson and I met with staff members from the offices of Senator Hutchison and Representative Naugebauer to talk about the importance of undergraduate research. We also took a picture with Rep. Naugebauer and were able to set up an appointment for coffee with Sen. Hutchison on Thursday morning.

I presented my poster on the use and misuse of literally at the Arts & Humanities luncheon, and the Council on Undergraduate Reasearch videotaped my explanation of the project for their publicity materials. Four students with separate projects focusing on the preservation of historical documents were chosen to present their research as part of a panel during the luncheon, and Dr. John Churchill gave a rousing speech about the importance of humanities for our education system and our nation as a whole.

While I had a great time talking about my project to those who walked by, I also enjoyed hearing about the reasearch other students had done. Kendra Van Nyhuis, who set up her poster next to mine, had created a simple, yet comprehensive guide to help a local museum catalog various types of Asian bamboo flutes. Sada Hotovy, whom I had met the day before during the student field trip, worked on the transcription and annotation of poet Carl Sandburg’s notebooks, which up until now have only been seen by a handful of researchers. Another student I met on the filed trip, Mary Caulfield, presented on her work with ancient Latin translations of the writings of Josephus. She was great to have on the field trip to the Folger Shakespeare Library because she was able to translate portions of the Latin text of the Nuremberg Chronicle for the rest of us! We had a wonderful conversations about our projects last night, and she was delighted to find that I knew who Josephus was and understood a little about textual criticism.

Conferences like this are a great opportunity to share your research with an interested audience and meet other students who share your passion for knowledge. This has been a rich experience so far, and I hope that more ACU students will submit their projects to Posters on the Hill and similar academic events in the future.

ACU Honors College Students Present at Regional Honors Conference

by   |  04.14.11  |  Honors Events, Honors Student Achievements

Five ACU Honors College students presented their research at the Great Plains Honors Council’s annual conference April 1st and 2nd in Arlington, Texas. Honors programs from over twenty institutions from five states were represented. The conference began Friday with an opening dinner and an address by Dr. Roy Hawthorne, a Navajo code talker during World War II, followed by a visit to the poster presentations.

On Saturday, the five ACU students presented their papers, starting with Amber Deschamps, senior biology major from Liberty Hill, Texas, who presented research on genetic diversity among populations of a species of shrimp that lives on the Texas coast. Greg Jeffers, junior English major from Sugarland, spoke about female characters struggling against oppression in American literature, while Amanda Arzigian, junior History major from Edgewood, New Mexico, spoke about her experience in managing collections during internships at two different institutions. Amanda Goodall, junior communications major from North Richland Hills, Texas, presented a rhetorical analysis of the reality television show The Bachelor, while Meghan Clark, junior political science major from Olney, Texas, spoke about the important role women are playing in Turkish politics. “Presenting the paper challenged me to make sure that I could clearly explain my research to people who weren’t familiar with my topic,” said Clark. “It also gave me a chance to get feedback from people who don’t know me and can therefore be completely objective when evaluating my research.” Dr. Joe Stephenson, interim dean of the Honors College, and Dr. Chris Willerton accompanied the students to Arlington, each presiding at one of the paper presentation sessions.

After the paper presentations, Dr. Mary Vacarro, professor of art history at University of Texas-Arlington, spoke at lunch about a painting that has recently been determined to be the earliest surviving work of Michelangelo. Conference participants were then able to view that painting, recently acquired by the Kimball, during a field study trip to the Fort Worth museum district. “Exploring the Fort Worth Museum district was a highlight of the conference,” said Amanda Arzigian. “Dr. Vacarro’s presentation helped me to appreciate the great art and architecture I was seeing in a new and more engaged manner.” Students were able to walk between the Kimball, the Modern, and the Amon Carter Museum of American art.

The closing dinner on Saturday featured remarks and an engaging question and answer session with Dennis Maher, a noted Mark Twain impersonator. “Mr. Twain” took questions from Dr. Stephenson on his friendship with his next-door neighbor Harriet Beecher Stowe and from Amber Deschamps on the meaning of life. “Attending and presenting at GPHC was a very positive experience,” said Arzigian.  “I received constructive feedback on my presentation and greatly enjoyed listening to other presenters and participating in conference activities.”

PRESENTERS AND TITLES:

Amanda Arzigian: “Rocks, Papers, and Sometimes Scissors: The Challenges of Collections Management”

Meghan Clark: “The Role of Women in Turkish Politics and Development”

Amber Deschamps: “Population Genetic Study of the Ghost Shrimp Callichirus islagrande

Amanda Goodall: “For the Love of Love: A Rhetorical Analysis of The Bachelor

Greg Jeffers: “Oppression and Rebellion in American Novels: A Political/Philosophical

Reading”

Honors student Josh Alkire presents at conference in Washington, D.C.

by   |  04.13.11  |  Honors Student Achievements, Uncategorized

Today Dr. Stephenson and I arrived in Washington, D. C. for the Posters on the Hill event sponsored by the Council on Undergraduate Research. After checking into our hotel, I sped off to catch my student field trip to the Folger Shakespeare Library. While the outside of this library is covered in white marble like many other sites in Washington, D. C., the inside is straight out of Tudor England. After a brief look at the timber beams, leaded stained glass, and historic paintings within the great hall and reading rooms, our guide led us into a private room where several of her favorite books from the collection had been carefully set out on wedges of foam. We weren’t allowed to touch the centuries-old editions, but our guide carefully turned the pages to show us illustrations and notes that previous owners had written in the margins.

The oldest book she showed us was a copy of the 1493 Nuremberg Chronicle, which is still in its original binding. This illustrated history begins at the beginning of history with God’s creation of the universe and ends at the end with Judgment Day and eternal paradise. Between the sixth and seventh ages of man, it even includes a few blank pages for the history that has not yet been written.

After leafing slowly through the pages, we took a look at an astronomy textbook, a treatise on fireworks, a scholarly edition of Aesop’s fables, and finally, a copy of the 1663 Third Folio of Shakespeare’s works. Although this library is well known for its large collection of 79 copies of the more important First Folio, our guide chose to show us this particular copy of the Third Folio because one of its previous owners had make some saucy British comments in the margins. On the title page, which lauded the inclusion of 7 new plays (6 of which were almost certainly not actually written by Shakespeare), the owner had written, “These are some ways, in some places like a play, but alas! Not Shakespeare.”

After the field trip, Dr. Stephenson and I went to the evening orientation session where we were given tips for conducting our meetings with senators and representatives tomorrow, and I was awarded a certificate for my acceptance to the event. Tomorrow will be a busy day of poster presentations and meetings with congressional representatives.

Abilene Newspaper Reports on ACU Honors Students and Red Thread Movement

by   |  04.11.11  |  Uncategorized

http://www.reporternews.com/news/2011/apr/09/abilene-christian-university-students-create-red/