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Spreading the word about a true hero

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There aren't enough words to describe the kind of respect and adoration Boston-based couple, Brigitte and Joseph Collins, feel for activist and CNN Hero of the Year, Anuradha Koirala.

The pair, who had long been committed to volunteer work in Nepal, saw their lives change forever when they were first introduced to Ms Koirala in the late 1990s.

A former schoolteacher in Kathmandu, the humanitarian founded the non-governmental organisation Maiti Nepal, with the aim of providing women and children who were victims of sex trafficking, prostitution and child labour with rehabilitation services and the chance at a brighter future. Ms Koirala has since rescued more than 16,000 girls from sex trafficking and won 30 national and international awards in recognition of her courageous acts.

She will be on Island next Tuesday, speaking at an event at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute (BUEI), hosted by the Women's Resource Centre.

Mr and Mrs Collins, founders of the fundraising arm of the organisation called Friends of Maiti Nepal, will also be on Island for the event.

Speaking with The Royal Gazette about how they met the Nepalese hero, Mrs Collins said: “I came across Anuradha through Nepalese friends and when we met I said ‘How can we help you?'. Her response was ‘Tell the world about our girls'. So, Joe and I got started on this voyage of doing that.”

The Collins have spent the past 14 years gathering funds and resources from the Western World that will assist Maiti Nepal in its battle to stop sex trafficking in the region.

It often proves to be challenging work, but the Collins' say it has also been extremely rewarding.

Mrs Collins said: “For me the most rewarding thing is to know that in spite of the sadness in the world, by the time we go to bed one to five girls may have been rescued that night.

“That's what I try to focus on in the face of all these young girls who will be sleeping in the brothels in India.”

Her husband said what motivated him to continue this work was seeing the scores of girls and women repaired and healed after enduring such hardship.

“Some of them are dying of AIDS and we do what we can to make that as comfortable as possible,” Mr Collins said. “But for the ones that survive we can also see the outstanding transformation many of them have. It gives you a little bit of hope.”

He said the girls showed such a strong will to survive and also desired to make a difference in the lives of other victims.

“Some of the girls we rescue stay at Maiti Nepal and work on various things,” Mr Collins said. “And if you would dare to ask them ‘Why do you work so hard and stay here to fight this?' They say ‘I am working to save my sisters.'

“What we have seen is there is a tremendous bonding and care about each other, as you can imagine if you shared this atrocious experience with someone else. It's also part of the rehabilitation process for them to bond with others and it builds trust.”

Maiti Nepal has created transit homes where women can stay until they are able to return to their families.

Those who are not accepted back by their parents can receive services at Maiti Nepal's Rehabilitation Centre until they are able to live independently. Some find work in the hospitality industry or in areas like gardening or massage, but they may also experience discrimination as women in that society.

Maiti Nepal also works patrolling the India-Nepal border and the Tibetan China border with police and other law enforcement authorities; in addition they partner with other authorities to rescue trafficked women from the brothels in India.

Although some have gained worldwide recognition for their work in combating trafficking, Mrs Collins said those people “at the bottom” working with the victims and survivors are also unsung heroes.

“They may not ever have their pictures taken and be told how wonderful they are, but they bring awareness about sex trafficking into the villages and rescue girls every day,” she added.

Friends of Maiti Nepal is constantly challenged in its work. On one hand the organisation is working to bring recognition to “this evil activity” happening all over the world; while on the other hand they look to educate the public about their fundraising efforts so they can continue to impact these girl's lives.

“We want to do a good job because we work for these girls and if you don't look at it like that you won't fight as hard. I need to know I am doing everything I can to educate the public and help those girls get back on their feet,” Mr Collins said.

His wife said donors typically wanted to give to some of their big overhead costs, but it often proved difficult to raise money for other things like toiletries and sanitary pads for the girls.

The Collins encouraged people to come to next week's special event in Bermuda with Ms Koirala to learn more about the organisation. They hope residents will be emotionally impacted by what they hear and feel led to give whatever they can to Maiti Nepal.

“One dollar goes a long way in Nepal,” Mr Collins said. “We have donors who constantly say they can only give a small amount, for instance $10, but I tell them it probably only costs a few rupees to feed one of the girls for a day, so thank you.”

To attend the event and hear Ms Koirala speak, purchase tickets, $25, online at www.ptix.bm or by contacting organiser John Singleton at 333-0870.

Brigitte and Joseph Collins, the founders of Friends of Maiti Nepal, which provides resources to anti-sex trafficking organisation Maiti Nepal. The couple is pictured at a recent celebration honouring the group's 20th Anniversary, after the organisation was founded by Nepal's Anuradha Koirala in 1993. Ms Koirala, honoured as a CNN Hero of the Year Award Winner, will be on Island next week to talk about her extraordinary efforts saving girls from sex trafficking, domestic violence and child labour.
Brigitte and Joseph Collins, the founders of Friends of Maiti Nepal, which provides resources to anti-sex trafficking organisation Maiti Nepal. The couple is pictured at a recent celebration honouring the group's 20th Anniversary, after the organisation was founded by Nepal's Anuradha Koirala in 1993. Ms Koirala, honoured as a CNN Hero of the Year Award Winner, will be on Island next week to talk about her extraordinary efforts saving girls from sex trafficking, domestic violence and child labour.
Brigitte and Joseph Collins, the founders of Friends of Maiti Nepal, which provides resources to anti-sex trafficking organisation Maiti Nepal. The couple is pictured at a recent celebration honouring the group's 20th Anniversary, after the organisation was founded by Nepal's Anuradha Koirala in 1993. Ms Koirala, honoured as a CNN Hero of the Year Award Winner, will be on Island next week to talk about her extraordinary efforts saving girls from sex trafficking, domestic violence and child labour.
Activist: Anuradha Koirala, the founder of Maiti Nepal, will be on Island next Tuesday talking about her work fighting to protect Nepali women from crimes like sex trafficking and child labour. Here she is pictured with Bermuda resident John Singleton, who has helped to organise the talk on Island.
<p>Sex stats are truly startling</p>

The statistics on sex trafficking in Nepal are startling.

An estimated 10,000 to 15,000 Nepali women and girls are trafficked into India annually, while another 7,500 children are trafficked domestically for commercial sexual exploitation.

And while some will hear the numbers and think there is no hope, one woman — world renowned activist, lecturer and CNN Hero of the Year Award winner Anuradha Koirala — is fighting to combat the problem.

Ms Koirala, the founder and director of Maiti Nepal, will be on Island for a special presentation at Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute on Tuesday (October 29) at 6.30pm. The event is being hosted by the Women’s Resource Centre.

She has rescued more than 16,000 girls from sex trafficking. In one week alone recently, eleven girls were saved from traffickers and brought to safety at Maiti Nepal.

The organisation has built transit homes where women can stay until they are able to return to their families.

For those not accepted back by their parents, they can receive services at Maiti Nepal’s Rehabilitation Centre until they are able to live independently.

The organisation also works patrolling the India-Nepal border and the Tibetan China border, along with police and other law enforcement authorities.

Volunteers also try to rescue trafficked women from the brothels in India, with the help of the authorities.

John Singleton, who is organising the local event, said Ms Koirala was much respected for her “innovative and powerful” anti-trafficking work around the world.

He admitted he was “thrilled” to bring her down to the Island, so residents could hear her powerful and inspirational story.

“I have been extremely fortunate to visit some of the remotest villages in the Himalayas on the border of Tibet with this brave and courageous woman,” Mr Singleton said.

“She is often called the ‘Mother Teresa of South Asia’ and is the worldwide symbol against sex trafficking.

“I have been a strong supporter of Maiti Nepal and their heroic work for the past few years, and that is why I want Bermuda to hear her story. She is an icon and indeed she is my inspiration.”

The special event will kick off at BUEI with a cocktail reception at 6pm, followed by a presentation at 6.30pm. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased through www.ptix.bm or by contacting Mr Singleton at 333-0870.

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Published October 24, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated October 24, 2013 at 10:38 am)

Spreading the word about a true hero

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