We are delighted to feature below a wonderful article written by Melissa Histon on her return home after filming the 3 Angels Nepal documentary ‘Latitude’ in Nepal in March 2014. This article is also featured on the Sista Code.
“I would really like to thank all those people who have taken the time to show support for the 3 Angels Nepal project and trip that I participated in recently. After travelling to Nepal and learning more about the terrible issue of sex-trafficking of women and girls, it is just so heartening to know that so many people care about this issue, want to know more and how they can help!
I returned from Nepal about three weeks ago now and I’ve tried many times to write about the journey; but I keep struggling to process my thoughts and feelings about the whole experience.
When I arrived home, I was so happy to see my husband, Craig, and our kids. I also felt a bit disconnected. My head was still back in Nepal with the boys and girls from the childrens’ homes, the rescued girls at the Safe Haven home and the dedicated 3 Angels Nepal staff and volunteers.
I went to Nepal with fellow Novocastrians Belinda Bow (3 Angels Nepal Ambassador/Green Chilli Marketing), Robyn Raymond (3 Angels Nepal Ambassador) and Daniel Bracken (Native Media). My job was to do the still photography for a documentary they are making about the sex-trafficking of Nepali women to India and the amazing work of 3 Angels Nepal.
Since coming home I feel guilty and helpless.
I have seen and heard women tell their stories of being sold or kidnapped, tortured, raped and put into giant Indian brothels for a life of sex-slavery. But unlike those girls, I get to come home to Australia where I have a loving family and a good and comfortable life. I know women and children are suffering, I have to do more. I have to … how can I not?
I feel gratitude to live in such a wonderful country! Even though we see political disagreement and fighting daily in the news and on social media, Australia has a government system and services that provide us with education, healthcare, clean water, freedom of speech, transportation, and welfare services. We are so lucky!! I have seen an alternative and it’s not great!
Our trip to Nepal was an amazing, life-changing experience. I saw both the best and worst of human nature. During our two week journey, I was horrified and inspired, repelled and entranced, felt helpless and empowered.
We began our journey with a quick stay in Kathmandu before heading out west to Dhangadhi. This region is on the border between Nepal and India and is a prime region for traffickers to smuggle Nepali girls over the border to India. On arriving in the region we met up with a team from 3 Angels Nepal,including Rajendra Gautam, its fearless leader.
About 27 years ago, Rajendra was an orphan child living in a remote village. He was fortunate enough to be sponsored via Asian Aid Australia and was taken to India for a better life and education. Fifteen years later that same orphan boy, after completing his education, returned to Nepal with a vision of helping other orphans and further wanted to fight against human slavery. I found his calm, compassionate nature, his intellect and his addresses to the lower castes about their human rights to be truly inspirational. This is a man making the world a better place and I feel honoured to have spent time with him and seen the life-changing work he does. Just like Martin Luther King, he has a dream!
We spent the good part of the first week in the Dhangadhi region, working 12 hour days and visiting numerous border crossings, half-way houses for rescued girls, a womens’ prison and remote communities belonging to Nepali slave castes and the poorest of the poor. In this region, there are no tourists, just local Nepali people going about their day. The Nepali people are certainly curious, friendly and kind.
One particular highlight was visiting a remote Badi community (Badi is the lowest Nepali caste). It was a three-hour drive and seemed like we were driving to the middle of nowhere. I loved the drive, though, travelling through fields of pretty mauve wildflowers and trees – it was just beautiful! We even drove through a national park where tigers roam freely in the wild (I was hoping we would see one but alas.) I knew that we had arrived when we came upon a series of small mud huts on the side of the road.
We were greeted by a barrage of cute but scruffily dressed little kids. They were very happy to see us, especially when we brought out a big container of lollies for them!
3 Angels Nepal field workers visit this community regularly. The organisation has rescued and rehabilitated a number of girls from the community who were sold and trafficked. The girls have since returned home, educated and with new skills, such as sewing, so they have the ability to make an income for themselves.
After participating in the Badi community’s church service, we got to work. Belinda and Daniel went into one of the huts to interview some rescued girls who wanted to share their stories of being taken to India where they were beaten, some drugged, and then locked in cages or cells at one of the Indian brothels.
While this was happening, I set off to take still photos of the community and it’s people. The children especially loved having their photos taken. I don’t think they had seen their own image before and were just delighted when I showed them the back of my camera with their photo. It was a heart-warming, funny experience seeing how happy and excited the children were (actually some of the parents were excited too).
Robyn had brought along a Polaroid camera with lots of film to take photos of the children to give to them. This pretty much started a riot. The kids were desperate to have a photo and soon we had children hitting and barging us to get our attention. It was an extraordinary experience – in our modern world of iphones and ‘selfies’ having our photo taken is not a big deal. But in the world of a Badi child who lives in donated clothes (many rags), in a mud hut, often goes without food and receives no presents or special ‘niceties’, this was such a special treat – a polaroid photo!
The second week we spent in central Nepal at Pokhara. As opposed to the remote, rural areas of Dhangadhi, Pokhara is a tourist town – the gateway to the Annapurna ranges and filled with foreigners coming to trek in the region.
Pokhara is ‘home base’ for 3 Angels Nepal and where the 3 Angels Safe Haven home, Boys Home, Mission School, Water Service and Radio Station is located. We spent our time in Pokhara visiting, filming and photographing these services, meeting the children, students, house parents and 3 Angels staff.
A little side story is that as a predominately Hindu country, many Nepali people worship the Cow. It is a 20-year jail term if you kill a cow. As such, cows roam freely everywhere – and I mean everywhere! They seem to run the show, which is very sad when you consider that the cow is worshipped and women and children are sold into sex-slavery. It doesn’t make sense!!!
Interviewing the Safe Haven girls was particularly harrowing for Belinda and Daniel. These are girls who have been rescued from sex-slavery in India and returned to Nepal. They are rescued in many ways, but often by other Nepalese people that help them escape, give them money, and put them on a bus back to India. Once back in Nepal, they are looked after in a 3 Angels Transit House or the Safe Haven home. There are about 40 girls at the Safe Haven home currently and their stories are devastating.
One afternoon I was outside photographing some of the girls in the garden when I heard the most horrendous wailing of despair coming from one of the girls in the house. Next thing, Daniel (who had been filming) burst out of the backdoor in tears. He kept saying,’ how can someone do that to a girl?’, ‘how can people do that to each other?’
That is what we asked ourselves everyday we were in Nepal. How can people treat others so badly, not even badly, horrendously? Physically torturing girls, raping them, keeping them in cages? Holding them against their will? I don’t understand it and it makes me so sad.
One thing that was very heartening, though, is seeing the difference sponsoring a child can make.
Three of the men that I travelled with from 3 Angels Nepal were orphaned children – Rajendra, Madem and Prahbit. They were sponsored, though, and therefore received an education. Rajendra has a Doctorate, Madem is an accountant and Prahbit an Adminstrator. I saw these three men speak to the poor communities about their human rights, try to educate them about traffickers, and speak to men about how they should treat their wives and daughters.
Many people have been sponsoring children for years and I want you to know I have seen what a massive difference it makes to the lives of these people and the world by sponsoring children. My husband, Craig, and I will be sponsoring children ourselves.
I have also started working on another project that I will be announcing soon that I hope will help make a small difference and play some small part in making the world a better place. (This was The Sista Code – yay!!)
Thank you again for your interest in this project and your support. Together, we are all a part of something bigger than ourselves!”
Namaste. Belinda x