Shakti Samuha. Katmandu, Nepal
Shakti Samuha empowers trafficking survivors to lead a dignified life in society. It is the first organization in Nepal established and run by trafficking survivors. In 1996, 500 girls and women were rescued from slavery in Indian brothels during widespread police raids. Among these, 128 were Nepalese girls and women. These women were locked away in detention homes in India, where conditions were as bad as – if not worse – than prison. The Nepalese government was reluctant to bring the women back to Nepal, claiming they would bring HIV into the country with them. In the absence of government support, several NGOs took the lead in returning and rehabilitating the girls. Sadly, even in these rehabilitation centers, the women’s treatment did not help to restore their self-esteem and basic human rights. It was only after months had passed and the women were informed of their rights that they realized they were not to blame for being trafficked. The women felt it was time to claim their rights, so they set up Shakti Samuha. Since 1996, they have provided shelter, legal aid, vocational training and counseling to returning trafficking survivors. They have also set up centers in the area’s poorest communities to educate girls about the dangers of trafficking and are working to take a united stand against traffickers.
In 2016, Design Studies Professor Jennifer Angus co-led a UW-Madison Global Health Study Abroad field course to Nepal where she was introduced to Shakti Samuha’s founder. Professor Angus shared information about UW’s collaborations with global artisans and expressed an interest in working with their organization. This led to a partnership that has helped trafficking survivors learn job skills and build self –esteem while generating hundreds of dollars in income.
Shakti Samuha and other artisan groups. Through this shared experience, artisans develop new and more marketable products that generate much needed income, while students learn cross cultural collaboration skills and become global citizens.
The Tharu people have traditionally lived in the lowlands of Nepal near the Indian border. Women make sturdy and colorful baskets based on traditional wedding baskets. Birendra Mahato, director of the nearby Tharu Cultural Museum has initiated the Women’s Skill Center to support their efforts. Professor Jennifer Angus began work with the group in 2016, connecting them with the Association of Craft Producers, Nepal’s oldest and largest fair trade organization.