Over the years since its formation, Adara Development (formerly The ISIS Foundation) has played a pivotal role in strengthening some of Nepal’s poorest districts – and the success of the Yalbang School stands as a shining example of this transformation. But beyond this, the group has worked tirelessly to transform life on a much deeper, darker scale.
Thread Publishing speaks to Susan Biggs, the Chief Executive Officer of Adara Development, to discover the positive steps Adara has taken to put an end to child trafficking, and the bright future it now offers to the children once at its centre.
During the 10 years of civil unrest that rocked Nepal, the Humla region where Adara Development worked was one of the epicenters of the conflict. The Maoist force would go door-to-door, asking families to give up one of their children to the war effort. Families were terrified they would hear that knock and would be forced to give up their eldest son as a child soldier.
During this time, there were few opportunities for education. This meant many parents were desperate to get their kids out of the area. They would ask friends-of-friends to take their kids to Kathmandu. They hoped their child would be in a better place and be given a proper education. But of course, many of the people who took the children were traffickers – they would take the kids to Kathmandu or over the border to India. The kids would end up on the streets, in prostitution, or in orphanages where they were used as circus acts for tourists.
The call for help
Before I joined Adara, my predecessor got an odd email from somebody in Nepal. It was strange because all the spelling was the wrong way around and it was very upsetting to read. It turned out it was from a young English woman – she was a volunteer in an orphanage and she had dyslexia.
Her email said words to this effect: “There are 29 kids sleeping on one mattress on a cold stone floor in the basement and they’ve got no food. Humla is the only word they say that I can understand, so I Googled it and I found your organisation. They’re abusing each other and it’s just the most appalling thing I’ve ever seen. There’s no adult supervision. What shall I do? Can you help?”
To be honest, we weren’t sure whether this email was genuine at first, but we asked our team on the ground, which was very small back then, to investigate just in case. They found the children in the conditions described. They had all been trafficked from Humla and had parents back home. Then we found another 30 children in these conditions, and 30 more besides. We ended up finding 136 children in the basements of Nepal, and many of them had been trafficked by the same person out of Humla.
At first the kids were fearful of us. They didn’t know who we were or where they were. They’d been living in a terrible situation. But we rescued all 136 of them.
This was 10 years ago now. It really brought home the huge problem of children being trafficked out of Humla. Since then, we’ve worked to stop it – and in the last two or three years, we believe that it’s stopped in the areas where we work.
This result has been a huge achievement for us, and a big part of this process was education. We talked on community radio programs to explain to parents that sending their child away is not a good thing, despite their good intentions. We now know that there are more children attending school – not just the Yalbang School but across all of the Humla schools where we work. And it’s because of the work we’re doing with extra teachers, the management committees, and improving the schools themselves.
If these children had not been rescued 10 years ago, we know many of them would now be dead, or in prostitution, or living unhealthily on the streets. Instead, they are wonderful, healthy, vibrant young people. We have reintegrated these children back to their homes and we continue to support them at home.
Around half of the kids are still in school, either in our care in Kathmandu or reintegrated with their families in Humla. They are doing well in school and are excited about their futures. Once they turn 16, the children enter the Youth Independent Living programme. This programme allows them to take on some independence during their last two years of high school or vocational education. They receive a stipend, live in shared housing, and are responsible for managing their cooking, cleaning and finances whilst still being supported by Adara social workers. Around 20% of the children are in this programme, so right now, we’re still going through all those things that you go through with young children. We’re all learning as we go, but the outcomes are indisputably positive. We’ve grown up with these kids. It’s amazing. And we’re working to make sure that they graduate from Adara as healthy, happy, employable young people. To date, 30% of the children have graduated from our care, and now some even have families of their own. We are so proud of them all.
Adara Development’s (formerly The ISIS Foundation) objective is to work side by side with communities and children in remote areas in Nepal and Uganda, improving their lives through health, education and other community development projects. Since 1998, they have grown to provide services each year to more than 30,000 people in poverty.
The Adara Group have had a wide range of financial supporters over the years. From inception to the end of December 2013, Adara Development had received about A$22.8 million (US$19.1 million) in donations.
Written by Thread Publishing (threadpublishing.com). Connecting the world one story at a time to bring humanity back into business. © 2014
Photo credit: Adara Group, Jonathan Torgovnik.