My Journey to Maiti Nepal

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Although I grew up in Canada, I still resonate as a Nepali and consider Nepal as my primary home. I had been looking forward to going to Nepal for a long time, and was excited to have finally gotten the opportunity this summer to do so, while interning at Maiti Nepal, (which I have just completed successfully). Besides contributing to the mission of Maiti Nepal, my other purpose was to reconnect with my roots and get more educated about my country. I always got told that I was lucky and privileged, and while I knew this theoretically, I wanted to see first-hand why that was the case, and what people here go through every day.

The story of how I learned about Maiti Nepal travels all the way back to when I was 14, and chose to read a book called “Sold” for my grade 8 social studies project.  It was about a Nepali girl named Lakshmi, who was also 14, and how she was taken from her home in a small village, and trafficked across the border to India to turn her into a sex slave.

This book was what first introduced me to the issue of human trafficking. It made me sick to my stomach to know that it existed, and it really hit home for me, being a Nepali immigrant, as I realized how easily I too could have been the girl in the story. I first ended up on Maiti Nepal’s website doing more research on this heinous crime. I was in awe of their work and the impact they had made and were constantly making in the lives of the people back home.

This was why it was no surprise that I was super ecstatic a few years later, when my dad told me that the two founders of Maiti Nepal, Anuradha Koirala and Bishow Khadka, were speaking at an event “Evening with Humanity” in Toronto. It was being hosted by a sister organization of Maiti Nepal, called Aura Freedom International, based in Canada. It was from attending that event where I got really motivated to do more than just be angry about an issue that I knew was wrong.

(Author with Anuradha Koirala)

I reached out to Marissa Kokkoros, founder of Aura Freedom, and the coordinator of the abovementioned event, for a volunteering internship, and was fortunate enough to work with them during the summer of 2015.  I worked on their promotions as well as their events committee. I helped manage their social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. I also assisted to organize events such as their campaign for the “Ride for Refuge” fundraiser.  In the same year, as the co-president of a charity club “Me to We”, I invited Marissa to our High School for a presentation on human trafficking, and we also raised a small amount which was donated to her organization.

Having completed the first year of my university, I approached Maiti Nepal for a summer internship opportunity this year, highlighting the aforementioned experiences, and my deep interest to contribute further and learn.  I felt honored that my application was approved. I was scared before I started volunteering, not so much because of the work I would be doing, but of the fact that I would be living alone in a new city where I wouldn’t know anyone except a handful of relatives, with everyone who I was close to on the other side of the world. I was now going to step out of my comfort zone. It also didn’t help that I wasn’t as knowledgeable of the Nepali language and culture as I had always prided myself to be. In fact, I still remember my first day in Nepal, where the culture shock hit me so hard to the point that I was contemplating even going back to Canada as soon as I could. I realized over and over again, that although I had been identifying myself as a Nepali all my life, I didn’t understand what it really meant to be one before.

However, slowly, in a blink of an eye, it went from my first day at Maiti where I was the most home-sick and scared, to my last day wanting to never leave behind my new big family that I learned so much from. For example, from speaking Nepali with them six days a week, I can now speak it very comfortably and confidently. They also taught me a lot of unwritten rules such as you never accept the first price any taxi driver gives you, and there’s really no such thing as zebra crossing. They made me feel comfortable right from the day one, which made it that much easier to accept all the new things I was learning. I gladly state that my time at Maiti has been the one where I have learned the most important lessons of life. Volunteering there was life changing, and although I joined to help, I realized in the end that I was the one who got the most help and learned the most. 

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