World, Life, Asia - Pacific

Nepal: Cafe with cause helps trafficking survivors

Human trafficking survivors aim to gradually move away from donor funding and diversify their sources of income

Deepak Adhikari   | 17.01.2020
Nepal: Cafe with cause helps trafficking survivors


Like any other morning, 24-year-old Sushma* climbed the stairs of a two-story building to a restaurant overlooking a bustling Kathmandu street. She tapped to a biometric attendance device and began an eight-hour shift.

Sushma started taking orders from diners comprising of college students and employees of banks and government offices. She is one of 25 employees of Maiti Cafe.

The first-floor cafe is among a growing number of enterprises established by nonprofit groups, which have sought to reduce their dependence on donor funding.

"In the past, we tried various ways to help trafficking survivors reintegrate into society. But last year, we opened this café so that they can earn a living by working. If successful, this can also be a model for us," said Biswo Khadka, director of Maiti Nepal, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rescue women trafficked to India and other countries.

Maiti Nepal Foundation along with the global organization Free a Girl, and local Afno Nepal social entrepreneurship initiative, pooled their resources to set up the restaurant.

The group of 25 people including trafficking survivors received a 25-day training on coffee making and other skills required to run a restaurant, according to Utkarsha Shrestha, the manager of the cafe.

Sushma was barely 12 when she migrated to the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh with her stepfather and mother.

"My parents were daily wage workers. My stepfather used to drink alcohol and beat me," she said.

So when a woman approached her with a job offer in Mumbai, she thought it would offer her a way out of the abusive father.

But Sushma found herself sequestered in a dark room in a Mumbai alley, where she spent 10 months as a sex worker before a police raid rescued her in 2009.

She was repatriated to Kathmandu and was provided shelter by Maiti Nepal. Having passed the 10th grade exam, she started working as a theatre actor following the devastating Nepal earthquake in 2015.

As she found her feet as a part-time actor raising awareness about trafficking, she saw fellow trafficking survivors joining dance bars and other risqué businesses.

"They easily fall prey to traffickers. They don't find jobs decent enough to pay for their expenses. They want to enjoy life and have scooters and gadgets like smartphones [which leads them to trafficking]," she said.

Women traffickers

An annual report published by Nepal's National Human Rights Commission last year said the number of women traffickers have increased in recent years.

The human rights body estimated in its report August last year that nearly 35,000 Nepali citizens --15,000 men, 15,000 women and 5,000 children --were trafficked in 2018.

The women traffickers lure girls and women and transport them from Nepal to their destinations, according to the report.

The report stated that nearly 1,000 Nepali women and girls are annually rescued from India, where they are taken for sex trade, forced labour, housemaid and taking them further to third countries, by various NGOs.

While the factors causing trafficking -- poverty, unemployment, patriarchy -- remain the same, the traffickers have found new countries and new routes to lure their victims, according to the report.

Maiti Cafe is not the only nonprofit turning to social enterprises to raise funding for their projects.

Saving street children

SathSath, a nonprofit organization supporting street children, runs Cafe 77 near the historic Patan Durbar Square in the Kathmandu Valley.

Biso Bajracharya, the organization's executive director, said drop-out rates among the young men under their rehabilitation program spiked because of lack of job opportunities.

"We provided them vocational training such as plumbing, electrician's work, carpentry, but many went back to the street," he said.

Their cafe, which runs on-the-job barista training, also showcases products such as artwork made of wheat straw, candles. It employs four young men, who come from vulnerable families.

"These young boys turn to drugs and other substance abuse in their formative years, when their parents pamper them. They are also very impatient and they regard skills-based training not worth pursuing," he said.

Out of over 100 trainees, half have found jobs in restaurants across the city, Bajracharya said.

The café has been growing thanks to youngsters who recognize their efforts as well as enjoy a hot cup of coffee.

"Rather than always relying on donors, it's good to find an alternative way to raise funds," he said.

Khadka of Maiti Nepal said since most trafficking survivors face stigma after returning home, providing a job will help them become self-reliant.

"If we market our products well, customers will be very willing to spend their money on a social cause like ours," Khadka said.

*The trafficking survivor's name has been changed to protect her identity.

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