Former Kamlari Girls, Now Fight COVID-19 in Nepal
Former Kamlari girls and women help fight Covid-19 in Nepal. NYF is so proud these women are helping with this international crisis.
During COVID-19, in the Freed Kamlari Development Forum’s first months of independence from Nepal Youth Foundation (NYF), the Tharu community in western Nepal has faced new challenges. Because all Tharu communities live along the Nepal-India border, many young Tharu people support their families through work in Indian agricultural or factory jobs. When the pandemic began, these young people were sent away without work, and those without their own farmland have been unable to provide for themselves in the months since. Many small business owners in the region have had to shutter their stalls and workshops to comply with social distancing requirements. The economic impacts of ongoing border closures and travel restrictions threaten to harm the health and education of each family.
Fortunately, with their home-grown NGO established in the area, these communities have been surviving the pandemic together.
Early in the lockdown, the FKDF and our Ankur Counseling Center coordinated to mobilize the trained peer counselors within the Freed Kamlari community. These women were able to reach out by phone to individuals in their villages, providing emotional support and problem-solving guidance wherever possible.
Through their 47 locally operated co-ops, savings groups, and self-help groups, the FKDF has also been able to provide emergency financial relief to families. Twenty years ago, the kamlari practice seemed like the only way for families to pay back the predatory debts accrued in times like these, and sky-high interest rates made those debts nearly impossible to overcome. Agricultural co-ops and financial savings groups run by the community ensure such a thing can never happen again. Now, the Tharu people can provide each other with timely support and manageable interest rates designed to promote financial success in their communities.
Finally, the FKDF is leveraging its strong network of local government partnerships. Due to the incredible work they have already done, and to their connection with NYF, the FKDF is able to coordinate with local- and district-level government bodies to run community awareness programs against COVID-19. They’re hard at work keeping their families, villages, and futures safe.
That’s a special kind of freedom.
NYF is so proud of the work these women are doing during this international crisis. We are proud of the confident and capable leaders they have become. Thank you to each and every one of the NYF supporters who have invested in these incredible women over the past 20 years! Your loving gifts—whether funding piglets in the early days, sponsoring individual educational goals, contributing start-up funds for one of the locally-led co-ops, providing vocational training to hard-working entrepreneurs, or spreading the word within your own communities—have given these communities the ability to meet an unprecedented crisis with amazing resilience.
Dhanyabad! Thank you for your belief in the worth of these girls. The FKDF is proof that your #LoveWorks.
To continue supporting girls freed from kamlari bondage as they establish their own small businesses, you may do so through gifts to our Vocational Education and Career Counseling program. If you’d like to help us prevent early marriage during the COVID crisis, please consider a gift towards Access to Education. Donate here!
Tharu Leaders Transforming their Communities in Nepal
Tharu Leaders are led by incredible women who have experienced the kamlari practice first-hand. They are freed girls and women who are now now fully independent from NYF‘s Freed Kamlari Development Forum (FKDF). These leaders know the talents, struggles, and cultures of their communities better than anyone, and they are each determined to use their freedom, their passion, and their education to build a stronger, more equitable future for their daughters, neighbors, villages, and country.
We are pleased to introduce you to just a few of the amazing leaders from the Freed Kamlari community.
Law student Urmila Chaudhary has won multiple international human rights awards for the work she has done on behalf of women. Her personal story has been featured in a documentary and in books, including Olga’s Promise, and in June 2020, she spoke at NYF’s virtual Founder’s Day celebration. She makes a point of investing prize money and royalties back into the FKDF community.
Urmila spent 12 years—age 6 to age 18—in indentured servitude. When she finally gained her freedom, she set to work right away working to free other girls, speaking against unjust landlords, advocating with parents, and defending children from community members who believed kamlari was the duty of all Tharu girls. Urmila has withstood challenges and threats. She has been injured during protests on behalf of young girls. These obstacles have helped her grow into a forceful, confident leader who is unafraid to confront injustices.
Urmila has dedicated her life to expanding women’s and children’s access to the legal resources that will help them fight oppression.
Dilkumari Chaudhary is passionate about educational access, skills development, and entrepreneurial potential. She’s earning her degree in Management, but she’s already won a Young Entrepreneurs Award in Nepal. The development of capital, she says, is the key to employment opportunities for youth in Nepal. She encourages everyone she meets to build a business, and she’s determined to provide the resources to make these dreams a reality. She served in FKDF leadership roles for 6 years—the same length of time she was forced to work as a kamlari.
When Dilkumari speaks of potential and freedom, she backs up her ideals with practical tools to help individuals live their dreams
Besides putting pressure on the Nepalese government for change, Dilkumari has served her community by providing practical skills training to young women. She established a training center just for freed kamlaris in Nepalgunj and has trained over 250 young women there to date. She’s helped move her family away from dependence on cruel landlords by starting a small pig farm and a grocery shop. She’s used her earnings to educate her younger siblings and to purchase farmland outright, showing her community by example that women are more than capable of building generational wealth.
Finally, Manjita Chaudhary is using her extensive experience to work as the chief advisor to the FKDF and its many local lending co-operatives. She was the founding president of the FKDF when she was only 24 years old, participating in policymaking, project design, budget planning, and program implementation.
Manjita dreams of communities in which each household has at least one business owner, one co-op member, and one job in the community—a model she believes will maximize the income of Tharu families. According to Manjita, economic empowerment is crucial to break the cycles of poverty that led to the kamlari practice in the first place. She is one year away from completing her degree in Management, and she’s hoping to establish a bank in the very near future.
Banking is personal to Manjita, since her kamlari experience began with a loan from a bank that her father had no way to repay. Financial freedom and ethical, responsible lending practices will prevent the same horrors from befalling others in the future.
Each leader within the Freed Kamlari Development Forum has a unique story, special passions, and distinctive talents. Since NYF’s work with the Tharu community and their enslaved daughters began in 2000, these women have accomplished what many in Nepal thought to be impossible.
NYF is so grateful to each and every supporter who has participated in this program over the years. Your thoughtful gifts have allowed these young girls to blossom into powerful advocates for change. Each gift in support of freedom for Tharu girls has rippled forward to empower a generation. We are confident that they will continue along their path of empowerment for generations to come!
Dhanyabad! Thank you for your belief in the worth of these girls. These success stories – and many more! – are proof that #LoveWorks.
For a brief look at the FKDF’s COVID response, click here.
To continue supporting girls freed from kamlari bondage as they establish their own small businesses, please contribute towards our Vocational Education and Career Counseling program. If you’d like to help prevent early marriage during the COVID crisis, please consider a gift towards Access to Education. Donate here!
Indentured Daughters, Now Free, Enjoying Life After NYF Programs
Many Indentured daughters in Nepal have completed NYF’s Freed Kamlari Development Forum (FKDF). It’s program designed specially to fight the practice of kamlari child bondage and to rescue, educate, and empower these young women. One of the greatest strengths at NYF is our commitment to sustainable programming. Each of our programs is designed to end.
After all, if we are truly successful at empowering a community, we will eventually no longer be needed—and when that day comes, it’s a time for celebration.
Like proud parents watching children become self-sufficient, NYF’s goal is to ultimately step back and watch each child, each family, each program succeed on their own.
NYF is deeply honored and gratified to announce that that time has come for the Empowering Freed Kamlaris program. Effective in July 2020, programming designed specially to fight the practice of kamlari, indentured daughters – child bondage and to rescue, educate, and empower these young women will now operate under the control of the Freed Kamlari Development Forum (FKDF).
And who are the FKDF? They are the freed kamlari girls themselves—each of them eager and ready to give back to their own community by empowering their sisters and daughters to live dignified lives. The FKDF is a unique NGO with its own board, leadership, and programming goals. They’re currently focused on continuing education, early marriage prevention, and entrepreneurship.
With support from NYF, the FKDF has established 47 locally-led specialized co-ops and savings groups with nearly 13,000 members. The co-ops include self-contained credit groups, community vegetable farms, shared livestock, micro-lending opportunities, and more – allowing members to start small profitable businesses, purchase farmland and livestock, develop skills, and live their dreams.
Elected leaders within the community receive special leadership training and support. Regular delegations are sent to government officials in Kathmandu to ensure the promises made to the freed girls are being kept, including the distribution of special ID cards entitling freed kamlari women to special benefits.
Each member of the Freed Kamlari Development Forum has a unique story, but for each of these women, a significant early portion was bleak, painful, and raw. Most were made to believe, in their earliest, most vulnerable years, that they were hardly worth anything. In later years, they wrote impassioned songs and poems asking why they had been born into such a life. That they could fight for their freedom, and the freedom of girls like them, was a revelation.
Yet when given the chance, these young women—many of them still girls—took to activism with intense courage and zealous grace. They boarded buses bound for Kathmandu and took back girls who had been sold. They raised their voices in street performances, opening their hearts to strangers in order to help others understand the violence of the kamlari practice. They demonstrated in the streets, even when doing so put them at risk of serious injury. Under the pressure of their empowered message of freedom and self-worth, the Nepalese government at last took action against the practice, forbidding child slavery in 2013.
Thank you to every NYF donor for each thoughtful gift you have invested into these women and girls over the past 20 years. Your love—offered in the form of piglets, scholarships, start-up funds, vocational training, word-of-mouth, and so much more—have built opportunities and strength for a generation of young women. Dhanyabad! We are so grateful for your belief in these girls. The FKDF is proof that #LoveWorks.
Now, 20 years after Som and Olga learned of the kamlari practice in Western Nepal, the journey continues for these incredible women as they step forward with new independence.
NYF is so proud of the indentured daughters turned leaders.
At NYF, we’re excited to step forward as well, putting 20 years of expertise to good use helping empower women and girls through new and continuing programming! To continue supporting girls freed from kamlari bondage as they establish their own small businesses, please donate towards our Vocational Education and Career Counseling program. To support our ongoing COVID education response (which is helping prevent early marriage in rural communities), please consider a gift towards Access to Education. Donate here!