Voices have been rising over the last decade to release women and girls from ungodly oppression on a global scale. The Nike and Novo mega-foundations have partnered to create The Girl Effect film and subsequent movement, which promotes that the world can best combat intractable social problems by nurturing the potential of adolescent girls in the developing world. Celebrities and world leaders are leveraging their positions to press for the equal treatment of women and girls.
While we need more of these high level initiatives, we also need to demonstrate change by planting freedom and empowerment in seemingly insignificant plots. I see it all the time—change spreads broadly and quickly when a girl, a family, or a community begins to see the benefits of releasing and nurturing the potential within women and girls.
Three years ago, five teen girls from the Kamaiya tribe travelling with two men were stopped at the border crossing between Nepal and India. The girls were separated from the men for a document check and brief interview by our Nepali co-worker, Nima. As soon as the men were taken away, the girls began to crumble emotionally. “These men told our parents that we were going to India for good jobs, but they are already abusing us. Can you help us?”
Under testimony of the girls the men were taken by authorities for investigation. Then came the difficult task of getting the girls back to their village, and explaining to their parents the abuse and risk their daughters faced. On that long ride to the Kamaiya village, the girls began to prepare us for what we would see. “Our village is so poor that most of us have no animals, not even a chicken. We survive by eating snails out of a ditch. If a family has a little money, they will use that to send their boys to school, while girls are kept home to work, marry or be sold.” Our hearts sank, when Bimila shared, “I am the only girl in our village that can read.”
After about 18 hours with the girls, we had learned that they truly were the hope of their village. A few of the girls had a clear idea for growing more than enough food to feed their village. Their eyes sparkled when they told us that they wanted to create the “Golden Future Girls Farming Cooperative”, if only they could rent a field, buy tools and seeds. Others wanted to raise animals to generate income. The literate girl longed to teach everyone in her village to read.
Upon arrival at the village, Nima gathered the families to discuss the lies of traffickers and share the good ideas of their girls. She offered to spearhead a team that would help implement their visions to bless the village, on condition that families would pledge to keep their daughters, rather than send them away in exchange for cash.
Since that time, the vision and industry of five teen girls has literally transformed their village. Literacy, health, faith, and life-skills classes are flourishing.
One father in the village had already sold his 10-year old daughter as a domestic worker to a landlord. After the village gathering, the women went to his home and insisted that he return the money he was paid and secure his daughter’s release. She is now safe and home, while her father runs a pig farm to pay his daughter’s tuition.
Another teen wasn’t particularly interested in running pig farm, but she leveraged that opportunity to gain enough capital to start the only store in the area. We’ve asked the pig farmers to donate two piglets back into the program when a litter is born. And that’s when things got really exciting. The pig farmers asked if they could donate their piglets in a village nearby “that is poor, like weused to be.”
Good news has a powerful way of growing beyond its grassroots plots, nurturing freedom and empowerment community to community and for generations to come.