An open letter from our Founder…

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This is a girl that I met in Gatlang, a beautiful Himalayan village in Nepal, and whose name I will keep in my heart.

In this picture, we were saying goodbye and she was inconsolable. No, she wasn't sad because I was leaving, and no, she didn't want to come with me, although this is a common North American misconception. She just wanted to go to a place where she could go to school, and thought that I could take her there.

She refused to look at me when I left, and was one of the few children who didn't chase our jeep down the road when we drove off.

Nepal... Although a very beautiful and mystical land, there is a darker side to its culture which hinders the development of the entire country and is the root cause of unspeakable atrocities against its own people. It's called gender inequality.

Girls and women in rural Nepal have little to no value. A deeply-rooted patriarchal society restricts their roles in life to those of domestic servants, obedient wives and child bearers. Creativity and learning are stunted, as most girls are pulled out of school early to help with household chores or be married off still as children. The problem isn't poverty here...it's gender inequality that is actually causing the poverty.

You see, how can a country flourish when half of its population is not able to contribute to society? When women and girls are trafficked, exploited, raped and abused with impunity? How can all of this make for a thriving, strong country?

These girls still dream, after all, they are human.

Almost half of all Nepali girls are married off when they are still children, adding to the already difficult situation for women in the Himalayan country. Child marriage makes girls more susceptible to domestic violence, rape, maternal mortality, disease and trafficking. When women don't have the independence or autonomy to take care of themselves, how can they be happy and healthy? How can their children be happy and healthy?

I met girls in Nepal who couldn't read or write but drew pictures of helicopters...helicopters? Where had they seen those? They don't even have water, I thought. But, yes, they had seen helicopters. They were the ones of very powerful people who would occasionally swoop down, take as many adolescent girls as they could convince to go with them, and leave. There are towns in Nepal with hardly any adolescent girls left. Think I'm exaggerating?

Another girl, Meena, talked to me about a huge job opportunity as domestic help for a rich family that was waiting for her in the Middle East. An opportunity out. An opportunity to help her family. When she spoke, she smiled and her eyes twinkled. Meena is 17 and married with a daughter. Of course, this is the story that the traffickers told Meena. However, they forgot to tell her that when she does leave Nepal, she might actually be sold into a brothel and repeatedly raped for profit until there is nothing left of her body. Or that she will be severely beaten and abused daily by her employers and paid nothing for her service. Those parts were left out, hence the twinkle in Meena's eye.

I'm not asking for anybody to care about this. I'm asking EVERYBODY to care about it. I could just as easily be talking about our own Indigenous women in Canada who are not valued and forgotten, or a woman in South Sudan who is being gang raped by soldiers right now. There is no difference between us. Can we really all be free if our sisters around the world are not?

I ask everyone whom this letter reaches and touches to please help us (and others) keep girls in school and advance the human rights of women around the world. It's not impossible. It's not too late. Our new project, Rural Empowerment, aims to advance girls' education, end child marriage and empower societies to love, value and educate their women and girls. Slowly, but surely, girls will be empowered around the world and life will get better. But we can't do it without you. Click: http://bit.ly/TSKcjl

Peace and freedom for all,

Marissa Kokkoros
Founder – Aura Freedom International

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