To my favorite woman in the world:

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My beautiful mom, Debra, with me in Barcelona this past March.

During the last 5 months I’ve often thought: If I’d been born in ___(insert name of developing country here)___ my life would be so different.

The mere name of the country on my passport provides me with a degree of freedom and privilege, which was handed to me at birth. I’m coming home with a new awareness of how fortunate I am to have the rights I have as an American woman. But, I’m also returning with an inexplicable appreciation for the female role model I’ve had for the past 22 years.

The other day I was telling my Nepali girlfriends about my family and showing them photos. When I showed them my mom their reaction was “Oh my gosh. She’s so pulled together – so happy, young, and professional. No wonder you can travel on your own and take care of yourself!”

My initial, Western reaction was “Umm, duh. Just because I’m a girl, doesn’t mean I can’t travel alone and take care of myself.” But then I thought about my upbringing. I thought about how gracefully my mom balances the roles of mother, friend, and successful businesswoman. She’s worked so hard to get to where she is and to guide me. By example, I was raised in an environment where no limitations existed because of gender. She always told me I could be, do and change anything with passion and hard work. And when I started planning this trip she supported me and told me she had complete faith in my judgment.

While as an American female I have opportunities handed to me that women in other countries struggle to attain, a big portion of where I am today is because I’ve had an inspirational woman to guide me there.

So, to my mom, with all the love I can send through this post, thank you for everything you’ve done for me. I wouldn’t be the woman I am without you. xoxoxo

Organization Profile: Nepali Yoga Women’s Trust

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 There’s nothing I love more than finding a successful women’s organization with a vibrant, local female running the show.

Three years ago Devika Gurung founded the Nepali Yoga Women Project with Emma Despres, a woman from the UK. Devika grew up in Nepal and is fully aware of the harsh realities women face in the country. At the age of 15 she dropped out of school to help her family earn money. Her first job involved lugging heavy rocks around an airport construction site. Later jobs included working in an orchard, making carpets, and cleaning houses.

When you meet Devika it’s hard to imagine her childhood consisting of manual labor (even though it’s common for Nepali girls). Devika is beautifully poised and radiates positive energy. Her adult life hasn’t been free of challenges either, but along the way she learned English and began practicing yoga. Eventually, she opened her own yoga studio in Pokhara.

At this studio she connected with Emma. The two women decided to start a project to develop the unsuspected, inner skills of Nepali women and allow them to reassert themselves in society. They wanted to create a positive environment where Nepali women could learn how to heal and support themselves. Continue reading

Organization Profile: AFESIP Cambodia

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‘Human trafficking’ is “the illegal trade in human beings for purposes of commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor.” My friend Katy calls it a “dinner party term.” She says “It reveals nothing about imprisonment, abuse, physical pain, slavery, withdrawal of basic human rights like freedom, destruction of trust and of a person’s identity.” I couldn’t agree more.

Katy modeling clothing for trafficking awareness.

I first heard about AFESIP while reading Somaly Mam’s The Road of Lost Innocence. Somaly’s memoir documents of her sexual enslavement and escape. I was so moved by her story and already interested in anti-sex trafficking efforts that I contacted AFESIP while planning my trip to Cambodia. This ultimately led me to Katy’s blog and her volunteer work.

In Cambodia, the sex industry thrives. It’s an issue you witness in the streets. A brothel is never more than a 5-minute walk away. And while it may look like the girls “consent,” the truth is most feel like they have no other option and no way out. The rescued girls who come to AFESIP suffer from abuses difficult to imagine. Many experience torture and addiction to drugs  such as methamphetamines and heroine. (For more information on the sex industry in Cambodia visit my previous posts: The Issues, The Sex Industry of Cambodia, and Cambodia: Masculine Mentality, Sex Culture, and Gender Based Violence).

A photo taken by Katy demonstrating the self harm (cutting) many girls resort to, relieving the mental and physical pain of their daily lives.

So the question becomes: how do you combat an issue so broad and destructive? How do you access girls held hostage in this lifestyle? And if you can reach them and remove them from imprisonment, how do you attempt the recovery process? How do you rehabilitate a girl who’s grown up in an environment where she’s routinely raped, violently beaten, and force-fed drugs? Continue reading

Send a postcard to India and make a young girl smile.

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The photo above is of Pokhara, Nepal. Lucky me, I’m living here for a month. Looks cold, right? It’s not. It’s actually boiling hot during the days, but absolutely beautiful! Posts on Nepal will be up soon!

I constantly struggle with the inevitable fact that social change is difficult to measure. At the end of the day how do you tally the results? Unfortunately, this deters many people from even attempting to create change. It’s so easy to think one individual can influence very little by himself. At times, I even look at my own efforts and wonder how much of a difference I’ve truly made.

Last week I received an email from my friend and the founder of Humaneity Foundation, Mark Philpott. He was in India at the time and he became friends with a young girl named Nandini who goes to Riverside School in Ahmedabad. She asked him to help her with something. She told him: “I collect postcards because I want to see pictures of places from all around the world. So when we have visitors like you come to our school, I ask everyone to send me a postcard from their home place or when they travel to a new place. Do you think you can ask all of your friends to send me a postcard from their home city as well as when they travel somewhere else?”

Now I’m passing along this request to you…As her collection of postcards grows she will be exposed to new places and cultures. And while this may not seem like any direct social change, this simple act of kindness will also show her that the world is filled with friendly and compassionate people. Every time Nandini receives a postcard she will smile. And I cannot think of a better way to measure an act of kindness than in smiles. All you have to do is find a postcard and send it to: Continue reading