It is the summer of 2012. I have been in Nepal for approximately 5 weeks. It is hot. It is dirty. Chickens are screaming and a dog is barking in the distance. I find myself in an almost empty classroom in one of Kathmandu’s many public schools. I, my friend Elin Bender, and two people from the organisation we were working as volunteers for are the only ones left. The young girl is entering, shyly looking at me. I stay seated because I have noticed that with my 170 cm I am a giant here, and I do not want to intimidate the girl. I smile at her and she smiles back. “I like your shoes.” She giggles at my compliment and the ice is broken. On broken English she starts to tell her story. The words are sort of flushing out of her, and we just sit there. Listening. Taking it in.
She is 12 years old now. She comes from a poor family and her parents could not afford to keep her in school. Her uncle came with a solution. He knew a man in India who could help her get a job, selling fruits by the road. She would get a little stand and would be able to send money back home to her family. It would not be for long, only until they could get back on their feet.
But there was no fruit stand. She was sent straight to a brothel. She was eight at the time.
Big tears are rolling down on her cheeks while she tells me about her time at the brothel. I can still see the scars and cigarette burns on her skinny arms. After a while, she cannot remember exactly when, she was rescued from the brothel by an organisation and sent back to her family in Nepal. But now she was ruined. She was no longer a virgin and only a burden to her family. She would never be able to get married and therefore her own family sent her back to the brothel in India.
This particular little girl was “lucky.” She was rescued once again, and this time sent to a centre where she could stay with other girls and start attending school. She tells me about her life there. How she still has nightmares every night but that she is determined to finish school. She wants to become a doctor and help other girls.
Before we leave the girl looks straight into my eyes;
“Why? Why did this happen to me? I just don’t understand..”
This should not happen. Not to anyone. Never.
That night, during a blackout, Elin and I decided that we had to do something. We started drafting the idea of “StellaStar” which now is reality. It started out with sponsoring a home where abused, abandoned and/or trafficked girls got a safe haven. We provided them with a roof over their head, education, food and – most importantly, a loving family. Our work has expanded and now we are supporting different organisations in Kathmandu, enabling many children to dream about the future.
Establishing StellaStar has had its ups and downs and we have learned a lot along the way. The biggest lesson of them all has, without a doubt, been that it is possible. We started out with the help of our families and friends and now we are helping girls to stay in school, stay away from the streets and to have a chance to shape their own future.
Because that is a chance every little girl should have.
Co-founder and President