'Let me tell you the story of a young girl from Nepal,' Jack Reid says.
It's a heartbreaking story. Jack has been describing the Nepal earthquake, the urgent needs of the mountain people, and what his organisation - Mountain Child - is doing to help alleviate the suffering caused by the earthquake.
The girl's story, however, has nothing to do with the earthquake, or so it seems. It's a horrifying tale of an 11-year-old girl from the mountains he calls Jyoti who was taken from her family and used as a sex slave, chained to a bed, often serving 30 men a day for years. She and her family were tricked into believing the girl owed money to this man but she could pay it back by working while getting an education in the big city of Kathmandu. It was a lie.
He is just one of an unknown number of child traffickers who target poor, trusting Nepali children and parents, particularly those from the mountainous regions. The stories of deception and lies vary, but the end results of trafficked children are similar.
Why it happens
'It's a story repeated thousands of times every year,' Jack explains. 'It is the harsh conditions that they live in that create such difficult circumstance for these families. The traffickers prey on them. They are incredibly vulnerable, and incredibly naïve, and someone will come to the mountains and offer to take their children to the lower elevations to get a good education, a better life. The parents send their kids down with someone they trust, and those children are never seen again.'
The 2013 edition of the Global Slavery Index ranks Nepal as fifth for the highest prevalence of modern slavery out of 162 countries.Trafficking was endemic in Nepal before the 25 April earthquake, with an estimated 12,000 Nepalese women and children trafficked out of the country every year, according to a 2001 International Labour Organisation study.
The effect of the earthquake
For people living precariously on a razor edge under normal conditions, the recent earthquake has literally and figuratively shaken their fragile world to the core. Schools and homes have been damaged and destroyed.
'The lack of schools, the lack of providing those children with a safe learning environment and getting them engaged in education creates such a vulnerability that has a domino effect that can lead to children being trafficked,' Jack describes. 'All these displaced families, all of the widows that have been created through this event, all of the children who are now fatherless, all of the families who now don't have homes and are living in make-shift shelters in Kathmandu and the surrounding areas – they are now being preyed upon by traffickers who see them in this vulnerable state and want to take advantage of them.'
In the first two months since the 24 April earthquake, 513 women and children have been intercepted from being trafficked across the borders or internally to illegal 'care homes' according to UNICEF. These are simply the ones who were caught.
What Mountain Child is doing
For the last 15 years, Mountain Child has been working with marginalised and desperately poor Tibetan people groups from the high Himalayan mountain region that borders Nepal and China. They identified five core interconnected issues: health, trafficking, education, child labour, and environment/agriculture. 'You cannot go and deal with one without dealing with the other,' Jack says.
Since the earthquake, Jack has focused his team on the immediate and urgent needs of the mountain communities. The top priority was food. At the high elevations, only potatoes and barley can grow well. With the footpaths damaged, the area was cut off from all markets at lower elevations.
Partnership with MAF
'We sat down with MAF,' Jack says, 'and began to talk about how we could get flights into these remote areas because there was no other way to get supplies in there. With MAF, over the past weeks, we've been able to take multiple trips delivering thousands of kilos of food to areas that are really cut off right now.'
The need for ongoing education
'There was a large shipment of textbooks and school supplies on donkeys when the first earthquake hit,' Jack said. 'All of the donkeys fell off the cliff and died - up to 50 donkeys. All the school supplies are gone.'
Getting the schools up and running again is the second highest priority for Mountain Child. They obtained 60 large canvas tents to use as temporary classrooms and boarding facilities. The MAF-coordinated helicopters flew tents in via sling load - cargo suspended by cable beneath the helicopter - while a Mountain Child ground team came in to construct the tents.
'If education is not ongoing, the children might not ever restart their education, and they become very vulnerable to trafficking,' Jack explains. 'It's not parents selling their children. I've never seen that happen, ever, in the Himalayas. Parents love their children. They want what's best for their children. They want them to get an education. They want them to survive.'
Jack dreams big, yet understands that meaningful and powerful change takes time in these remote communities.
'Our great hope is that MAF has a long term presence in Nepal because the areas we're accessing are so incredibly remote,' Jack says. 'That's the long-range wish. In the short-term, I think the safe estimate is that it will take three months to get the footpath open to Nupri.'
Mountain Child will be there when it opens, continuing their work to improve the lives of remote Nepali people, and protecting, teaching, and nurturing these children of the mountains.