We are inspired to make an influence in the lives of women and girls around the world…
Mission: The identification, assistance and restoration of human trafficking victims and survivors.
Vision: Freedom for all.
Free for Life and our partner organization worked tirelessly on the border between India and Nepal at two locations in 2016: Krishnanagar and Dhangadhi. Between the two Border Monitoring Stations, 149 girls were rescued this past year alone! This brings FFLI’s total number of girls rescued since 2010 to 845, and the total of individuals intercepted and interviewed at the border to 21,061! As we head into 2017, we are more excited than ever to work towards our goal of rescuing 1,000 girls!
FFLI’s First Successful Delhi Raid
In February 2016, Free for Life and our partners completed a first of its kind raid and arrest of two major traffickers. This is the first time in history that the Indian Police Special Task force has partnered with U.S. and Nepali-based organizations to assist in the rescue of 11 girls and the arrest of two major traffickers in India. Agent 64 (Identity protected) and his team arranged this courageous rescue operation.
After receiving a tip from an individual whose wife had been trafficked, the Indian Police had been watching two traffickers: Rajan Adhikari and Jivan Pun. The husband worked with Free for Life International, our Nepali partner organization, and the Indian Police to set up a sting operation with the suspected traffickers. Adhikari informed the man that if he wanted his wife released, he would need to secure two other young women in exchange. The team used one employee and one rescued girl to entice the trafficker to meet with the husband. During the sting, the traffickers were surrounded by undercover Indian Police. As soon as Adhikari and Pun approached the man and two girls, the traffickers were quickly detained. Immediately following, the team then went to rescue the 11 girls.
The Kathmandu Post reported, As per a tip-off received by the crime branch of the Indian Police, investigating officers raided an apartment in Basantakunja, Delhi, and rounded up two suspected traffickers and 11 women. The Indian authorities had initiated a probe, and organizations working against woman trafficking provided inputs regarding the trafficking of Nepali women to various Gulf countries via New Delhi and Colombo, Sri Lanka.
The 11 girls were in Basantakunja, Delhi located in a high-rise apartment building. The girls that were rescued are all Nepali, and had been lured by the pretense of false jobs and foreign employment in Iraq and Kuwait. Later, the Embassy of Nepal provided travel documents for them to cross back into their home country. All of their passports and papers had been taken by the traffickers. An official escorted them back to Nepal to our partner shelter in Kathmandu where they all had medical, emotional and physical screening and were repatriated with their families.
It was also revealed that the two traffickers, Adhikari and Pun, had been sending up to 40 trafficked women a month to Iraq and Kuwait.
Chitwan Training Facility
In September 2016, Free for Life began work on a brand new project in Nepal – the Chitwan Training Facility. The facility, located in a transformed home, will train trafficking survivors in three vocational trades.
Before classes could begin, however, the three-story home had to be completely renovated and prepared for the girls’ arrival. A team of Free for Life volunteers, including FFLI Executive Director Gabrielle Thompson, traveled to Nepal in September to assist with these renovations. The team helped install electrical wiring, tile, brand new appliances and a fresh coat of interior and exterior paint! Their hard work paid off, and the facility is now ready to welcome its first class in 2017.
Each class of 15 – 20 girls will live and learn from each other and the 6 staff members. The six-month, intensive courses will be 6 hours long, 5 days a week and will cover three training areas: tailoring, cosmetology and food processing. The ultimate goal of the Chitwan Training Facility is to prepare each girl for their own, independent futures. The program areas were specifically chosen because they can be applied in both rural and urban communities and are in high demand within Nepal.
One of the most exciting elements of our program in Chitwan is that each girl who completes the program will receive “start up” money, a sewing machine and a cosmetology kit. Our staff will continue to follow up with each graduate for two years after their completion of the program. Each girl will work with a staff member on income and expense reports, as well as how to develop successful and sustainable businesses.
Early into the renovation, local community member nicknamed the Chitwan facility the “Happy Home,” and we can’t wait to see it live up to its name!
Site Visits: Updates from Nepal
Traveling to Nepal is an invitation to face the reality of human trafficking and those who have endured it. At Free for Life, we are incredibly grateful that 2016 provided two opportunities to travel to Nepal with hearts and minds set on making a difference in the lives of those affected by trafficking.
Some moments of clarity are overwhelmingly poignant. This is the experience of being in Nepal surrounded by girls who have suffered through the horrors of human trafficking first-hand. The enormity of the global crisis of trafficking has the potential to consume one’s sense of optimism. However, the light and peace that reside within our girls are beacons of hope amidst this dark tragedy.
FFLI took a small team consisting of Founder – Colette Wise, Executive Director -Gabrielle Thompson, Board Chair Elect – Rachel Harmon, and Art and Media Coordinator – Sarah Weeks. The team spent about a month working closely with our partner organization. Members of both organizations traveled to India, where the crime of trafficking is extremely prevalent and is even considered one of the worst trafficking regions in the world. The team walked GB Road – a street notorious for its brothels of enslaved Nepalese women — and met with world changers who remain focused on bringing freedom.
During this trip, the FFL team also traveled to the Dhangadhi, Krishnanagar, Chitwan, and Kathmandu regions of Nepal. Dhangadhi and Krishanangar are home to our partner’s two border monitoring stations. At these locations, the main goals were to see trafficking prevention in action, gather statistics, collect survivors’ stories, and encourage staff. In Chitwan, the group visited the home that now serves as a vocational training center for rescued and at-risk girls, met Buna — one of the first women rescued by our partner — and created a plan for a return trip in September. Kathmandu is home to the permanent rescue shelter we currently partner with. Time there was spent embracing our residents, preparing jewelry to be sold, meeting community leaders in the fight against human trafficking, and establishing a solid foundation for information to be collected and shared between the two organizations moving forward.
FFLI’s trip to Nepal in September was beyond incredible. This was the first time in Free for Life history that staff led a team of individual donors, including our largest grant funder, Retail Orphan Initiative, on an international trip. The team’s primary goal was to renovate our Vocational Training Center in Chitwan, Nepal. Achieving this goal required teamwork and innovation to transform our training shelter into a comfortable, efficient, sustainable space for restoration and empowerment. The renovation included everything from electrical work and structural correction to repainting the interior and exterior of our brand new facility. The improvements required 4 days of nonstop work that the team endured with both joy and sweat. During this trip, the team also observed almost every program location that FFLI is currently involved with in Nepal.
2016 was an incredibly powerful year for FFLI, especially when reflecting on our two site visits. We saw lives change for just about everyone involved. Our future plans of passion and strategy are rooted in our time investing in Nepal, and we can’t wait to see what lies ahead!
From a small community in Nepal, Sangita lived with her loving husband, Guna, and their precious four-year-old daughter, Alpa. The family resided on a tiny patch of land, less than 10,000 square feet. This amount of land is far too small to consider farming, and the community offers few other job opportunities. With no financial options, the concerned parents were unable to put Alpa in school. Like most mothers, Sangita loved her daughter so much that she would do anything to give her the best possible life. It is for this reason that Sangita decided to travel to the Middle East to find work, as many girls from her community had done.
When Sangita told her husband about her decision to find work in the Middle East to support their tight-knit family, he begged her not to leave. Guna had a gut feeling that his wife would be in grave danger if she left. Even with his pleas, Sangita had already made up her mind and began her journey abroad.
In a neighboring village, Sangita met a man and woman who claimed to specialize in helping girls travel to the Middle East. The pair told her how they could help her earn money and create a better life for Alpa. They talked about the big city of Delhi and how much Sangita was going to love it there. They filled her with such hopes and dreams of a perfect, new life for her family—little did she know that it was all an elaborate scam.
The pair warned Sangita that the trip across the border would be difficult, but they assured her they had it under control. To make the trip, however, Sangita would have to first fly to Sri Lanka, and then continue on to Kuwait.
When Sangita arrived in Sri Lanka, she was introduced to a man named Rajan Adhikari. At this time, she had no idea that this man was one of the biggest traffickers FFLI or our partners have ever encountered. Adhikari is part of an elaborate trafficking system that claims to be responsible for the trafficking of over a thousand girls from Nepal each year.
Thankfully, after 15 days of living at her traffickers’ mercy, Sangita was able to return home.
Once back in Nepal, Sangita was furious about all she endured and decided to make a difference for at-risk girls in Nepal. She contacted our Nepali partner, explained her story, and chose to press charges against all of her traffickers. Because of her strong will, Sangita was able to assist in finding the location of these criminals, leading to Rajan’s arrest. The fight is not over, however, as traffickers like Rajan are often very well connected in the community and rarely are convicted. Still, this major arrest and milestone would not have been possible without Sangita’s strength and passion.
Guna welcomed Sangita home with open arms, overjoyed that his wife was finally safe. Sangita made the choice to stay in her village and begin chicken farming. If the farm is successful, the family hopes to then expand to fish farming to supplement their steady income. Sangita is more motivated than ever to provide Alpa with the life and future she had always desired for her daughter.
Udita came from a childhood of poverty where her father worked two jobs to support the six members in her family. During the day, Udita’s father would work in the fields; in the evenings, he would work at the local brick factory. Even with two jobs, the family was still struggling to make ends meet. After the 10th grade, Udita had no choice but to leave school as the family could not afford higher education.
One of Udita’s close friends introduced her to a young man named Bhajan. The two exchanged phone numbers and began talking nearly every night. A love quickly blossomed between them. Bhajan confessed his desire to make Udita his wife and to give her the life she deserved. They spoke of a future where they would get married and run off to start their lives together in India, where they would have a large family and be happy forever.
Udita agreed and, at 20 years old, she left to begin her life with her future husband. She was so smitten that she decided to not tell her family for fear that they would interfere with the couple’s love. The pair decided to take a local bus to cross the border into India. Border monitoring staff regularly check buses headed into bigger cities in India. When the staff asked to see Udita and Bhajan’s marriage registration or proof of their relationship, they had nothing. Staff members looked further into the life of Bhajan and discovered that he was already married with children. The staff turned Bhajan over to the police and he has since been arrested with fraud. Udita just narrowly escaped a trafficking situation! Fortunately, she was welcomed back to her family with open arms. Her parents were very understanding and happy to have their daughter home again.
Udita’s story is a perfect example of how border monitoring works as an incredibly efficient way to identify victims, and repatriate them with their families, before they are sold into slavery. So many girls do not have stories as lucky as Udita’s. It is for this reason, Free for Life remains committed to all areas of trafficking: prevention, rescue and restoration.
Gabrielle Thompson, Executive Director & CEO
“There is hope and light in darkness. Lives can be restored. Freedom can be found.
The past year at Free for Life has represented all of these things. We have seen the powerful transformations that can be made in the lives of women and girls.
We are motivated by the women we have dedicated our lives to saving. Their restored dignity, confidence, love and hope encourage us to continue fighting for justice.
In 2016, we saw our efforts, combined with the efforts of our incredible partners, rescue the lives of 149 women, including 11 from our first ever successful raid on a brothel. We were able to save more lives by expanding to an additional border monitoring station in Dhangadhi, Nepal. This means we are doubling our impact by intervening and preventing trafficking in two border locations in Nepal!
We also introduced a new program for rehabilitated female survivors of trafficking. This program is a vocational training home in Chitwan, Nepal. We hope to train up to 40 girls a year in three trades: tailoring, food processing and cosmetology. This training home is more than just a place for girls and women to learn various trades, but rather an effective environment for creating financial sustainability and addressing the root cause of trafficking – poverty.
We are committed to at-risk girls and trafficking survivors at every stage: the prevention of trafficking, the long process of rescue and inner healing, and the crucial component of vocational training post recovery.
It is a deep honor to lead a team of passionate, inspirational and hard-working individuals who are committed to seeing slavery come to an end. Thank you for your desire to walk alongside Free for Life in our commitment to freedom and justice.”
Katie Thompson, Administrative Specialist
“I truly believe that creating lasting change requires a spirit of generosity and an active pursuit of justice. These are the reasons I am so passionate about working with Free for Life. The past year has taught me an immense amount about doing this extremely important work while maintaining an attitude of patience and understanding.
My position at Free for Life is constantly evolving as the organization continues to grow. However, both the successes and challenges of working in administration move Free for Life forward in our mission of the rescue and restoration of these girls. My commitment remains to the talented group of people I work beside, the strong women we fight for every day, and our mutual pursuit of sustainable change.
It’s incredible to see what we’ve accomplished in just a year, and I can’t wait to be a part of where we go next.”
Sarah Weeks, Art & Media Coordinator
Empowered women create revolutions. This statement could not be more true for Free for Life’s values and actions. Personally, this year has been an incredible journey of learning, equipping, and being empowered to make a difference for the lives of girls and women enslaved in human trafficking. My job with Free for Life has allowed me cultivate my love for art and my passion to see an end to social injustice. When likeminded people use their strengths to work towards ending human trafficking, it’s only a matter of time before freedom isn’t just a goal, but a reality.
“We are compelled to work against human trafficking. Both of us [Nebraska and Maryland chapters] are compelled by a calling by God to do all we can to raise awareness about sex slavery and trafficking. We work hard to raise the funds necessary to support Free for Life and their partners in prevention, rescue, and restoration. Our “work” is a true joy; every dollar raised is sweet, and every rescued girl a victory. Even though we all have very full lives, this advocacy is our passion”
– Chapter Directors: Colleen Back, Dawn Bernhardt and Kelsey Graham
- Rescue 1,000 women this year
- Expand partnerships in anti-trafficking to an additional country besides Nepal
- Graduate up to 40 girls from our new vocational training facility “The Happy Home” in Chitwan, Nepal
- Develop an anti trafficking prevention curriculum in partnership with Ctrl Alt Delete Poverty and their international education program
- Continue to change lives in our Safe Home, helping girls experience full restoration
- Strengthen Border Monitoring forces on the ground in Nepal
- Continue to be resource for anti-trafficking research
- Give increased emergency victim care to those in the Nashville area