Buna was not expected to live when Shanta first met with her in a hospital in Nepal.
A CONVERSATION OVER TEA CHANGED HER LIFE
Buna’s mother died when she was a young child. Though her father remarried, Buna did not experience a mother’s love. Instead, abuse and neglect became her way of life. Unable to escape the abuse she suffered at home, Buna was left with no alternative but to set out on her own in search of a better life. As a young woman, she opened a small tea shop where she sold the popular Nepalese tea for pennies a glass. One of Buna’s customers who frequented the shop began to take an interest in her, and he seemed eager to help her move forward toward a brighter future.
On what seemed to be a day like any other, he came not only to drink tea but to extend to Buna the opportunity for a better job in India. With eagerness and anticipation she accompanied him to India. Her dream of a better future would soon become a nightmare. Once in India, Buna was sold to a brothel by the very man she had trusted to help her move beyond the poverty she experienced in Nepal. Instead of opportunity, Buna was forced to work as a sexual slave in Mumbai.
At first she refused to go with men and was beaten in an attempt to break her spirit, yet still she refused. Buna would discover the magnitude of human depravity over the next few years. One time she was forced to witness the torture of a young girl at the brothel. After the beating, two pimps discarded the critically injured girl, like unwanted trash, at a train station. Buna never learned the fate of that young girl.
Violence was a daily occurrence and one of the many ways traffickers kept the girls compliant. Stories were told of girls being thrown out of the window for refusing to have sex, hinting that this might also be Buna’s fate if she refused to cooperate. Broken, Buna entered into a life of sexual slavery. With no apparent way of escape and consumed by a sense of hopelessness, Buna attempted to take her life twice while being sold in the brothel.
As a result of being forced to have sex numerous times a day, Buna became extremely ill. She contracted an unknown illness that made it impossible for her to continue to “work”. While her traffickers once thought of her as a commodity, when she was no longer able to perform her “duties”, she became a liability. Like the young girl before her, she was cast into the street to die.
A LONG PATH TOWARDS RECOVERY
Because the Indian government did not want to care for her, Buna was sent back to Nepal. She was placed in a hospital in Patan where she was diagnosed as their first case of HIV. Her doctors told her that she was dying and that there was no hope of recovery. That was over twenty years ago! She was the first HIV survivor to publicly tell her story on television in Nepal. As Buna courageously shared what she had endured, the people of Nepal learned about the horrors of human trafficking.
During this time, one of our partners was in the early stages of opening a shelter home for tracking survivors in Nepal. She was approached about taking Buna into the shelter, so that Buna would not be alone and would be given a place where she could die with dignity. This meeting was the beginning of an amazing journey that Buna and Shanta would travel together.
When Buna arrived at the center, she weighed 50 pounds and was unable to care for herself. It took an entire year for Buna to heal enough just to sit up in bed. Twenty years have passed since her diagnosis of certain death. Every day, she is able to extend the same love and compassion that she experienced to other survivors of trafficking and abuse. Buna teaches the girls at the shelter all she has learned, including the skill of purse making. These beautiful bags are woven one knot at a time. Like snowflakes, no two bags are the same. Buna says that she sees new patterns in her dreams and then makes them. A small bag can take three days to make, with the larger ones taking up to a week. Buna has not only made a difference in the lives of other trafficking victims, but she continues to speak out concerning HIV/AIDS awareness in the country of Nepal.
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