Our partner Freedom Matters, based in the UK, operates a jewelry production workshop outside Kathmandu, Nepal, and other programs for survivors of trafficking and young people who were exploited, or at risk for exploitation because they are deaf.
I always assumed these young people were born deaf and were in the program because their disability makes them vulnerable to trafficking. However, when we visited the program in March, we learned from Shalijah, the valiant rescue operative for Freedom Matters, that many kids are actually made deaf by being beaten around the head and ears when they are enslaved in circuses.
Circus trafficking has been a big problem in Nepal, with young children (5-7 years old) being taken from their families and exploited for years in Indian circuses. The girls are sexually exploited in ‘private shows’. Children are deliberately malnourished to delay their growth. They are forced to perform dangerous stunts without safety nets and many are permanently injured as a result. They are locked up in cages like animals. Some lose their hearing. Kids in circus slavery lose their childhoods as well as their futures, at least until they are rescued and given safe housing, love, attention, education and vocational training.
We have enjoyed sharing resources between the Freedom Matters workshop and our jewelry workshops in India, sourcing tools and materials together, working on designs, and learning from each others mistakes and best practices.
Survivor stories from Freedom Matters: Sushmita was rescued from the circus at 9 years of age, where she had been working for over a year. She was reunited with her family which included 9 children. Due to her familiy's extreme poverty she was tempted to join the circus again so that there would be one less person to care for at home. Upon learning about her situation Freedom Matters provided care and education for Sushmita. Sushmita recently passed her graduation exam for secondary school. Her next step is attending college. Sushmita is paying for college with money earned making jewelry for Made by Survivors.
Sita was born deaf. Her family refused to learn sign language. Despite this challenge. Sita learned to lip read. In Nepal, it is common for deaf people to be labled "lato", which means stupid. Sita was bullied at school and work. However, she proved her smarts by becoming skilled as a tailor, in mosaics, and is one of the most talented jewelers at Freedom Matters.. Sita creates a calming atmosphere at the jewelry center. She understands the bigger pictures as well as able handle the details.
Pictured below: the workshop exterior in it's glorious mountain setting, Tiles used in the new mosaic collection