Just chilling out and not knowing what to do after graduation? This may be true for many young people. But at least as many are socially involved. Catharina Offermann spent five months in Nepal for this project.
Interviewer: Ms. Offermann, Nepal is not necessarily a country that constantly makes the headlines in Germany. At best, it is known for the Himalayan mountains and its many temples. This landlocked Asian country borders China to the north and India to the east, south and west. What made you decide to spend time volunteering abroad after graduating from high school??
Catharina Offermann (student of special education and member of BONO-Kids): I have always been active in the BONO-Direkthilfe association, because a lot of our work revolves around this work, which is directed against the abduction of young girls and women from rural areas of Nepal. Under false promises, they are brought to India and sold into prostitution there. Nevertheless, as a child and later as a teenager, I was only "on board" and helped with BONO's activities, without really knowing at first what it was all about. It was not until young girls from Nepal visited Bensberg for the first time as part of the "KinderKulturKarawane" (Children's Cultural Caravan) and drew attention to this problem in their homeland with their dances that I became more closely involved with the topic. When I was 14 years old, my father, who runs the association together with Gereon Wagener, took me for the first time to Maiti Nepal and Nepal Matri Griha, the partner organizations of BONO in Kathmandu, and showed me the projects that could be realized with the donations from Germany so far: a children's home, a shelter for rehabilitation measures, the Teresa Academy School, and next to it a women's shelter, where women together with their children are safe from the access of traffickers and police.
Everything I saw and experienced there led to my decision to work here for a longer period of time. My desire to gain new experience after graduating from high school certainly played a role in this. But at the same time I wanted to do something meaningful. I didn't want to travel to this country as a tourist, even though it has a lot to offer culturally. But I had no idea at the time exactly what was in store for me.
Interviewer: And then what was that? Looking back, what impressed you most about the life of the people there??
Offermann: Large parts of the Nepalese population are very poor, especially in rural areas. Organized trafficking gangs take advantage of this poverty. They go to the very remote villages of the rural regions in order to talk the families, who are often struggling for bare survival, out of their daughters under false pretenses by promising them that they will ensure that they receive an education in the big cities and therefore have the prospect of a better life. The children there are therefore particularly exposed to the danger of becoming victims of such criminal activities.
The earthquake in Nepal in April 2015, which caused nearly 9.The deaths of thousands of people have dramatically increased the already existing hardship, so that the natural disaster has played into the hands of these criminals. There was and still is a shocking misery, especially in the countryside. All in all, this has once again strengthened my personal interest in getting involved in this crisis-ridden country. In addition, the attitude of the people there to life impressed me from the beginning: Despite their poverty and despair, they are basically positive and show a fighting attitude. They do not let themselves be defeated and make do with very little materially. For them, only the essential things count.
Interviewer: What work do the partner organizations of BONO-Direkthilfe actually do in Nepal??
Offermann: It is very important to raise awareness in the villages, so that the parents of daughters learn what happens to their children when they give them to strangers. Information should protect against falling for this scam. There are terrible injustices and a lot of suffering here, and people need to know about them. Because once in the possession of these trafficking gangs, it is very difficult to free these girls and women again, because they are sold on to brothel owners at the border crossings to India and then their trail is often lost. And the younger they are, the more money they bring in, because when they are eleven and twelve years old, they are usually not yet infected with STDs and therefore have a high market value. Poor people are nothing but a commodity here.
And then resocialization measures play a very important role. Because in the last few years Maiti Nepal, with the support of BONO-Direkthilfe, has succeeded in 5.Track down 647 girls and women forced into prostitution and free them from their spiral of violence with the help of the police. But most of the time they are then in a miserable condition. They are broken, traumatized individuals after years in prostitution. Many have become pregnant unintentionally and have often been locked up like cattle in brothel cells that are far too small. Maiti Nepal wants to help them rebuild a new life and make them strong enough to become part of society, attend school and maybe even get vocational training. Because many families do not want their daughters back after such experiences, so that these girls are then also additionally disowned, even if Maiti Nepal has located the family of origin after a long search. There the education offer is then doubly important, so that such girls get a perspective.
Interviewer: What was your task at Maiti Nepal??
Offermann: I taught the 6th grade at Teresa Academy School. and 7. I taught the first class and taught English grammar to about 40 girls. Everything here is in English, because it is the official language in Nepal, but also because they are convinced that a country as small as Nepal will not develop if it does not adapt to its strong neighbors. A school class in the capital Kathmandu, however, is not in the least comparable to German conditions, because the age range even within a class group is very large. Some of the students were older than me. And then, beyond the lessons, I also participated in the many other activities Maiti runs for the girls in this school, such as taekwondo for self-defense or dancing, which they use to express their feelings.
Interviewer: What story do these girls bring with them? Talk about what they have experienced?
Offermann: These are harrowing life stories, which you get to hear there, if someone opens up. Because most of the girls don't talk about what they have experienced. Many of them were sold when they were three or four years old. Or they are former street children who have no one to take care of them. Or they were abandoned as babies somewhere on the side of the road, because parents could not take care of another child – and especially not for a girl. I have lived under the same roof with these students and then sometimes learned that at first they had to do housework for their owners while they were still very young, and then later they were sent specifically to the prostitution track. I never asked, but you could always sense the fear when a girl confided in me. I learned, for example, that Nepalese girls have a higher market value than Indian girls and that they are therefore trafficked to the big Indian cities because they simply bring in much more money.
Once a girl revealed herself to me in a letter. That moved me to tears. But Sita* could not talk to me at first. Too often these children have experienced that they cannot trust anyone. Even from the police they run away, because they have to fear to be brought back to their owners. Then I became friends with Sita. But unfortunately we don't hear from each other anymore at the moment, because none of the girls – due to their past history – are allowed to have contacts via the internet.
our siteThey belong to the "BONO-Kids". What is meant by this?
Offermann: As the name suggests, we are the children of the generation that founded BONO-Direkthilfe in Bensberg 17 years ago. At the moment we have ten members. As I said, as young people we have always helped in the activities of the association, but now we wanted to become a bit more proactive. That's why we officially gave ourselves this name last year, in order to encourage other young people to join us and get involved in the fight against human trafficking and forced prostitution. Because it is not only about collecting donations for this work.
So at the beginning of the year we joined the "Not for sale" campaign, in which the photographer Lena Reiner from Friedrichshafen photographed schoolgirls in two Gladbach schools with the lettering "Not for sale" on their skin. We wanted to sensitize young people to the fact that people are not a commodity and certainly not a sex toy for sale. Because unfortunately, despite all efforts, the number of victims of paid rape is increasing. The problem is real, it's huge, and there is no outcry about it. With simple but expressive black-and-white photos and statements that are as concise as they are simple, filled with facts surrounding the ie, we want to draw attention to this important topic among young people – in the hope, among other things, that social control will at least deter opportunistic offenders from their actions. It is fitting that BONO wants to get involved in Germany soon, because the "loverboy" ie is nothing more than a dramatic and destructive form of dependency for the sake of profit. Because human trafficking and child prostitution also exist in our country.
Interviewer: Does your social commitment have anything to do with your Catholic socialization or where does your motivation come from??
Offermann: I grew up asking how the people around me were doing. That is one of the Christian values that I inherited. On the other hand, being with the girls in Nepal was not really work for me, which involved effort. It was the greatest possible sign of trust when a girl shared her bitter experiences with me. But also in the company of these girls I have experienced a lot of warm-heartedness, affection and joy. It was like an unexpected gift. And I have been able to discover something new almost every day. It is already clear to me that I will return there in any case.
Interviewer: In the spirit of "sustainability," which is crucial for young people, what remains of your five months in Nepal??
Offermann: At first it was difficult to arrive at home at all – even in the German consumer world again. Because life in Nepal is very simple: In winter there is no heating and hardly any hot running water. In the house I often wore a cap and gloves. I slept on a wooden bed, washed my clothes by hand, ate sitting on the floor and ate rice and vegetables every day. Nevertheless, I have never been so happy in my life. You have almost nothing there, and you need a lot of creativity. For this, the community counts. I have grown very fond of many people.
All this has had a great impact on me. It was a tremendously enriching time. Because you get a lot back for what you put in. Much of what I do today – for example, my studies in special education – resulted from these experiences. I always wanted to work with children and in the social field. And all of a sudden I had so many children with an extreme story in front of me in the class. In the process, it became clear to me that here in this rich Germany, we often fail to see the essentials and that we can't just duck away. Seen in this light, Nepal will remain a part of my life.
*Name changed by the editors.
The interview was conducted by Beatrice Tomasetti.