On April 25, 2015, an earthquake ravaged parts of Nepal, destroying homes and businesses and killing nearly 9,000 people. In the months following the devastation, several mysterious individuals appeared in the ruble, offering survivors the opportunity to pursue a better life through education or jobs overseas. Thousands of women and girls, having no alternative, accepted these seemingly generous offers.
According to a 2016 report by Public Radio International, many of those women and girls were then “sold into a global network that includes the dance bars of Kenya, the brothels and underground organ clinics of India, ‘paper marriages’ of South Korea and China, home-cleaning services in the Middle East, slave labor in South Asia and smuggling rings at the Mexico-US border.”
A year before the earthquake, in 2014, more than 13,000 Nepalese women and children were victims of human trafficking, and police in that country believe that number has increased by at least 15 percent since the earthquake.
In 2006, Free For Life International, an anti-trafficking non-profit, was founded in Nashville, and this summer, Austin Peay State University student Sarah Eskildson will work to help Nepalese women and girls as part of her internship with the organization.
“This is my passion, and I’m excited to be just a little part of something so big,” she said.
When Eskildson, a Clarksville native, first enrolled at APSU, she had difficulty settling on a major. Nothing seemed to fit her interest, but one afternoon, she happened to read an article on human trafficking.
“That caught my attention, so I started researching it more,” she said.
She read articles and books, traveled to Nashville to volunteer with groups such as End Slavery Tennessee and organized public awareness campaigns. When it came time to pick a major, she decided to pursue areas that fit this new interest.
“I remember taking the intro to sociology class and realizing this would impact my understanding,” she said. “I also love to write, so I decided to major in both sociology and journalism.”
Free for Life International, in collaboration with the Peace Rehabilitation Center, operates border monitoring stations along Nepal’s borders with India and Tibet, and in 2015, the organization rescued 213 girls from slavery and counseled more than 1,700 Nepalese on the dangers of trafficking. This summer, Eskildson will use the skills she’s acquired during her studies at APSU to assist these missions.
“I will be writing a lot of survivor stories,” she said. “When they rescue a victim, I will write up a story to publish on the website and on social media. I’m excited I’ll be bringing awareness to this issue.”
Eskildson will return to campus next fall, and she plans to graduate in December. When she leaves APSU, she hopes to find a job that expands upon her experiences as an intern.
“It doesn’t matter how much you’re getting paid,” she said. “If you love it, you’re going to be happy. And this is my passion.”