Award-winning Yorkshire dentist Andrea Ubhi is helping trafficked girls in some of the remotest areas in Nepal. And, as Catherine Scott discovers, it is far more than helping them look after their teeth.
Andrea Ubhi always wanted to do something to help those worse off than herself.
With a hugely successful career as one of the area’s top cosmetic dentists, with a nice home and three great children, she always felt she wanted to do something more.
“My life has been pretty perfect really,” says Andrea, who own Andrea Ubhi Cosmetic Dentistry in York.
“We all have our tough times but when you compare it to some of the girls I have met out lives are very easy.
“I have done things for charity in the past but I am at a time in my life when I wanted to support something 100 per cent,” says Andrea, who was named Dentist of the Year 2013 and 2005.
“But I wanted to make sure that if I did get involved that all the money or support I gave went directly to those in need. I wanted to be sure where my money was going.”
Andrea was particularly interested in helping girls who were victims of trafficking and is was simply by googling it that she came across the charity Asha Nepal.
“It’s a small charity which is what I was looking for and they worked directly with the young victims of sex trafficking.”
But Andrea wasn’t content with just handing over a cheque. She wanted to see for herself the work being done by Asha Nepal, and just how she could personally help them in the future.
Asha Nepal is a human rights organisation, working towards the social and economic empowerment of women and children affected by sex trafficking.
Andrea travelled to Nepal to visit a “reintegration centre” in Kathmandu which houses girls who have just been rescued from India after being sex-trafficked. The centre run by Asha Nepal, houses approximately 16-20 girls – many as young as 11 or 12. When the girls arrive at the centre they are often deeply traumatised and so receive counselling and health screening including HIV, TB, and hepatitis testing.
They stay at the centre for between six months to a year to gain emotional and health stability, skills training and employment advice to ensure they are able to move on.
Andrea has learnt a lot of about the plight of the girls while visiting Nepal.
“A common story is that many of the girls come from the rural hillside villages, where life is incredibly tough. They are promised work in the city by ‘friends’, so they are sent away by their families, they can be sold on several times before finding themselves in the brothels of major cities in India, Mumbai, Delhi or Kolkata.
“They are forced into prostitution, often having to see up to 20 men a day just to receive food. They are forced to have abortions if they get pregnant, sometimes having many abortions. When rescued and returned to Nepal, a big problem is that they are unable to return to their home villages for fear of being re-sold by their relatives, being a social outcast and severely bullied.”
Once at the centre, each girl is supported by a case manager and welfare team, funded by Asha, who are responsible for their welfare while in their care and after they leave, tracking health, social welfare, housing, schooling and employment.
Where relevant, their schooling is funded by Asha and when finished they have access to a full-time job coordinator who teaches them about job interviews and helps them to find suitable, safe and self-sustaining employment. Asha also finds housing for groups of girls and has set up a trial cottage industry with weaving looms to provide employment.
Peter Bashford, one of the founders of Asha Nepal said: “Thousands of women and children in Nepal suffer daily from extreme human rights abuses – sex trafficking, sexual and physical abuse, child labour, and discrimination due to gender, caste and HIV/Aids.
“We are fighting for women’s social status to be raised, to help victims break free from this vicious, violent circle. We aim to give them the hope, and the opportunities and independence to create a new world for themselves.”
While Andrea was at the centre she carried out dental check-ups on all the girls and children, providing toothbrushes, and teaching them good oral hygiene. She has started a dental fund so that the girls who have dental issues can see a local dentist. She has also been providing business support for the management team and financing of the projects, and has just been elected as a trustee.
“What I love is that the whole Asha Nepal team keeps asking itself... What’s in the best interest of the girls? Then gets on and does it. And every penny raised goes directly to the projects here, and not on fund-raising or administration. I hope that I can contribute to their work and together we can give the girls hope and stamp out sex trafficking.”
The plight of the girls also seems very personal to Andrea, who plans to return to Nepal later this year.
“I have a 12-year-old daughter myself which makes it all very personal. Life for her it totally different from the life that these girls, many of whom are her age, have.” Plans for fund raising include a sponsored trek in the Himalayas in Easter 2015 and the team at Andrea Ubhi York are doing a sponsored bike ride this summer to raise funds for a new foster home in Kathmandu to house five more rescued girls.
“You just have to do what you can to help. It costs just £53 to fund a girl, and it could change their lives.”
For more information or to make a donation visit www.asha-nepal.org or text ASHA33 £10 to 70070 to donate to Asha Nepal via JustGiving.