Spokane residents Jim and Carmie Welch founded the faith-based nonprofit organization Real Restoration to provide safe haven and a path forward for sex trafficking victims in Nepal.
The two homes in Kathmandu currently house about 15 women and girls who are recovering from exploitation. For this month’s Role Model, Jim shares details about how Real Restoration works and what day-to-day life is like for the women who live in the homes.
As a longtime resident of the Inland Northwest, how did you come to found a nonprofit organization all the way across the globe?
In 2008, in a variety of cities throughout the world, and specifically Spokane—at the time I was living in Boise, Idaho—there was an influx of Bhutanese and Nepali refugees into the United States. I got involved with those resettlement issues. My involvement with that group of people just got to be more fascinating and interesting and extremely enjoyable—a meaningful part of my life.
In 2011, I was in Kathmandu and I got connected with a woman who was involved with a long-term commitment home for exploited or trafficked girls. I think the light just started turning on in my heart that, here is a country that has a lot of different issues—everywhere has issues—but this one of exploited girls was one that was really important to me.
July of this year, I took the step to file with the IRS and with the state of Washington. This October we became “legit” in Nepal in terms of being registered with that government, and we’re also registered in India.
What impacted you about volunteering at the home for exploited women?
As I spent time with this particular home of girls, I would see new girls come in and they were broken and hurt. And over time, I would see their countenance change. Their frowns or sadness started turning to joy.
Of course, when I would meet these girls the first time, quite often their view of male figures was a little bit—and for good reason—it was out of balance. They would be at arm’s length to me and I understood that. And then, over time, they would come up to me and start calling me a particular phrase in Nepali, or they would give me a high five or a hug.
It was in a very short time that their lives were healing and the two goals were successful: restoration and successful reintegration into society—whether getting married, or being enrolled in school or getting into the vocational workforce.
How do Nepalese women become victims to sex trafficking?
In Nepal there’s a couple different scenarios of trafficking. One is that a father will get tricked by a trafficker for his daughter to go to school. I think they say there’s about 215,000 Nepali girls in brothels in Calcutta. And that’s just one of the cities in India.
Then, there’s the scenario within the country of girls who might live out in a village. Girls and boys will work their way into the city potentially for education or for a job. A girl might get a job in a restaurant and there’s a name for a restaurant in Nepal that might be referred to as forced prostitution and that’s a “cabin restaurant.”
That might start out as somewhat of a legitimate job—serving drinks and food—and end up in forced prostitution. This sense of having to send money back to the village to the family might be fulfilled by that and they get trapped by that.
What is day-to-day life like for a girl or woman who lives at a Real Restoration home?
Each girl has their set of chores. Each girl is on a rotational basis depending on their age—a 9 year old isn’t going to be cooking breakfast for everybody—girls have different chores from cleaning to cooking, and then they head off to school.
When they get home, then homework is on the agenda, and that can be anywhere from about two to four hours. It’s dinner time around six and again different girls are involved with cooking and preparation, setting the table.
When they come home, we want the girls to be with somebody. Almost all the time they’re with somebody else, for not only safety reasons but for the camaraderie. The older girls help the younger girls. There’s a couple house mothers who are making sure those things get done and also looking over emotional care—a lot of talking—for each of the girls.
What does the path to recovery look like for women who have recently escaped a trafficking situation?
When they enter, there’s a health screening right off the bat. We’re checking for AIDS, for HIV, for STDs.
When a girl is ready to go back to school, we get them enrolled. We have a girl who’s 17. She’s brushing up on some computers, some English—she comes from a mountain village, she’s very bright—who needs to brush up on those things before getting into the college. Within a home, because there’s an age range, they’re not all in one school.
Right now, we’re dealing with about 15 girls in total. It’s not unheard of for a girl to wake up with a nightmare in the middle of the night and be screaming. Everybody’s different and there’s no doubt that whether it’s counseling or a relationship that builds within a home, there are milestone breakthroughs that are very evident.
One little girl that came in in January, her countenance was very low. And the next day, she, there was another girl that had her hair braided in just this really cool fashion. I asked, “Who braided your hair?” and she said, “The new girl. She braided my hair.”
So just within that 24 hours—that may sound fairly simple, but to trust somebody to work with, play with, style your hair, that’s kind of therapy for both people. She was still there in October when I visited and she was just a different girl. It was like a light turned on inside her.