Artists, Journalists Celebrate 'Freedom to Create'

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

One woman made a movie about trafficking survivors in Nepal who now track down perpetrators. Another turns spent bullets into jewelry. All were hailed by a group called Freedom to Create, focused on the power of art to heal and change.

MUMBAI, India (WOMENSENEWS)--When Australian freelance journalist Wendy Champagne ran across a 16-year-old trafficking survivor while researching a story for a magazine assignment, her path to making "Bas! Beyond Red Light" began.

The film tells the story of young Nepalese women who have escaped brothel life and are fighting to stop the trafficking of Nepalese to India.

Champagne was inspired by Geeta, a young woman only identified by her first name who showed extraordinary resilience after being rescued.

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"Most girls would prefer to forget such an experience," Champagne said. "Geeta was different. After she was rescued and eventually sent back to Kathmandu she was determined to bring her traffickers to justice."

Geeta lived for a year at a shelter run by a nongovernmental group called Maiti Nepal. After she left there, she kept looking for the traffickers.

"After a year she spotted one and immediately informed the police," said Champagne. "Later, she even managed to track down the other two and did the round of the courts to bring them to justice. Then she returned to the brothel in Mumbai, took a job with the Rescue Foundation, an organization that rescues girls from brothels, and also tracked down the brothel keeper who had exploited her so cruelly."

The film was part of a multimedia event, which included films, videos, plays, music and paintings, displayed at a gallery here May 19 to June 2 and organized by Freedom to Create, a Singapore-based arts advocacy group.

Geeta's own trafficking ordeal began in Kathmandu, Nepal, when she was 13 and working at a Catholic-run school that took care of babies.

"There she befriended two men, who later introduced her to their 'sisters,'" Champagne said in a recent interview.

One of those women asked Geeta to help her take care of her two children at her own home. There, Champagne said, she was drugged. "A few days later she found herself in New Delhi. She was sold to a brothel in Turbhe in Navi Mumbai. It was two years before she was rescued."

Four Years to Complete

Champagne's film about the work of trafficking survivors took more than four years to complete. In addition to screenings at international festivals for general audiences, it is being used for education, training and fundraising for projects to benefit rescued girls and young women.

She says the biggest obstacle came from traffickers and brothel owners in red light districts who didn't like her camera.

"It was dangerous and we had to enlist the help of a local politician at times. But my interest as a filmmaker was to let the girls tell their stories, rather than depict the sordid life in the brothels. So to that end I received a lot of cooperation from the girls and the Rescue Foundation," Champagne said.

The work of Laura Boushnak, a Palestinian photographer born in Kuwait, was also featured in the show.

Her pictures depict Egyptian women attending literacy classes in suburban Cairo. She worked through a nongovernmental group charged by the Education Ministry with implementing a nine-month program for women between the ages of 15 and 45.

"Egypt was among many countries that signed the UN Millennium Goals," said Boushnak, referring to global promises that nations have made to improve living standards in some of the world's most impoverished countries. "One of the goals is the eradication of illiteracy."

She said she approached the project with high expectations, thinking that participants would be aiming, eventually, for higher education. What she found instead were women who just wanted help coping with daily life.

"Like the woman who used to get lost in the maze of public transport and wanted to be able to understand written directions. Another wanted to learn how to count money so vegetable vendors couldn't cheat her. Yet another wanted to read the doctor's prescription so that she gave the right medicine to her son," she said.

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