Woman on a mission to end sex slavery
Every eight minutes, a young girl in India is sold as a sex slave, according to the 2103 Global Slavery Index, which is fueled mainly due to extreme poverty and lack of education. Next month, a Kennett area woman will once again travel to one of the poorest areas in the world to feed, clothe and liberate young girls one at a time.
“I really felt I needed to do something about children getting into the sex trade, said Mary Cairns, 59, who has her own business as an interior decorator. “There’s more to life than making people’s houses pretty because in the scheme of things, it does not matter. I am not making the world a better place be-
cause I make a pretty window treatment.”
Cairns started going to Anupshar, Uttar Pradesh, India six years ago to help teach girls about the dangers of human trafficking. Because 85 percent of the girls in the region had never gone to school, she helped to set up a school the Partdada Pardadi Girls School - on a 100-acre site in one of the poorest village in India.
Today, there are 1,400 girls at the school, with 4,000 on the waiting list. At the school, the girls get three meals a day, often the only food they eat. Even with this food, Cairns said 65 percent of the girls are malnourished.
The school budgets about 12 cents per day on food for the girls, which consists of donated rice, but now includes fruits and vegetables. It’s not bad in a region where the average family income is the American equivalent of $14 per month.
Cairns said sex slavery is such a big problem in India because parents don’t value girls.
“When a girl is born in India, it’s a great time of sorrow,” she said. “The birth of a girl signifies that a servant of the household has been born. Girls have no value.” Cairns said 20 percent of all girls are murdered by their parents before the age of five in rural India, either through gender selective abortions, or by parents killing them shortly after they are born.
The school was set up by Sam Singh, a native of India who once heded up DuPont’s headquarters in India. Singh used his retirement savings to build the school. His goal was to take one girl from each of the poorest families in the villages and give them basic education and some training.
The school gives the girls a sense of worth. They learn that it is not acceptable for parents to sell their young daughters to men who claim they will marry them off.
“Our girls are now standing up and fighting against their parents,” Cairns said.
Young girls are easy targets because most homes have no roofs or doors. When parents do not agree to sell their daughter, often for the equivalent of 25 American dollars, they are forcibly taken.
Cairns told of how one girl came to school and said her daughter was about to go off and be married. Singh visited the house and urged the parents not to do so, knowing she would be a sex slave. But the parents were unrelenting, so Singh paid $135 to “buy” the family’s four girls and took them to the school where they eventually found a home in an orphanage.
The school is nothing like a traditional school. The government in India provides only five hours of electricity a day, mostly in the middle of night. The school has a generator, but it’s expensive to run and often fails. There is no electric and no air-conditioning, brutal in an environment where temperatures typically rise above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. But still, it’s an oasis for the girls in a very poor village, Cairns said.
“We are finally educating our girls as to what is happening there,” Cairns said. “Illiteracy is over 70 percent, and they don’t have access to information. They can’t read, and don’t know what’s going on in the world.”
As an incentive for the girls to go to school, Singh set up a fund to pay them the equivalent of 25 cents a day for each day they attend school. If they go from 5th grade to 12th grade, they can make about $750, which sets them on the road to economic self-sufficiency. The money can only be taken out when they reach age 21 or when they are married. The money cannot be accessed by a man, even their father.
Because the girls are so poor, Cairns has taken over supplies the past couple of years. Through social media, she has managed to muster up a fund, and buys supplies. Recently, she took over toothbrushes which girls there had never used before. Recently she brought over 6,000 pairs of underwear, and Cairns said it is the first pair of underwear the girls have had. With 600 girls in puberty, underwear holds the sanitary pads manufactured at the school, she said.
Two years ago, she took over 1,000 bras, school supplies, hygiene products and medical supplies to the girls, all with funds she raised locally.
Last summer, with local crowd-sourced funding, she helped to build a medical clinic to provide the villagers, as well as students and staff, with quality medical care. Polio, eliminated in most of the world, is still prevalent in the small village.
When she departs for India in November, Cairns will take three doctors from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who cherish humanitarian aid, and a couple of other volunteers. Cairns pays for her own air fare and other expenses from her own pocket, which she estimates to be thousands of dollars.
“I truly feel like I have 14,000 daughters over there,” she said.
In the past six years, Cairns has taught thousands of girls how to use soap, brush their teeth and practice proper hygiene. She guides them on how they can avoid being sold into sex slavery. “The girls needed me, and I knew that I was able to make a difference over there,” she said.
Cairns said her next team is helping to set up a pediatric medical clinic to care for the babies and children, who are malnourished and dying.
Cairns will depart for her humanitarian mission in November. For those who wish to donate, especially bras or girls’ underwear, email Cairns at firstname.lastname@example.org. She has an online blog on her trips at http://marymikeindia.blogspot.com.
Mary Cairns of New Garden shows a photo of two girls who live in India who she has grown close to. Every year, Cairns travels to a small village in India to help girls avoid being sold as sex slaves.
Mary Cairns is all smiles in a classroom in India, as she teaches the girls how to avoid becoming sex slaves.
One of the more prized possession for girls in India is underwear, and here they each get one during distribution. Mary Cairns of New Garden takes underwear to the girls during her yearly visits to India.
These girls in India had no idea what a toothbrush was until Chester County resident Mary Cairns introduced them during her visit there.
This toilet was built at the home of a student who excelled in school. The toilet cost $480 to construct, and parents pay about $50 of the cost.