The Blue Butterfly Foundation helps the people of Nepal find education, shelter and other necessities. The nonprofit focuses on children that are vulnerable to the rampant human trafficking within the country.
On April 24, the founder and director of the Blue Butterfly Foundation, Lauren Yanks, spoke at the Student Union Building to raise awareness about the organization and its current projects. Her two sons, Sanjay Basnet and Kamlesh Baral, spoke about their experiences growing up in poverty in Nepal.
Yanks started traveling to Nepal as a journalist in 2008 with an interest in children’s issues. She set up theater classes for trafficked kids and lived in Kathmandu, Nepal for a year as a visiting professor.
Yanks explained that she and her husband Jim Damon started the foundation in memory of their daughter Zoe Damon who died at just 20 years old from a car accident in Costa Rica in 2011.
Since its founding in 2015, Blue Butterfly has set up schools and community centers in extremely poor areas, providing resources and trauma-informed schooling to survivors of trafficking. “I realized that the best way to try to combat this issue is by education and raising awareness,” Yanks said. “It is very hard to try to heal someone after they’ve been trafficked and all they’ve been through. It’s better off trying to use your resources to prevent it and find out what are the inequities that lead to this decision.”
According to UNICEF, 12,000 Nepalese children are trafficked to India per year, often being sexually exploited. Yanks said authority figures don’t seem to care that this is happening.
Nepal is a hot-spot for trafficking because of its location. “It’s tiny, very impoverished, between the two giants, China and India, and it has an open border with India. So it’s very easy for traffickers from India to come in,” Yanks said.
Both Basnet and Baral escaped poverty in Nepal with Yanks’ help. When he was still very young, Baral’s uncle, who was from the capital, had to take him to the hospital due to deadly roundworms infesting his body. Luckily, the doctors saved him and he continued to live in Kathmandu. He met Yanks during a martial arts class that she came into. She later offered him food and water at her apartment and treated him to a birthday dinner with his friends in the tourist section of the city. Baral brought his friend, Sanjay Basnet, along with him.
Basnet’s parents warned him not to accept any of Yanks’ help because foreigners in Nepal are known to harvest and sell organs of trafficked children. Basnet trusted her despite his parents warnings, and eventually, she met them and reassured them that her only goal was to give him a good education.
Since meeting Yanks, Basnet and Baral have both relocated to the U.S. and now study at SUNY Ulster. “We moved to a completely different curriculum. The schooling system was very challenging and exciting. So yeah, it was a great experience in the beginning,” Basnet said.
Yanks says she is most proud of their kindness and compassion. They both hope to be human rights lawyers one day and go back to Nepal to help their community. “When I go back to Nepal, I want to educate people, especially underprivileged women and obviously the children. I think it’s important to educate women,” Baral told The Oracle.
They have both become amazing artists and sell their paintings to fundraise for their education and the Blue Butterfly. To learn more about the foundation you can look at their website or follow the Instagram @bluebutterflyfoundation.