“I am against the idea of children’s homes because children should be living with their families. But if the same family sold them off to circuses, can they ever go back home?” asks a pensive Phillip Holmes, the founder of Esther Benjamins Trust (EBT).
To more than a hundred children living in the home established by the EBT at Godavari to the south of Kathmandu, Holmes is now their “Daddy.”
After Holmes’ wife Esther Benjamins, a well known judge, took her own life in 1999 due to childlessness, he decided to start a charity to help children.
“I chose Nepal because I used to work as a dentist in the British Army and came to know a lot of Gurkha families,” says Holmes, a British national.
Holmes came to Nepal and stayed in Bhairahawa for a year where he worked closely with children of prisoners and with deaf children. In 2002, Holmes began his research on children being trafficked to circuses in India.
“Back then, children trafficked to circuses was not considered as immoral as prostitution,” informs Holmes, who worked hard to clear the misconception.
Similar to the plights of sex workers, children, mostly girls, are sold by agents (often their own relatives) to circuses for a meager sum of money. Innocent village girls are tricked by agents who promise them glamour and fame. Apart from being exploited as cheap labor, many of them are sexually assaulted and undergo severe psychological problems.
Till date, EBT has rescued more than 300 children from circuses in India, and 13 agents have been arrested.
“After Indian circuses learnt about our rescue programs, they improved their working conditions and raised salaries, and violence against girls significantly went down,” explains Holmes. In 2006, two agents were sentenced to 20 year terms for trafficking children to circuses.
“Many parents came to take their children back after the rescue, but not all,” puts in Holmes. These children have been living at EBT’s home and are also enrolled in schools. Holmes’ worries are more on adolescent teenage girls from the ages 15 upwards—whose traumatic experiences have lowered their self-confidence.
“In summer 2005, I went to France for a vacation and there I worked on some mosaics,” informs Holmes and continues, “That’s how I got the idea of making the girls to make mosaics during their free time.”
The girls who don’t go to school now spend time making mosaics from bathroom tiles which are sold to clients in various countries from Italy to America. The money made from the sales goes back directly into the home. EBT has also established a mosaic workshop in Bhairahawa for deaf children.
“It takes about 3-4 days to finish a piece,” says one of the girls, without taking her eyes off the mosaic. “Daddy receives custom orders and we make pieces according to that,” she adds, breaking tiles into tiny triangles.
The mosaics range from Rs 1,000 and up per piece, but have yet to tap the potentials in the local market. The pictures are outlined on a wooden board; the pieces are arranged according to colors; and then plastered down with glue. The subjects of the mosaics from cultural and religious icons of Nepal to animals and decorative themes.
“Some of the girls I have trained have become experts, and they stop working once they get married. But then I have to be happy that they are moving on in life,” smiles Holmes.
Well, it’s natural for a father to feel that way.
EBT is organizing a fundraiser bungee jump at the Last Resort on Saturday, November 21. For more information on the event, call 5523642.