It takes a piglet

Using an unusual incentive program, the Nepalese Youth Opportunity Foundation has kept thousands of girls out of slavery.

Published July 24, 2008 5:25PM (EDT)

In 1989, a Californian woman named Olga Murray was volunteering in Nepal, helping abandoned and disabled children get educations, when she learned about something shocking: In a southern Nepalese district, some Tharu farming families were so financially desperate that they were selling their daughters as domestic slaves to Kathmandu families for between $35 and $75.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Murray (now 83) and her colleague, Som Paneru, came up with a solution, one that was so successful that Murray is a "philanthropic legend" in the area and has been honored by the Dalai Lama. The secret weapon?


Murray and Paneru understood that pork was a prized meat in Nepal and that many families were selling their daughters because they couldn't feed the rest of their families. So they began approaching village fathers with a proposal: If they promised to keep their daughters and to send them to school instead of selling them, the organization Murray and Paneru worked for, the Nepalese Youth Opportunity Foundation, would give them a piglet to raise -- a piglet that would fetch the same amount of money at market as one of their daughters. What's more, the NYOF would pay for the girls' schooling and provide families with a kerosene lamp and 2 liters of kerosene a month. The result? Of the 37 families they approached the first year, 32 said yes. (The Chronicle notes that "some asked for and received a goat instead of a pig" -- proving that even in the most absurd situations, it's good to be flexible.)

The craziest part: Since the beginning of the program, Murray and her colleagues have helped to save 3,000 girls from slavery and, says the Chronicle, to "all but eradicate the long-held tradition of indentured servitude in the Tharu village."

For more uplifting details, check out the article itself. And if you want to find out more or help support NYOF, visit the group's Web site (or read more about this particular program here).

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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