PLANTATION, Florida — India, like many other major countries across the world, struggles with issues related to human trafficking. According to the U.S. State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, India ranks as a tier 2 country, meaning that the country has not fully eliminated severe forms of human trafficking, but is making significant efforts to do so. Unfortunately for India, this means that human trafficking still runs rampant in the country.
According to the same report, there were 6,622 victims of human trafficking in 2020 (a 28.7% increase from 2019). These cases of human trafficking disproportionately affect women, with 57% of victims being women, many of whom are sexually trafficked. In a country where approximately 11 million people are in the modern trafficking system, international intervention is necessary. Although the Indian government has implemented its direct response, it’s up to individuals to create safe spaces for previous victims and vulnerable people to avoid entering or reentering the trafficking system. That’s where Her Future Coalition comes in.
Her Future Coalition is a nonprofit based in St. Augustine, Florida that creates free shelter, education and job training programs for vulnerable girls in India and Nepal. Although the organization is small compared to other organizations operating in the area, they have had a major impact on communities across India. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Amanda Cunningham, development director of Her Future Coalition, explained that the organization is currently supporting 1,500 girls across India and Nepal and it does not plan on slowing down any time soon.
Her Future Coalition’s Origins
Her Future Coalition had humble beginnings, starting off with just two people – Sarah Symons and her husband John Berger. While attending the Tribeca Film Festival in 2002 where one of her songs was being used as the title track for a film, Symons watched a documentary about human trafficking in India and Nepal. Although the film was uncomfortable, it inspired her to do what she could to help the people profiled in the documentary, leading to her and her husband founding the Her Future coalition in 2005.
In the beginning, the nonprofit only operated out of a shelter in Kathmandu, India, where Symons assisted local women in selling products made in the shelter to both generate income for the women and raise awareness about international slavery. Over time, though, the nonprofit grew.
Cunningham explained that Nepal was eventually chosen as a second focus spot for Her Future Coalition because the path from Nepal to India is “a major traffic spot.” Over the past 18 years since Her Future Coalition’s inception, the nonprofit added additional programs for shelter, education and more broad financial independence training instead of just entrepreneurship.
Shelters and Job Programs
Her Future Coalition primarily puts its resources and effort towards shelter, education and job training in India and Nepal. The nonprofit assists in operating three shelter spaces in India, which help over 650 children each year. The locations of the shelters range from large cities like Mumbai and Delhi to small rural areas like Bengal. The main city that the nonprofit operates in, though, is Kolkata, India. In some of these shelters, along with more specialized spaces, Her Future Coalition operates its job training programs. The nonprofit supports programs for photography, metalsmithing and jewelry design, tailoring and textile printing, beautician school, baking, hospitality, and management and computer training. Job training programs for women like this are especially important in a country where, according to Forbes, women earn 25% less income on average compared to men.
Recently, Her Future Coalition’s primary focus has been its education programs. According to Cunningham, the school operates on a STEAM curriculum, meaning that students focus on traditional education topics along with the arts. It offers education programs at shelters, mobile education programs and programs at the organization’s Red Light Resource Centers in Kolkata. Recently, though, the nonprofit opened three education centers across India and Nepal– the Her Future Learning Center in Kolkata, the Freedom School in Nepal and the Her Future Coalition Middle School in Kolkata in partnership with Ek Tara.
The Her Future Coalition Middle School opened in 2019 and offers education to 275 girls from Kolkata’s largest slum. It also gets parents involved, offering workshops encouraging them to be partners in the girls’ education. The Freedom School in Nepal opened in 2021 and is primarily an education and anti-trafficking project. The community that the Freedom School is in has a disproportionately high level of child marriage and trafficking, with “virtually every family” having family members in a brothel, according to a 2022 report. The school’s leader, Anjali Tamang, started the school in an effort to reverse this trend and is currently educating 125 kids with more coming in every month.
The Her Future Coalition Learning Center is the newest education project that the nonprofit has started and is the first of its kind. Every child who comes into the program receives education in basic English and computer literacy along with general education, vocational skills, workshops on women and human rights and support services for trafficking survivors and vulnerable girls. According to Cunningham, the Learning Center is also the first nonprofit co-working space in Kolkata, which gives girls the opportunity to work with eight separate nonprofits and have a more holistic and varied education.
Collaborations With Other Nonprofits
Her Future Coalition frequently partners with other nonprofits in the area, in fact, nearly every endeavor that the nonprofit has supported is in collaboration with at least one other nonprofit. Cunningham said that to do this, representatives from the nonprofit do on-the-ground research to find nonprofits that align with Her Future Coalition’s goals and have “positive and survivor-led, long-term solutions.” She said that these collaborations have a goal of “building and nurturing relationships” with local organizations, which is essential in expanding the nonprofit’s reach. Along with this, Cunningham explained that Her Future Coalition’s team in Kolkata, India has worked with the nonprofit’s partners to “shift policy,” adding to the work that Her Future Coalition has done with other nonprofits.
By providing shelter, education, and job programs for vulnerable girls in India and Nepal, Her Future Coalition is giving girls the opportunity to live independent lives. Along with this, Her Future Coalition’s frequent collaboration with other nonprofits is an essential factor in all nonprofits in the area growing and succeeding together. It will continue to challenge gender norms in India and Nepal and create a better future for the countries’ children, one girl at a time.
– Aidan Johnstone