A friend called me recently for advice: How can she convince her Tibetan nanny not to pay twenty thousand dollars to a man who has promised a tourist visa to Slovakia? The nanny believes that once she is out of India and in the West, she stands at the gateway of opportunity and money.
The nanny’s story reflects the desperation of so many marginalized communities in India (and elsewhere). As a Tibetan woman born in India, she has refugee status but not citizenship. India has a new Citizen Act for children of Tibetan refugees, but like many things here, it takes a legal battle to move milestones. There are too many caveats built into the law.
Her family thinks that it’s better for her to leave India than to stay, and so they are willing to beg-borrow epic cash and give it to a stranger who promises a one-way ticket to nowhere. For most Indians, it would take decades to save this money.
For the young Tibetan hoping to better her life and support her extended family, where does a visa to the Slovak Republic deliver her? What does she inherit when she is “free”?
Here’s one likely scenario: She is delivered to traffickers and forced into prostitution, another girl swallowed into the bowels of an underworld darker than anything she knew in India.
Or, she might struggle to organize herself in a country where she is an illegal resident, doesn’t speak the language, and has little opportunity to work or educate herself. She’s back where she started: marginalized – only this time without the support of her immediate family and extended Tibetan community. The cycle of poverty and desperation continues.
But most likely, the visa-peddler doesn’t deliver the twenty-thousand-dollar visa. He disappears and the young woman and her family are robbed of money they don’t own and dreams they can’t afford.
The family believes, beyond all reason, that this man won’t swindle them. Maybe they think that proof of his honesty is evident because he has offered to knock off a few thousand dollars in exchange for sex with the Tibetan nanny.
The family lost six hundred dollars in a similar scam last year. I wonder why they would expose themselves to loss again, but I don’t live the same worries and know the same hardships that drive this decision.
My advice? Invest this money in the girl’s education. If she believes that she has the moxy it takes to survive the challenges of living a migrant life, why doesn’t she fight in India where she is resident in a messy but vibrant democracy and has a greater chance of thriving?
Poor women face enormous barriers to empowerment here – but money can buy an education. A young Tibetan woman with a high school diploma and decent board exams could apply for college in the States or elsewhere. Maybe her Tibetan status would help secure placement. Also, the American family for whom she works would do all they could to help her.
Education is the currency that will buy this young woman opportunity. In the end, it may not be the bogeyman who shuts the door to the nanny’s future; it may be her parents.
My sweet Olivia Rose:
Can’t resist the Kashmir shawl guy at the American School…
Now, who put this street doggie in a Tutu?
I walked through a homeless enclave in Old Delhi one night with a local NGO to deliver blankets and learn more about the challenges of living in the open air. Here’s a water tank provided by the city for the residents of this dirt lot. The city refills the tank with non-drinking water once a week.
Daddy and Georgie at India Gate:
Our nanny, Bina buying fruit from the fruit man. We hear him calling out every day as he walks down the street:
We are lucky to have journalist and teacher, Julie Nolin, working with us for a few months. Julie is visiting from Canada and helping me develop curriculum. We will team teach a TV studio module over five weeks in April and May – and I expect to learn oodles from her. To my left, Amey – an A1, top-shelf, awesome colleague.
Mom is visiting… she can’t resist the textiles: