Each step required a gigantic effort. Everything happened in slow motion, like an astronaut’s walk on the moon. In this two-week expedition in November 2015, to Everest base camp, the walkers’ lungs were never filled. The mission was funded by a dozen women at the head of multinationals from around the world, who had chosen to offer a trek to young survivors of sex trafficking protected by the Shakti Samuha association, based in Kathmandu.
Mountaineer Shailee Basnet was their guide, alongside fellow athlete Maya Gurung. Evolving beyond the bar of 4,500 meters in altitude, the twenty or so adolescent girls taken care of discovered for the first time the fragility of the breath.
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Shailee Basnet remembers their bodies reacting in varying ways. In the mountains, no one is equal. This trek, accessible to all athletes in good physical condition, is nonetheless renowned for being very demanding. “When the body’s energy is absorbed by the effort to give, we stop thinking. We think of nothing other than to move forward, to struggle ”says Shailee Basnet, who spent time observing each of the hikers to avoid any complications.
The highest peaks on every continent
What the Nepalese mountaineer could not imagine was that this expedition would give a new direction to his life. If, this time, base camp was her point of arrival, seven years earlier, at 25, she had climbed Everest, already equipped with her big yellow suit to be visible in the event of an accident.
Then, between 2008 and 2014, she achieved the feat of reaching the highest peaks of each continent, with ten Nepalese teammates forming the « Seven Summits Women Team » : after Everest, Aconcagua in South America, Denali in the United States, Elbrus in Europe, Kilimanjaro in Africa, Mount Vinson in Antarctica and Mount Kosciuszko in Australia.
Shailee Basnet admits having arrived on the roofs of the world “late”, at 20 years old. “In Nepal, women are still considered inferior to men, if only in terms of rights. I could not have imagined one day becoming a mountaineer ”, she explains. Born in Kathmandu thirty-seven years ago, she came from “From a typical middle-class family who didn’t expect anything from me in particular, rather open-minded. But the weight of tradition often comes more from society than from our parents. “
It is by registering for a FIWSE (First Inclusive Women’s Sagarmata Expedition) between Nepalese from different castes and communities, accompanied by Sherpa guides, that she discovers the universe of the mountain and never leaves it.
“The mountain can be a prospect for the future”
But that November day of 2015, she was there as a guide and remembers the group’s euphoria upon arrival. She was reading “The joy in the eyes of the young women seated, their legs cut off by the effort and the lack of oxygen”. ” The horror “ that they had known in Kathmandu and elsewhere in the world “Seemed to be silent for a moment”.
Shailee Basnet still sees the young women intoxicated by the dance of the clouds above the highest peak in the world. “They were aware of being in a hostile place where man does not have to be, but proud to have come this far, she says. The physical aspect was not at the center of everything, there was a bigger fight that I understood when we reached base camp, and I thought to myself: for those broken lives, the mountain can be a Future perspective. “
The climber then understands why Everest had it “Accepted seven years ago. I didn’t just aspire to climb summits, my job is to help girls who aspire to become guides ”.
A long education work
The project matures with Shailee Basnet and her partner Maya Gurung, who today train, in Kathmandu, former victims of sex trafficking aged 15 to 20 years in the perilous profession of high mountain guide. “Leading a mountain expedition means having self-confidence, but also instilling confidence in a group. For these girls, it’s literally the opposite of what they’ve been taught for years. By becoming a guide, we move from the position of follower to that of leader. To give birth to a leader, it is an important investment. “
At first, nothing guaranteed Shailee Basnet that her intuition was right, “But I discovered in these girls a fire, a desire to transform their lives”. Also in connection with the association of victims Shakti Samuha, the training offered for six years by the two Himalayas is long and requires patience.
Ten young women started their program in 2015 and are in the process of setting up as high mountain guides. In the second group, launched at the end of 2018, five still very young women are receiving support. The program includes English lessons, self-defense lessons, motivational talks, physical exercises, mountaineering and coaching lessons, six days a week.
“Ambition is important, so are the risks of failure. We come from afar, these young girls often left school very young, and come from remote areas of Nepal. It’s a long education job, we knew it wouldn’t be easy. “ Shailee Basnet calls them “Our surviving sisters”.
Kathmandu, center of sex tourism
Although the Nepalese justice system firmly punishes child prostitution, many networks of exploitation of young underage girls have continued to grow for decades in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, taking advantage of a context of extreme poverty in some remote regions of the country. country.
The NGO Plan International, specializing in the protection of minors targeted by human trafficking, estimates, in its April 2019 survey, that 8,000 Nepalese girls are victims of trafficking each year, for different purposes. Many of them are transported to India or China for exploitation. Others, coming from poor regions of Nepal, exiled in particular following the earthquakes of 2015, are sent to Kathmandu.
The enslavement of these young girls, most often victims of ambush, was relayed by an investigation of several months by the photojournalist Lizzie Sadin, winner of the Carmignac photojournalism prize. Part of his investigative work was published on the TV5 Monde website, under the title “The Trap. Trafficking in women in Nepal ”.