What an edifying start to 2013 we have had. Since I last wrote, we have spent six action-packed weeks travelling, visiting our partner NGO Base in the west of Nepal and then heading down to India for sun, sand and sea while the street food world recuperated from a gruelling 2012, ready for action after a January spent more or less in hibernation.
We have been back two weeks and are fully into the swing of trading once more. It took some time to remember how we do things - amazing how just six weeks can completely throw you off - and we had a beautiful sunny Tuesday at the Kerb market at King's Cross last week followed by a wet but wonderfully busy lunchtime at the Gherkin. I always love hawking our little gyoza at its mighty, towering Base, right in the heart of the working capital.
Our trip to Nepal was very enlightening and has led to an exciting new giving initiative through our food. A little background if you are not already acquainted: Base is a small but very effective organisation which helps the Tharu people, indigenous to the west but who were dispossessed of their idyllic and fertile land in the 1950s by opportunistic neighbours when the malaria risk in the region was eliminated by the United States. Having lived a deeply rural life with little or no access to schools or education, many Tharus were forced to sign over deeds to their land without knowing what they were doing and, with no land and no means of income, were forced into bonded labour - effective slavery - working for wealthy landlords with debts too great to pay off.
In 2000, after seven years of slowly but surely growing his own Tharu grass roots group, Base founder and global human rights activist Dilli Chaudhary managed to get the government to outlaw bonded labour. Sadly, the practice is still as strong as ever and there are currently 1 million minors working in Nepal alone, while the government has yet to prosecute or sanction anyone responsible. Impunity continues in spite of the law.
I first visited Base in 2009 and the work they were doing to educate and empower the Tharu community was deeply inspiring. Partnering with Save the Children, UNDP, Find Your Feet, Room to Read, Amnesty International and other organisations, they implement youth clubs, child-friendly villages, women's microfinance groups and school building, working to provide highly effective and sustainable ways for families to generate income without having to send their children off to work for others just to get food or education.
At the time, they were well-funded and running very successful rescue operations for child labourers, rehabilitating them in safe and friendly transit homes for thirty days or more, and either reintegrating them with their families, or finding foster homes for those whose own families could not support them. When we started rainbo, an area we very much wanted to contribute to were Base's schools, and we have been gathering funds for kitchen gardens there to help the community grow their own produce.
But when we visited almost four years later, we were astounded to hear that so many children were still in bonded labour, and that Base have recently had to freeze their rescue and rehabilitation projects due to lack of private and international funding in that area. We were lucky enough to with some of the children who had previously been rescued and were awestruck by their enduring spirit and the tremendous work Base has done to get them back on track.
No child should be forced to work in those conditions and each and every one deserves a safe home and a proper education. These rescue operations and transit homes are a golden lifeline and change the lives of hundreds of kids - and so we are launching a new campaign, Food for Freedom, where 20p from every meal sold from the rainbo van will go directly towards rescuing child workers and getting them back on their feet.
Initial funds are needed to recruit qualified psychological and medical staff and volunteers, provide sufficient education, food and clothing for the children - and after that the overhead costs are easily sustainable as children are rehomed and newly rescued ones come in. Funding ongoing education is still a big problem, but first and foremost these children need to start living their lives again.
Base are overjoyed that they will be able to reinitiate this programme with our help. The more we can raise, the sooner they can get moving, and we can get to know each child who passes through their hands and into a new life.
Enormous thanks to everyone who has supported and eaten with us so far, we raised a total of £1364 last year and have high hopes for Food for Freedom in 2013 in London and beyond. Watch this space for more information over the coming weeks, and if you have any questions or want to connect in the meantime drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.