In September 2009, Northwest Pediatric Center was honored to partner with the Tronie Foundation to send a team of healthcare professionals to India. The Tronie Foundation is a non-profit organization that was established by Trong and Rani Hong–themselves childhood victims of exploitation–out of compassion for exploited women and children around the world. One of the Foundation’s chief aims is to provide worldwide restoration of victims of human trafficking and those vulnerable to exploitation.
To that end, a team of six healthcare professionals from Northwest Pediatric Center was asked to accompany Rani to India, where free medical clinics were held for children rescued from slavery and for those at highest risk for being trafficked as slaves. Free health camps were also conducted in remote parts of the country where children have traditionally had very little access to modern healthcare.
The medical team consisted of Drs. Jennifer Polley and Lily Lo, and nurses Brenda Cowin, Lin Grey, and Connie Kline. Dana Shepherd, ARNP donned a different hat for this trip, serving as the official photojournalist chronicling the trip for the Tronie Foundation.
We were invited by Pratham to visit their two rescue shelters where children liberated from a life of hard labor are now getting fed, housed, and educated, all for free. We met with the 50 boys and 32 girls housed in the two homes, listening to their stories, singing songs, and conducting medical exams.
The following day, we traveled to Ahmedabad, where we met with SEWA, an organization consisting of over a million poor, self-employed women workers whose goal is to achieve full employment and self reliance through education, development, and the provision of support services such as savings and credit, health care, and child care.
In the afternoon, we traveled in 105-degree heat to a rural village, where we conducted a health clinic for several dozen children enrolled at one of SEWA’s 117 day care centers while their mothers were hard at work. Many of these children, living in poverty and with little access to healthcare, had significant medical concerns, including congenital heart disease, developmental delay, and asthma. Later that day, we visited a SEWA-sponsored evening tutoring class for working women. While the mothers were engaged in learning, we performed health exams on their children.
Thereafter, we travelled to Assam, a state in the northeastern part of India that is bordered by Bhutan and Bangladesh. There, in conjunction with the Orchid City Rotary Club and a local hospital, we held a free health clinic for nearly 800 people. Drs. Polley and Lo, along with two Indian colleagues, examined and treated nearly 150 children during the all-day clinic.
The following day, we drove across northeast India to the Brahmaputra Valley, where we conducted a similar health camp for 650 local Bodo villagers. For this clinic, our nurses manned the hectic upstairs pharmacy while Drs. Polley and Lo examined nearly 100 children down below. This village, located just a few dozen miles from the Bhutan border, is quite poor and the majority of children have never seen a physician. Because of their poverty and lack of education, these kids are at great risk for being sold by their desperate parents into child labor, where hours of grueling work carrying cement or moving bricks earns them the equivalent of a few hard-earned pennies a day for their family. And even if parents do not give their children up for hard labor, their lives are a daily struggle for food, shelter, and life itself.
One of the particularly heart-rending cases was a little girl with a giant head and developmental delay. Her mother had already lost three children to various sicknesses and this girl was her only remaining living child.
The girl had hydrocephalus, a condition where excess fluid accumulates in the brain’s ventricles, causing compression of the growing brain and potentially seizures and developmental delay. Without neurosurgical intervention, hydrocephalus eventually leads to death. Enlisting the aid of the Rotary Club and a local missionary physician (who himself was Bodo), arrangements were made to have the child evaluated by a neurosurgeon in the city, a train-ride away. Unfortunately, the father of the child did not bring his daughter to the appointed rendezvous, most likely because in his religious tradition, a female child is not valued and the fate she is dealt is simply regarded as karma.
It is estimated that 1.2 million people are trafficked around the world each year; of those, 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States. It may surprise you to learn that Washington State is a major international entry point for human traffickers. Studies have documented human trafficking victims in at least 18 counties in Washington State.
Because of the work of the Tronie Foundation, there is now precedent-setting legislation in our state to help criminalize human trafficking, to strengthen penalties against the traffickers, and to provide protections, such as restorative services and confidentiality, to survivors. Northwest Pediatric Center is proud to support the Hongs, whose efforts have helped make Washington State a national model in the abolition of human trafficking in the United States. “I have always said if we survivors come forth and tell our story, reveal the truth of what happened to us, it will help people understand the realities of human trafficking,” said Rani Hong. “We can’t stay silent. If we do, we stay in the dark and allow the traffickers to continue the destruction of innocent lives.”