An estimated 27 million people live in slavery. Many are ensnared in the brutal world of sex trafficking.
Karissa Van Liew, 20, would like to think that world of young girls and women being forced to sell their bodies for the profits of others is far, far away from the heartland.
But she knows it’s not.
So the flutist music education major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln approached four of her college friends with an idea: performing a benefit recital to raise awareness and money for these girls who as young as 6 are sold from their families and forced into prostitution.
Van Liew and her fellow flutist/music education major Isabella Brown will perform “Anthem of the Voiceless” at 3 p.m. Sunday at the University Lutheran Chapel, 16th and Q streets.
Proceeds raised will go to Tiny Hands International, a Lincoln-based organization that helps girls in Nepal escape sex slavery and provides them with the skills and means to earn money by sewing and jewelry making.
Van Liew, of Lincoln, and Brown, of Omaha, will perform duets and solos. Their music will build suspense and tension as three other UNL students portray three real-life Nepali teens who escaped sex slavery with the support of Tiny Hands.
“A lot of these girls are misinformed and misled,” Brown said.
They leave their families and cross the border into India on the promise of good-paying jobs -- thereby escaping poverty and destitution.
But once they leave, they are sold like cheap merchandise to anyone willing to pay.
“A lot of time they don’t know the language,” said Joy Carey, 21, one of the three narrators in the show. “They don’t have a way to escape. There is not a lot to go home to. They don’t have any money.”
Carey, of Omaha, portrays a 14-year-old girl in an arranged marriage. Her husband, upset that his young wife came with no dowry, takes her on “a date” to a movie, whereupon he sold her to a brothel.
“She was in the sex trade for nine years. She was tortured shocked with electrical current, and locked in a container overnight,” Carey said.
She and her fellow slaves ultimately get the attention of a Mumbai policeman by dumping a bucket of water on him as he walks by the high-rise where they are kept.
Twenty-six girls were rescued that day. The girl Carey portrays is unable to return to her family in Nepal. She is HIV positive. Tiny Hands takes her to a “Princess Home,” where she is cared for and taught tailoring skills, Carey said.
Julia Warrick, 19, of Hastings portrays a 17-year-old girl who is intercepted by Tiny Hands workers as she and another teenage girl are being taken over the border into India.
It takes about $100 to intercept one girl at the border, Van Liew said. The interceptors frequently are other girls who have been rescued by Tiny Hands.
Ana Lee, of Colorado Springs, Colo., portrays a girl her own age -- 19. The similarities end there. Lee is a freshman music education major. The girl she portrays is a mother who has been abandoned by her husband. She returns to her family for support, but she is considered a disgrace -- and so she leaves for Lebanon where good-paying jobs are plentiful. Like the other desperate young women, she is sold to sex traffickers. She is raped, beaten and choked. She escapes her seventh-floor prison by tying shawls together and shimmying out a window. She was found by a man, who took her to Tiny Hands, Lee said.
“The first-person readings are powerful,” Carey said. “They are uncomfortable. They make your realize this isn’t a bad dream. It is a horrific reality.”
Which is why these UNL students are so passionate about making a difference.
Anthem of the Voiceless is not a class project, and they are not receiving any school credit.
“This is a project I wanted to do,” Van Liew said, noting the dream started three years ago, when another music student put on a recital to benefit the Capital Humane Society. From that moment, she knew she wanted to present a benefit concert before she graduated -- and she selected Tiny Hands.
“A lot of people just can’t believe 27 million people are enslaved in the world,” Van Liew said. “They don’t understand it is happening in our neighborhoods. It is rough and very brutal.”
To learn more visit tinyhandsinternational.org/anthem.