NAGOYA – When stay-at-home mom Mika Sato found herself in Nepal meeting girls rescued from the country’s sex trade, she couldn’t escape seeing her young daughter’s face in theirs, and she knew she had to do something to help.
Just months later, Sato opened a cafe in Okazaki, Aichi Prefecture, in order to raise money for the girls and women who had been sold into a life of sexual slavery.
Badi Cafe, named after the women from the Badi ethnic group, opened in June. It sells coffee beans packaged by the women from western Nepal who have been rescued. She also imports jewelry made by members of the socially “untouchable” caste.
Five percent of the cafe’s sales go toward supporting the women’s medical expenses, education and other necessities.
“There are many young girls who are suffering. I want to expand the support network,” said Sato, 38, who became intertwined in the plight of the Badi women last March.
The impoverished Badi people find themselves on the lowest rung of Nepal’s rigid caste system. For decades, Badi women have been born into a life of forced sexual servitude.
Sato was struck by what she saw when she visited Nepal with a missionary friend. She said she even met young girls who had been viciously beaten for refusing to comply. Having an elementary school-aged daughter of her own, Sato felt an emotional connection.
“I couldn’t think of it as someone else’s problem. It was impossible for me to bear,” Sato said. “Once I learned about this, I began asking myself, ‘Is there anything I can do?’ “
Sato, a gospel singer and a Christian, started with a fundraising campaign. She made an appeal to a wide circle of friends — focusing mainly on taking collections from around the Tokai region. But she knew that was not enough.
“I wondered if they could become self-reliant by just giving them money,” she said.
That was when she decided she would start a cafe.
“I thought they could secure employment if I sold products in Japan made by Badi women who find it difficult to sell their wares in Nepal,” Sato said.
Although she had to secure the capital on her own and struggles to keep the business afloat, Sato is considering selling the coffee beans online and bringing some of the girls to Japan to work at the shop. Another option would be opening a cafe in Nepal, she said.
“I worry about bad safety conditions, but if I could open a cafe locally, there would be even more employment options available,” she said.
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