Five hundred Buddhist nuns recently completed a 2,485 mile bicycle journey from Kathmandu, Nepal to Leh, India to raise awareness of human trafficking in South Asia. Members of the Drukpa Order have made this difficult, dangerous trek three times previously. They were inspired to begin biking after hearing stories of girls being sold by their impoverished families after earthquakes ravaged Nepal last year.
“We wanted to do something to change this attitude that girls are less than boys and that it’s okay to sell them,” said Jigme Konchok Lhamo, a 22-year-old nun.
The nuns journeyed not only to raise awareness, but also to meet local people, to talk to political and religious leaders, to provide food for the poor, and to help villagers access medical care.
The Drukpa Order is commonly called the “Kung Fu nuns” because of their training in martial arts, which is an unusual activity for nuns in the Buddhist religion. Regardless of their unorthodox activities, the Drukpa Order has grown from a mere 30 members to 500 members over the course of 12 years.
The Drukpa nuns are confident that they are changing commonly held ideas about women. “Most of the people, when they see us on our bikes, think we are boys,” said 18-year-old nun Jigme Wangchuk Lhamo, “They get shocked when we tell them that not only are we girls, but we are also Buddhist nuns. I think this helps change their attitudes about women and maybe value them as equals.”
South Asia is quickly becoming one of the most prominent areas for human trafficking. This is due to gangs taking advantage of poor villagers and selling them as slaves. Post-natural disaster trafficking has become increasingly common. The Drukpa nuns said the earthquakes in Nepal last year changed their understanding of human trafficking, motivating them to do more than provide food to devastated areas.
“People think that because we are nuns, we are supposed to stay in the temples and pray all the time. But praying is not enough. After all,” said Jigme Konchok Lhamo, “actions speak louder than words.”