Do a quick Google search on the republic of Nepal, and you’ll quickly learn that it’s a country known for more than just the Earth’s tallest mountain peak and its breathtaking landscape. Nepal is a nation living in deep despair, not only because of the 2015 earthquake that killed more than 8,000 people and injured more than 21,000, but also because of the human trafficking industry that is flourishing within its borders.
Tanja Cesh first visited the region in 2005 and again in 2008 with Sudara, the human trafficking rescue group. Sudara CEO Shannon Keith invited Cesh to go to India to “lend her expertise on some design-related issues.” During her second visit, the team visited one of the Sudara sewing centers near Mumbai and met a group of seamstresses who had been rescued. Cesh learned that many women and girls are trafficked into India from Nepal, a startling fact that immediately began to tug at her heartstrings.
“That was my first exposure to human trafficking, and it’s certainly not easily forgotten once your heart is broken by it,” Cesh told Opportunity Lives. She’s not sure why that particular fact stuck with her. “Nepal has a bit of Himalayan mystique to it. Perhaps that is why it always…beckoned. After each trip I would return to my American life with a bigger burn in my heart and mind regarding the issue of modern day slavery. I simply couldn’t ignore it.”
A graphic designer by trade and an art director in the fashion industry at the time, Cesh says she hit a wall with her career in 2010. “I was in a particularly fast-paced job, which was sort of sucking my creative and spiritual soul dry,” she explained. Her passion for the issue of human trafficking and her desire to create a sustainable solution continued to grow, so she made the decision to quit her job and take a sabbatical. She traveled Southeast Asia for four months. The first half of her journey took her to India and Bangladesh during monsoon season, where she spent time visiting organizations and businesses fully immersed in solving the problem of human trafficking.
“The solutions I was most drawn to were, of course, creative businesses with a focus on vocational training,” Cesh said. She continued traveling, overwhelmed by what she witnessed.
Then she arrived in Nepal.
“Nepal was a place that took me in,” Cesh said. “While the issues are no different there, there was something about being in the shadows of the Himalayas that comforted me. I met incredible people in Nepal. I don’t know, sometimes I think Nepal picked me.” She says she fell in love with the village focus there. She says it felt much like a “lost kingdom.”
But that atmosphere, as wonderful as it is, doesn’t easily mask the underlying issues the people of Nepal face.
”It’s an incredibly treacherous country with the most volatile political climate and horrible human rights offenses,” Cesh said, explaining that the Nepalese government offers little to its people, and its people expect nothing from their government. A hard-working people who take care of each other, they know that if change is going to happen, it will be of their own making.
With an unemployment rate of nearly 50 percent, the people of Nepal are desperate for work. Half of the approximately 28 million people live in poverty with little hope of ever having a better life. Due to a lack of education, many are forced to work low-paying jobs.
“It’s what makes Nepal incredibly vulnerable to foreign traffickers,” Cesh explained.
Given her creative background, it’s no surprise that Cesh was also amazed by the incredible artisanship she witnessed during her visit. She left with all kinds of ideas for things that could be made with the raw materials she found in the markets there.
“I was smitten by the curious alleys full of trinkets and market-ware,” Cesh told Sudara. She built lasting relationships during that visit, and met a number of people and organizations that opened her eyes to the solutions she went in search of.
Inspired by the hard working, incredibly creative people of Nepal, Cesh created Mulxiply in 2012.
“Besides education, job creation is the number one path out of poverty. I am not a doctor or a humanitarian, I am an artist,” Cesh said. “All of us, no matter what skill set we have, can play a part in making our world a better place.”
Mulxiply — pronounced “multiply” — is a name she chose to represent the “multiply effect:” your purchase of their product equals an employment opportunity for the people of Nepal. The Portland, Maine based company offers gorgeous hand crafted products “inspired on the shores of Maine and the foothills of the Himalayas.” Each piece is carefully handcrafted “collaboratively with artisans in Nepal.” The company wisely partners with four groups of artisans and indigenous organizations in Nepal who, they say, “know the plight of their own people far more than we ever will.”
At the beginning, the goal of Mulxiply was to employ as many Nepali women as possible, to give them a hand up out of poverty and decrease the risks they face. With time, however, they learned that there is another pressing need.
“There is another form of slavery that is happening in Nepal (and in many poor countries),” Cesh told Sudara. In recent years, millions of Nepalese men have been deceived by manpower companies into taking what they believe to be good construction jobs, only to end up forced into indentured servitude. Many never return, except to be buried, and according to Cesh, the effects have been devastating — many villages have lost nearly all of their younger men, which place the women and girls at even greater risk.
Because of this, Mulxiply began creating jewelry and other projects that enabled them to employ men who are metal workers, as well.
“Mulxiply is a design-focused solution that has two end goals: creating long-term dignified jobs in Nepal, and educating the western consumer on the fact that how we spend our dollars matters,” Cesh said. Her goal is to motivate others to be conscious consumers who thoughtfully spend their hard earned dollars by supporting companies like hers, as well as Sudara, Raven + Lily, Soko and others “that are interrupting poverty in a beautiful, redemptive way.”
Because of Tanja Cesh and Mulxiply, countless men and women in Nepal have been spared a life of great hardship.
“Redemption is my favorite thing in this life. It’s where we see ‘the why’ of suffering. We see the beauty that comes from ashes,” Cesh said. “Seeing people create unique items with their hands — they are giving something to the world that no one else can. Each piece somehow has their fingerprint on it. So, for people that were told they had no value or that the only thing they are good for is their body or back-breaking labor — dignified, creative work is completely redemptive and life-giving. It’s a solution that can work.”
This article was written by me and published by Opportunity Lives on August 15, 2016. Photo credit: Mulxiply