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Four years ago, I was a newly-minted HOPE staff member arriving at our annual Leadership Summit. Upon arrival, I was handed a schedule of the week’s events—and a quick glance told me that our Wednesday morning would be devoted to a two-and-a-half-hour poverty simulation. I will confess, in that moment, I made a mental note to skip it.

There were a number of reasons for my decision to skip, none of which I’m proud of. I wondered how a simulation could accurately portray a lifetime spent living in extreme poverty. How could a simulation be anything but a mocking caricature of the real thing? And beyond that, how could a simulation represent people living in poverty with dignity? Continue Reading…

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We were on Skype, she working in Nepal and me in my air-conditioned New York living room.

My computer screen flickered, and in utter disbelief, I had to ask my friend to repeat herself.

She said it again, slowly—Ashley, there are entire villages in Nepal where there are no women under 30, because they’ve all been sold.

I closed my eyes as the sheer enormity of it washed over me. Generations and generations of little girls being sold by impoverished parents too desperate to see another way. Mamas and daddies handing their daughters over to the highest bidder in a despairing, last-ditch attempt to keep food on their tables. My stomach churned as I pictured children violently ripped away from everything they knew to be sold as playthings.

She continued. Forty-two percent of people in Nepal are unemployed. Selling children is an industry here. They end up at bus stops, dance bars, and massage parlors—the lucky ones will be enslaved as house help.

The lucky ones.

Continue Reading…