Survivor of Modern-Day Slavery

Social Entrepreneur

Advocate for Global Human
Rights

International Speaker

Hi, I’m Nasreen Sheikh,

I escaped forced marriage, child labor, and extreme poverty, risking everything to experience freedom. Now I have an education, an impactful voice, and a home in the USA and Nepal.
Sadly, there are still over 40 million people who remain in modern-day slavery. I am campaigning on behalf of them by sharing my story internationally and advocating for the 7 Keys to eradicate modern-day slavery:

A short timeline - A long journey.

This is a map of Rajura, the small, undocumented village I come from. It is located on the border of India and Nepal. I don’t know my surname or exact birthdate because in my village births are not recorded.

Growing up, I witnessed many atrocities against women and children, many just for speaking their truth. When I saw my 12 year old big sister being forced into marriage, I knew I would be next.

My life seemed destined for the same oppressive path. With the help of my male cousin, I traveled to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. In my village sending children to work in a factory was a normal experience.

At around ten years old, I became a child laborer for a textile factory in Kathmandu Nepal. I worked like a machine for 12- 15 hours a day to complete the mountain of garments the manager put in front of me. The sweatshop operated for two years before it shut down. I chose to become a street kid, where others went to another sweatshop.

(This is the only childhood photo I own.)

Help came to me in the form of a gentle dog that led me to his kind guardian. Leslie John became my teacher for almost 10 years. Under his mentorship, I was able to learn how to read, write, and understand basic human rights.

Leslie John gave me my last name ‘Sheikh’, and helped me apply for a birth certificate. His best guess of my birth date was 11/11/1991. With a reluctant bureaucracy, it took 11 years to issue, and even then, it was riddled with spelling mistakes and date discrepancies. In Arabic, ‘Sheikh’ is the name of a man at the top of the hierarchy, the chief of a tribe, or a royal family member. Perhaps Leslie intended to empower me. I didn’t realize this until many years later.

In Kathmandu I saw women with deep trauma in their eyes, and emptiness in their malnourished bodies. I was determined to empower them. At the age of 16, I managed to secure a loan to set up the first social business in Kathmandu – Local Women’s Handicrafts.

We began breaking the rules of oppression in a country where only 2 percent of women were business owners. In the heart of Kathmandu, surrounded by businesses built on modern-day slavery, we became free of the cycle of poverty, and I was becoming a social entrepreneur.
In 2015, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake shattered Kathmandu, Nepal. This presented a new challenge to our organization. A friend encouraged me to start speaking out about the dire situation in Nepal.

At around 24, I traveled alone from Nepal to the US to share my story at a women’s leadership conference in Chicago. I walked onto a stage in front of 250 women; lawyers, community leaders, and entrepreneurs. They listened in complete silence to my story, and I was overwhelmed by their response with a standing ovation.

What struck me most on my visit to Chicago was an experience at a major department store. Rows upon rows of clothes were displayed on racks. As I reached out and touched the fabric, it felt so familiar, like something I had sewn only yesterday. The store felt filled with human suffering, blood and tears. I watched families laughing and enjoying shopping. The children were protected and loved. At that moment I began to realize that my own childhood had been stolen.

I’ve come to understand that the cruelty and lack of care I experienced was not an act of God, but was perpetuated by people numbed by greed, blinded by fear, and corrupted by power. First world countries may have abolished human slavery, but they are still supporting and importing goods in the form of clothes, chocolate and electronics.

The door to human rights has been locked for too many years. Affluent countries hold the keys, which can unlock the door of freedom to billions of people so they can realize their full potential. With that vision I founded Empowerment Collective, a 501c3 non-profit organization to invite good people, businesses, governments and media to work together.

Thank you for joining me in abolishing forced labor, forced marriage, human trafficking, and building a new society where every person is free to be a leader, change maker and problem solver.

Local Women’s Handicrafts is an eco-conscious collective of women who create unique fashion and decor in Nepal. Our mission is to create jobs for marginalized and disadvantaged Nepali women to gain financial independence. Visit our online store for handmade artisan goods made with love – scarves, blankets, bags of all kinds, rugs, pillows, yoga mats, jewelry and more!

Empowerment Collective is a US-based, 501c3 nonprofit organization.

Thank you for joining the 7 Keys for Global Human Rights Campaign

The 7 Keys are essential to eradicate exploited labor, forced marriage and extreme poverty.  Let’s build a new society where every person is free to be a leader, change-maker and problem solver.