Make Up 2 Make Up

Be the change you wish to see in the world (Mahatma Gandhi)

LGBTI Refugees Seek Safety in Nepal

Makeup 2 Makeup is currently involved with the support of two LGBTI refugee couples here in Nepal.  Nepal currently houses an estimated 500 urban refugees, mostly coming from Pakistan and Myanmar.  Due to the unfortunate events in Syria, financial and resettlement support for those in Nepal is sparse.  In addition, the Nepali government does not recognize them as refugees as Nepal has not signed onto the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees.  Under Nepali law urban refugees are considered illegal immigrants and subjected to a daily fine of $5, which must be paid in full before any refugee tries to leave the country.

Prior to the couples arrival there has been no public cases of LGBTI people seeking asylum in Nepal.  This has led to little in terms of support and services for such a sensitive population.  Regular shelters can prove dangerous and there are no organizations working specifically for their protection or assistance as refugees.

Makeup 2 Makeup was introduced to the couples in August and has been involved with their support since then.  Your donations are making it possible to provide housing, English courses, and a monthly stipend for each couple.  Due to their illegal status in Nepal finding employment has proven difficult.  A country that usually holds little regard for employment laws suddenly becomes very aware of the technicalities of hiring refugees.  We are also involved in working to find alternative shelters and support groups for future LGBTI refugees, as well as places of employment that are willing to overlook their refugee status.

Due to the security risk of one of the couples we have decided not to share their story publicly.  Yet their story falls along the similar lines of despair and danger as the other couple, as all have had to flee their country for fear of their personal safety and the desire to simply love who they wish.


Meet Amal and Salima*

Like many living in countries with discriminatory laws and attitudes toward the LGBTI community, Amal and Salima turned to the internet and social media to connect and share their experiences with others, and in their case find love.  A love that has been tested by the unimaginable and taken them on a journey filled with challenges and pain.

From the beginning they faced difficulties due to the traditional society of Pakistan.  At the age of 13, Amal was engaged to her cousin who was twice her age.  Pressure began to mount from her family to go ahead with the wedding and Amal knew if she didn’t leave now her future would be lost.  Amal secretly left home and went to live in another city with Salima.  Her disappearance from home enraged the family.  Soon those close to Amal began receiving death threats if they did not disclose her location.  Salima and Amal realized they would never be able to live safely in Pakistan as a lesbian couple and attempted to leave for good.

Amal and Salima

But their efforts failed, being tricked into international visa schemes and losing money they were left in even more of a dire situation.  They slowly began connecting with various non-profits that were helping the Pakistani LGBTI community, seeking shelter and food where they could.  Unfortunately they were not as safe as they thought.  While residing at one shelter Amal was raped by a staff member, resulting in her pregnancy.  Unable to go to the police for fear of being found by Amal’s family, they were left with few options.  The horrific incident left Amal in a suicidal state requiring medical attention, and Salima not knowing how to help.  They now not only had to think of their own future, but for that of their new baby boy.

Still struggling on the streets, and now with a child, their chance for freedom came through the support of Rainbow Railroad, a non-profit that helps assist those from the LGBTI community escape their countries and seek shelter in safer countries.  Complications with her child’s paperwork left Amal with the hardest decision for a mother to make, to stay and risk their lives or leave her child behind until she was able to be resettled.  Realizing the only way for a better future for her son was to leave, Amal decided to leave him with a trusted friend until she was able to be reunited.  With heavy hearts Amal and Salima boarded the plane to Nepal with dreams of a brighter future ahead.

Both Amal and Salima have been granted refugee status through the UNHCR and are currently waiting for resettlement in Canada.  While they may have found a safer place to live in Nepal, the struggle continues.  The paperwork necessary for resettlement is long and tedious, taking up to a year for completion.  Due to Nepal’s law on employment for refugees being illegal, both are unable to find work.  They are still searching for a sympathetic employer who might be able to help, but for now they depend on a small stipend from the UNHCR and Makeup 2 Makeup’s support.  Each day is a challenge but they carry on.  They dream of the day they will be reunited with their son, and are able to live openly as a couple without the dangers they faced in Pakistan.

*Names have been changed to protect the couple’s identity.


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6 Months On…Nepal Still Struggling

October 25th marked 6 months since a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal.  And instead of a country on the mend and rebuilding, Nepal is at a standstill.  A new constitution was introduced almost two months ago, one that took 7 years to put forth.  While some saw this as a moment of progress and stability, many still saw the continuation of patriarchal rule and discrimination against marginalized ethnic communities.  Those living in the southern plains bordering India refused to be silenced again.  Unrest and violent protests have led to more than 45 deaths and a closure of the trade routes with India.  This has now led to massive shortages of petrol and cooking gas, along with food, medicine, and other daily needs fulfilled by trade with India.  There is also the general accusation of an unofficial blockade being enforced by India themselves as a result of their dissatisfaction with Nepal’s new constitution.

petrol line

Life in Kathmandu has resulted in a severe decrease in public transportation, petrol queues lasting for days, a black market with gouged petrol and gas prices, sharp increases in the cost of vegetables, scarcity of medication, and an overall sense of confusion.  Flights are being canceled and tourists are rethinking their travel plans.  The fear of an economic downfall post earthquake is now looking even bleaker as the financial loss due to the blockade has now risen above the loss from the earthquake.

Yet the real problem lies in the villages that were devastated by the earthquake, those still desperately waiting for much needed aid.  Organizations helping those areas are now stuck in the capital with no petrol to reach them.  After the earthquake there was a race to beat the rains of the monsoon and provide some type of temporary shelter.  Now the winter is quickly approaching, and what should have been a much easier task at hand is turning disastrous and possibly deadly.

While the people of Nepal sit in the shadow of this misfortune there still have been glimpses of hope and moments for much needed smiles and laughter.  Nepal’s main festival season kicked off in September with Gai Jatra.  Traditionally a day of celebrating the lives of those who passed away that year, it has also bCamera Shots November 020een adopted and reinvented by the LGBTI community as its own version of a gay pride parade.  Everyone takes to the streets decked out in their finest attire and celebrates who they are without the inhibitions that Nepali society usually puts on them.  Nepal’s biggest festival, Dashain, recently came to an end after 10 days of rituals and celebrations.  And while many struggled to find buses to make it back home to their villages due to the petrol shortage, most made the best of the situation and found reasons to smile.  This past week we enjoyed the final days of the festival Tihar, where candles were lit by many with prayers of hope and prosperity to fill the days ahead.

In the world of Makeup 2 Makeup things are pretty much back to normal for the family.  Being lucky with no injuries or major losses among the group, everyone counted their blessings and got back to work.  M2M’s collaboration with a local LGBTI non-profit, Mitini, was a great success in setting up a community kitchen post earthquake.  We cannot thank you enough for your support!  Not only did it feed hungry stomachs, but it presented a beautiful opportunity for the LGBTI community to interact with their neighbors by lending a much needed helping hand.  M2M also sponsored a grant proposal workshop for local LGBTI organizations, resulting in the creation of
a possible LGBTI community center, the Rainbow Room!  We’ll keep you updated!

workshopMany of the schools that Makeup 2 Makeup works with were amazing in getting up and running again fairly soon after the quake, bringing a sense of normalcy back to the participants.  Apekshya found herself successfully completing another level of English language courses at English For All, and is getting ready to tackle the next.  Madhu was back at the sewing machine at the S.E.A. design school, where she completed two more specialized sewing courses and is eagerly waiting for the advanced design course to begin this December.  Watch out fashion world, this girl has got some talent!  And soon enough we began to see the always lovely Anjali once again grace the covers of fashion magazines and strut her stuff on the catwalks of Kathmandu.  M2M has also welcomed a new participant named Honey, who is excited to get started after the holiday season.

There was also excitement for many participants about the new constitution, hailed by many in the LGBTI community as a great achievement with the rights of gender and sexual minorities being afforded constitutional protections.  Nepal’s constitution now stands as the third in the world to include explicit rights and protections for LGBTI people.  While this is a great step forward there is still much work to be done.  Civil and criminal codes are still extremely regressive and threaten to negate constitutional guarantees.  And while on paper Nepal is presented as a very progressive country for LGBTI rights, the social norms and levels of acceptance have not caught up to legal precedents.  The struggle continues but the community is determined to continue the fight.

There is still a sense of hope here in Nepal.  Many of us are still holding out that there can be some positive growth after such devastation.  Here at Makeup 2 Makeup we are continuing to source new opportunities for training programs in areas such as business and computers skills, culinary courses, and the ever popular hair and makeup.  ‘Rebuilding Better’ became a motto shortly after the earthquake, realizing that changes are necessary in order for Nepal to succeed. While it may appear that the politicians turned a deaf ear, not all of us have forgotten.  We here at M2M hope to be a small part of that movement. Camera Shots November 035