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Column: Columbus couple trying to stop sex trafficking in Nepal

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I attended a presentation recently that made my heart ache.

Khemraj and Dawna Upadhyay left Columbus on April 16 to serve for at least two years as missionaries in Nepal. They will be working for Tiny Hands International, a Christian nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering the church in the developing world. Specifically in Nepal, Tiny Hands is striving to eliminate sex trafficking.

I feel embarrassed to admit that I had no idea of the magnitude of this atrocity in Nepal. I was absolutely horrified to learn that each year in Nepal as many as 30,000 girls are led across the border and sold into Indian brothels.

Most of the girls come from villages of extreme poverty and desperation and are lured by false marriages or the promises of employment or education. They are told that they will make a good living and will be able to send money back to their families. As a result of the poverty, many of these girls are sold by their families for as little as a week’s worth of rice.

Thankfully, in 2007 the founders of Tiny Hands International stepped in to make a difference. In 2013, Tiny Hands missionaries intercepted about 4,000 young women and girls who were about to cross the border into a life of slavery.

“Most of these girls have no idea that their trusted travel companions are slave traders,” Dawna said. “They truly believe they are going to provide them with a better life.”

The decision to work as missionaries in Nepal has been a lifetime journey for the Upadhyays.

Khemraj grew up in the mountains of Nepal. He was born into a large family with five sisters and three brothers. He grew up following the Hindu religion and after high school went to school to become a Hindu priest.

“Being a priest is a very well-respected career,” he said. “But for some reason I decided I wanted to go to college instead.”

While in college, Khemraj learned to speak English and was introduced to Christianity by a group of missionaries.

“At the time, Christianity was almost illegal in Nepal,” he said. “But what I learned was that I had been searching my entire life for peace and for the truth. God brought that to me through the missionaries. They shared how their God was different than the Hindu Gods. I realized that all along I had been searching for God, and at that moment I decided to give my life to Christ.”

Khemraj moved to the United States 11 years ago. He and his wife, Dawna, have been in Columbus for eight years. Dawna is from New Castle. She met Khemraj while on a mission trip in Nepal.

This year, Khemraj felt a push to help the people in his home country.

“I decided I needed to go back and help those people meet God,” he said.

The decision to move his wife and three young children to Nepal was not easy.

“My family (in Nepal) asks me if I’m crazy to give up America to go back to Nepal,” he said. “But if we can help, it is nothing to live life a little uncomfortably.”

Khemraj is now the operations manager at the Tiny Hands Dream Center in western Nepal. It has a kindergarten through Grade 12 Christian school and multiple children’s homes, where Christian Nepalese parents care for eight to 15 children who were living or were destined for a life on the streets of Nepal. Dawna will teach part time at the school.

“The horror and cruelty that awaits the 30,000 children living on the streets of Nepal is heartbreaking,” Dawna said. “Our goal is to educate and inspire the next generation of leaders in Nepal. We will feed them, clothe them, educate them and introduce them to Christ and eternal salvation.”

While the move is a huge change for her family, Dawna said her heart told her it was the right decision.

“If we can make a difference in just one child’s life, that is priceless,” she said. “We are very excited to be a part of Tiny Hands. We are blessed to be a part of raising awareness and changing the future for these children.”

Paige Harden Langenderfer is a resident of Columbus. She is a freelance writer and public relations consultant. She can be reached by email at

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