MAHOMET – Two Mahomet men are spending their Christmas week heading halfway around the world to improve the plight of slave children in Nepal.
Eric Luedtke and Jeff Fago of the Mahomet Rotary Club are leaving today to take school supplies (including school uniforms and history books), food and other materials to between 300 and 400 slave boys and girls in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, high up in the Himalaya Mountains.
"I'm also bringing some candy canes for the kids," Luedtke said. "After all, it is Christmas."
Over the next 18 days, Luedtke will help organize free dental clinics for the children, while Fago will help organize the community's first group home for mentally and physically disabled children.
"I'm really excited about the opportunity to travel over there," Fago said. "We're all about providing a better life for the slave children and to upgrade their school."
Luedtke first discovered that slavery was common in Kathmandu 13 years ago, when he first visited the city as part of a religious missionary organization called Gospel Recording.
Luedtke said that children as young as 3 or 4 years old are sold into slavery for the equivalent of about $5 by their parents. Teenage girls who can be sold as sex slaves can fetch a price of about $200 each before they are taken away to India and Thailand to serve as prostitutes, he said.
"Slavery is culturally accepted there. It is basically an outgrowth of the caste system in Nepal," Luedtke said. "Little kids use 3-pound hammers to break rocks along the side of the roads so the roads can be paved. Many of the slave children are put to work weaving carpets, making bricks in factories or working in clothing factories.
"The most fortunate ones, if you can call them that, do house cleaning and cooking in wealthy people's houses."
When Luedtke returned to East Central Illinois, the Mahomet Rotary Club began an ongoing effort to build and operate a new school for slave children in Kathmandu.
The club also worked together with its sister club in Nepal, the Dillibazar Rotary Club, to build the city's first medical clinic to serve the poor, low caste and slave children of the community.
This year, the Champaign-Urbana Sunrise, Champaign West and Savoy Rotary clubs and a club from the Chicago area joined the Mahomet Rotary Club in raising money to provide supplies for the slave kids.
In addition, Luedtke said Rotary International has provided a $15,000 matching grant.
Other long-range projects proposed by the Mahomet Rotary Club over the next 5 to 10 years include providing clean water for Kathmandu residents and establishing group homes for street children and women rescued from the sex slave trade.
Luedtke said it is appropriate that, during a week in which the world celebrates the birth of Christ who came to set captives free, that area residents provide help for modern day slaves.
"We are working to help set slaves free, and the season that we celebrate honors Christ, who was born to set all of humanity free," Luedtke said.