White Rock hair salon owner Stephanie Wright can’t help but think of her stepson when she talks about a recent trip to Nepal she took to work with women who had been rescued from trafficking.
The 14-year-old – who died tragically three years ago while skateboarding – would always want to help those in need, she recalled, even if it was just to offer a hot dog to someone living on the street.
“When you think about doing this… it’s like, ‘what would he want you to do with your life?’ He would want me to help people,” Wright said.
“In a way, (the trip) just kind of renewed my drive… gave me something to be driven and excited about, to help somebody that needs it more than I do.”
Wright, who calls Langley home, was among about a dozen people – including stylists Ali Kerr and Erin Seidler from her salon, and Peninsula real estate agent Michelle Perreault – who travelled to Nepal in February to help launch a training centre in Kathmandu for women who wanted to learn about esthetics and hair styling.
While it wasn’t Wright’s first time volunteering – she said she has contributed to various efforts in Langley, Whalley and other Lower Mainland neighbourhoods for the past 12 years – she said it was the first time she had taken her humanitarian efforts to an international level.
The two-week experience was so impactful, she’s already committed to return next March.
“It was amazing,” Wright said this week.
“We’ve done similar in our city and we’re always involved with different outreaches around here, but never something involved with girls who have been trafficked.”
The group came together largely through their common connection as members of the Village Church, Wright said.
She admits when she was first approached to be a part of the mission, she said no. She just couldn’t envision how she’d manage two weeks away from her business and family.
Approached a second time, she gave the idea more thought, asking her husband, “‘Can my business take it, can my family take it?”
“He said, ‘this trip was designed for you,’” Wright told Peace Arch News.
The group teamed up with a Nepalese organization, The Apple of God’s Eyes.
The students they worked with ranged in age from 19 to 26 years old, and showed an enthusiasm and appreciation for the opportunity to learn that Wright said she has never seen before. Each had to have graduated high school and have an interest in the industry to be accepted into the program, she noted.
The training was basic, aimed not just at teaching the women skills to be successful in a business, but also at giving them an opportunity to see if the fields were indeed a good fit for them.
For Wright, the learning included insights to how differently the Nepalese women are treated compared to women in Canada, and was heartbreaking, she said.
“They don’t even have citizenship,” she said, explaining that the women who wanted to attain citizenship would first have to return to the village where they were born and find a man who would vouch for them.
“I never have had to ask for respect from men,” Wright said. “I could never imagine being treated less than.”
Wright said everyone who participated in the trip paid their own way, a $3,400 commitment. She and Seidler sold jars of homemade salsa – 558 of them, to be precise – to help pay their way.
There were tears every night, Wright said, but she has no regrets.
“When you feel like you’ve done something to actually help them in their life, you can’t help but have tears,” she said.
But, “I love seeing women flourish. It gives them all these tools to a better life… where they don’t have to depend on anybody.”
To further The Apple of God’s Eye efforts, a fundraiser is set for 6-10 p.m. May 26 at Glasshouse Estate Winery in Langley.
The focus of the evening – which is to include food, wine and live entertainment – is to be “on awareness and action regarding the injustice of human trafficking in our generation,” according to event details posted online. Proceeds are to directly benefit efforts in Nepal to build a sustainable salon and provide educational scholarships for the students.
Tickets, $150, are available at www.glasshouseestatewinery.com