On this particular trip, I was struck hard by my experiences trekking in Nepal and Northern Vietnam. The poverty in these two regions is nearly beyond belief for the average middle class Westerner, with many just barely eking out a living on subsistence farming and the relatively meager returns of working as a trekking guide.
Women, as designated caregivers and also sadly the all-too-frequent victims of domestic violence, trafficking, and sexual assault, often suffer the worst from lack of resources in impoverished parts of Asia. The young women of the H'mong tribes in Sapa, Vietnam typically marry around fourteen and are often completely illiterate, their families having had to sacrifice their educations so that younger siblings would have childcare. The young women pictured here with myself and my friend Georgia are Shay (left), our trekking guide in Sapa, and her younger sister. They are 24 and 22 respectively, both married by fourteen and pregnant by fifteen. They are kind, funny, gregarious, generous, and love to laugh, cook, and adore their children. They wake up at 4:30AM and share a tiny and cold living space. Neither knows how to read or write and they support families of 4-5 on take home wages of around $100-$150 USD a month.
The women you see selling fruit or sweets on the side of the road in the cities of Vietnam, Nepal, the Philippines, and elsewhere in Asia are often sharing a single room in a boarding house with dozens of other women, working 16 (or more) hours a day just to send home a few dollars a week to families they rarely get to see. In the Philippines, one of the last countries in the world to keep abortion completely illegal and inaccessible even in cases of rape, incest, or health risk to the mother, at least three hopelessly desperate women die every day from botched illegal abortions. President Trump, in reinstating the Global Gag Rule in 2017, effectively blocked US funding to programs in the Philippines that could help these women, because of any connection the programs might have to reproductive freedom.
The Asia Foundation's Women's Empowerment Program provides education, entrepreneurial training, reproductive rights advocacy, and more to the women and girls of Vietnam, Nepal, China, Indonesia and elsewhere.
To raise awareness and funding for this cause, I will be riding a bicycle about 2,200 miles this October from Sapa, Vietnam to Singapore. Anyone who wants to join for a section, help fundraise, donate what they can, or just spread the word, every bit of money and effort will contribute to the final result. I always think of that saying:
"If you don't think one person can make a difference, you have never been in bed with a mosquito."- Anita Roddick.
Be that mosquito. Thanks for reading.