A Pig or a Goat to Keep a Girl from Slavery: Olga Murray's Encore Story

Olga Murray (right) speaks with several of the students at J and K House, the boys and girls schools she started for needy children in Kathmandu, Nepal. Photo by Carlos Avila Gonzalez for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Olga Murray’s remarkable encore journey story of saving Nepalese girls from being sold into slavery is reaching wider audiences, thanks to the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. The 83-year-old resident of Sausalito, Calif., has saved more than 4,300 young girls from being sold as domestic slaves in a most unusual way: by trading pigs or goats for their freedom.

Encore.org first wrote about Murray in July 2008, after a story about her by Meredith May in the San Francisco Chronicle. The Pulitzer Center awarded May a grant to travel to Nepal, enabling her to tell Murray’s story in greater detail, in an article called “Olga’s Girls,” a slide show and a video. All may be viewed on SFGate.com.

May said, “At an age when most Americans are resting in their retirements, Olga is pulling thousands of girls out of a life of misery and sending them to school. She's inspiring, fascinating and an example of how to live a life of purpose. She listened to suggestions from Nepali mothers when she came up with the idea to offer poor families a pig or a goat in exchange for not selling their daughters into domestic servitude. It's a simple idea - a goat for a girl - but Olga made sure it happened, saw it through, and followed up to make sure families were honoring the deal."

In her story, May writes, “In a form of trafficking concentrated among ethnic Tharu farmers, destitute families sell their daughters for $75, the equivalent of a third of their annual income, to work as live-in ‘kamlari’ servants in the homes of higher-caste families.

“Girls as young as 6 are forced into years of menial labor, cooking, cleaning and babysitting in the homes of strangers. Kamlaris typically work from sunup to sundown, eat leftovers and sleep on the floor and, in the worst cases, are beaten and raped.”

After Murray retired in 1992, she fell in love with Nepal on a trekking trip. She vowed to help the incredibly poor children she met there, whose only desire was to go to school. “I didn’t want to sit around and eat bonbons and polish my nails,” she recalls.

She began by personally sponsoring the education of four children in 1985, then she founded the Nepalese Youth Opportunity Foundation in 1990 to attract more donations. The organization also pays for the girls’ school expenses and gives the families kerosene lamps, which are highly prized in areas without electricity.