By Magdalena Osumi
Japan Times, Tokyo.
Mai Mukaida, 32, believes that emotional change often comes with the help of others who encourage one to notice the beauty that lies within.
In Nepal, where she helps women in dire situations get their troubled lives back on track, Mukaida noticed that for many women, dressing up or applying makeup enabled them to not only enhance their beauty, but also mend their shattered hearts.
Citing statistics from nongovernmental organizations, Mukaida said 5,000 to 20,000 girls and women are believed to be sold to India and neighboring countries every year, mostly to serve as sex slaves.
Most of the victims eventually suffer from trauma that erodes their confidence, she added.
In 2009, Mukaida started the Coffret Project, the name for which derives from the French word for “beauty box.”
The project’s aim is to provide mental health care by teaching girls and women to build their confidence through the use of makeup and beauty products.
The cosmetics Mukaida used to start the project were initially collected from friends or donated by women who attended events where she sought help and cooperation, as well as from cosmetics companies.
For the past six years, Mukaida has been organizing Coffret Project sessions three times a month for women living in shelters in Katmandu. She recently started holding workshops in Dhangadhi, on India’s border with western Nepal, where girls are sold as domestic servants. Even though the system was abolished in 2002, it was not acknowledged locally and continued until recent years.
Since the project was launched, more than 1,500 girls have participated in the workshops.
Mukaida learned about the situation in Nepal at the age of 15 when she attended a lecture by Ryohei Takatsu, who, at that time, ran a nongovernmental organization that provided aid for improving literacy in Nepal. Today, the country’s literacy rate is said to hover at around 20 percent, she said.