Mahendra Pandey

Role: Senior Manager, Forced Labor and Human Trafficking at Humanity United
Active in Country: Global
DTP Alumnus: 2013 Migrant Workers Program Nepal Modules 1-5 - Nepal; 2011 Migrant Workers Program - Thailand

I was born in a rural village in Nepal and Dad was a migrant worker in Saudi Arabia for 14 years.  When I turned 18, I decided to go to Saudi Arabia to work as a low-income migrant worker. I worked there for two and a half years, taking a similar journey to many other migrant workers by paying a high recruitment fee to a recruitment agency. It was very difficult for me to raise money to pay recruitment fees as my dad was working in Saudi without payment for a long time and my mom was struggling to take care of my other 7 siblings. I took a loan from relatives at high-interest rates. After waiting for four months for the recruitment agency to send me my tickets and my visa I finally left for Saudi Arabia. Right after a few minutes we landed in Saudi Arabia the company took my passport to prevent me from leaving without their permission. When I arrived in Saudi Arabia it was the busy season of Ramadan and they made me work 16-18 hour shifts as migrant workers often do. I do have a lot of respect for those workers. While there I met many Nepalese workers to see their first-hand experience.

At that point I truly realized how difficult it was for my fellow workers in Saudi Arabia. They have no rights or protection. I decided to go back to Nepal and start an organization to improve the plight of migrant workers, to protect the rights of Nepali migrant workers in the Gulf.  When I came back from Saudi Arabia in 2009, I had seen the challenges that migrant workers face which I found heartbreaking. The reason I came back to Nepal was to support fellow workers and tell their untold stories. We established Pravasi Nepali Coordination Committee (PNCC), a leading migrant worker organization in Nepal, where I worked for 5 years as a founding chair. We developed many initiatives including policy advocacy, shelters and mental health support for migrant workers.

In 2014, I moved to the United States, where I now work as a Senior Manager on the forced labor and human trafficking portfolio at Humanity United. We support existing civil society organizations and groups; and migrant workers directly through capacity-building and leadership initiatives. I also recently created a migrant workers’ network, with the hopes that this will one day become a global network. I help to connect them with different platforms and international organizations because I think it is so important that migrant workers are at the table when decisions are being made about them.

When I reached Saudi Arabia back in 2006 I hated my job. Today, helping Nepali migrant workers in the Middle East, I am truly grateful for this opportunity to do meaningful work that I love. Unfortunately, thousands of my fellow workers have been denied this right, to choose their employment and to enjoy their work.  Governments and companies employing migrant workers, in the Gulf and around the world, need to improve their legal protection to lower the risk of death or injury and ensure that migrant workers are treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve.

I have been involved as a participant, trainer and partner in DTP programs. When I was working in Nepal, we did a lot of work within domestic mechanisms, but I was new to many of the international human rights mechanisms. I didn’t know how to relate the work we were doing locally to other international organizations or the UN. I joined a regional DTP training in Bangkok in 2011. It was really beneficial to learn about the existing tools available in the human rights field.

After the DTP training in Bangkok, I thought it would be good to provide that same platform to my fellow team members, colleagues and migrant workers back in Nepal. We initiated DTP’s first country-based capacity building program on migrant’s advocacy with PNCC and MFA. Since then, the participants have developed their capacity and leadership so much and we are so proud of their work and that we were able to provide them with that support through DTP. I find the DTP alumni network to be very powerful and useful. I still reach out to the connections I made in Bangkok whenever I have issues or need help in any of the countries the participants were from.

It is vital to invest in training human rights defenders and activists. This training provides them with both inspiration and networks which energizes them to share their stories, realize they are not alone in the challenges they face and to understand how these challenges are being met across the world. It is easy to get distracted, frustrated and disappointed working in human rights, so this training is vital to connect them with other passionate people for inspiration.

Since I began my work for migrant workers’ rights, there are many things that have changed. Sympathy towards migrant workers has significantly increased and people now talk about their contribution to the country. Technology is also helping human rights defenders to speak up for themselves and their communities, for example social media is a great new medium for advocating and campaigning.

In March 2020, Mahendra Pandey was appointed to the Board of Directors of the Freedom Fund.

 

This profile is based on an interview with Mahendra Pandey conducted by DTP intern, Lauren Merritt in June 2020.