In September, I’ll be starting one of the most exciting projects of my life (outside of Kiddy Cook or course), I’ll be volunteering my time and knowledge with the Spanish non- profit organisation UDANA in Kathmandu, Nepal (https://udananepal.com) This Charity helps 15 vulnerable girls/young women from rural areas who are at high risk of exclusion to get access to education by providing shelter, food and all their basic needs in Kathmandu.
Allow me to explain.
It all started…
Back on May at the launch of ‘Gazing Red2Blue’, a concept that helps to build mental resilience and developed by Gazing Performance (https://gazing.com/red2blue), I was listening to Adriana Brownlee, a 21 year old English climber who is attempting to climb the 14 highest mountains (8000+metters) in the world in 18 months – she’s already successfully climbed 10 – She spoke about the importance of implementing useful tools to help building mental resilience even from an early age. Apart from being an incredible climber, Adriana, is also a Red2Blue ambassador and has done a bit of work with Udana-Nepal empowering vulnerable young girls.
Unfortunately, even now in the 21st century, we are still experiencing discrimination because of gender, sexual preference, social caste, religious and political beliefs, which are also a problem in Nepal.
Without organisations like Udana, these girls will have no access to the basic human’s rights like education and health care that we normally take for granted in modern societies.
Education, Education, Education
While I was listening to Adriana, so down to earth and matter of fact, everything started falling into place reaffirming one of my strongest beliefs: education and knowledge are the starting point if we want a change. I knew then that I wanted to contribute to that change.
Buy promoting access to quality education in a safe environment, Udana girls can develop & blossom and increase their chances to a better future. Awareness of an outside world apart from their villages, can help these girls feel valued, find their own voice, gain skills with the likelihood of having a place in the Nepali society. All these in the hope that not only their generation but others to come can follow their path.
Yes, I know that things are not as simple or easy as we would like them to be. There are a lot of challenges that these vulnerable girls/women face and have to overcome every day. I also know that changes do not happen overnight, but I do know we have to start somewhere because doing nothing is definitely not an option.
Keep reading to see what I mean…
Nepal has seen its fair list of challenges: natural disasters like the earthquake in 2015 that costed thousands of lives and millions of USD - poverty, lack of skills, traditions, religious beliefs, summed together make a fertile ground for human trafficking, illegal migration, labour exploitation, sexual and domestic abuse.
Historically, Nepali society has been mainly patriarchal with the main population to be Hindu. According to tradition and religion, men go out to work while women are to look after the family, doing all the house chores and in rural areas all the farming. This explains why there still is, especially in remote parts, disparity when it comes to gender (women considered to be inferior) social caste, access to education and health care. Women from these areas are an easy target for traffickers with their fake promises and fraudulent practices. Sadly, some of the families of these young girls/women give everything they have to the smugglers and in some cases, these girls are even sold by their own people with the hope of acquiring a better life.
The good news is that over the last few years there has been progress in Nepal with regards women’s rights and gender equality. The Constitution of Nepal 2015 states Nepal’s commitment to guarantee women’s rights and their right to education, health, employment, equal pay, property rights and participation in government bodies.
However, there is still work to be done, especially in remote rural areas, when it comes to law enforcement. Despite the law, people there are more likely to continue with their practices as the fear that something bad will happen if they stop, is stronger.
One of these practices is ‘chhaupadi, a form of seclusion for menstruating women. The belief is that period blood is impure, and women should be isolated, banished from their homes, sent to huts or sheds that their families built especially for them. Menstruating women are not allowed to mix with other people/family members or touch food/water while having their period.
As Sophie Cousins explains in her article “In Nepal Tradition is killing Women” when talking about chhaupadi
“Some of the spaces women as young as 12 are sent to are as small as a closet and so uncomfortably narrow that only one person can squeeze inside. The huts are made of mud and straw, and in the winter, when temperatures drop below freezing, there’s little women can do to protect themselves against the harsh Himalayan weather. https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/01/06/in-nepal-tradition-is-killing-women-chhaupadi-womens-rights-menstruation
Girls Breaking the Cycle
In my opinion one of the biggest challenge these girls face is changing the stigma around their gender, merely a subject needed for reproduction and work. Again, if we start by educating these girls from an early age, they can start seeing themselves as equal human beings who deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and hopefully, we can start seeing a difference. Otherwise, it’d be fair to say, if one does not know any better, most likely that one accepts their reality whatever crude or unjust it may be. Changes will not happen unless we break the cycle.
It does take more than knowledge to break a cycle, it also takes courage, determination and willingness from the people involved. Take a look at what Sanjeeta, Udana’s oldest girl had to say during their lockdown:
“Due to the Covid crisis, we are all suffering worldwide. However, I am enjoying and learning to live everyday life in my village. Here the people are engaged in agriculture and animal husbandry, so we, the villagers, are working and farming only for survival since due to the confinement, transportation and trade are complicated. Even so, this period has given me the opportunity to think about the growth and development of my village, before the quarantine I had no considered it. So I dedicate 2 hours of my morning to teach the children in my area. I feel very happy when they show so much enthusiasm to learn and I feel lucky to have this small opportunity to educate them and enjoy with them”
Because it matters
I think we can all agree that Sanjeeta is an inspiration to others and a clear example of how education can have a knock-on effect on people’s lives.
Therefore, it’s essential to plant the voice of freedom in people’s minds, nurture it with effective measures and awareness programs that tackle the main issues in order to collect the fruits of a more equal society. Because women’s rights matters.
As a woman and a mother of 2 young women who are finding their path in this world, I understand the importance of empowering young girls, so they are able to thrive in their communities.
I can’t wait until I say ‘NAMASTE’ -hello in Nepali – to these girls in September. Sure, I’ll miss my family, my dog and cat but the thought that these 15 girls will be my family for the next few weeks and the outcome of that relationship, puts a big smile on my face.
I’m really looking forward to knowing more about each of these amazing, resilient girls, their beautiful country and enigmatic culture.
Watch this space if you want to know about my journey in Nepal and my experiences with the Udana girls.
Wed Aug 24, 2022