When my husband Simon and I arrived in Nepal in July 2014, we didn’t know what to expect. I joined Simon as an “accompanying partner”, but soon found myself taking on the role of community mobiliser volunteer in Lamjung, Central Nepal, through Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO).
I work on the Sister for Sister programme, which supports marginalised girls to complete their basic education and fulfil their right to quality education. I support the staff and volunteers who mentor 320 girls in 12 schools.
I have facilitated many workshops, including street theatre; the use of games (there is no awareness of SEND); team building; problem solving and, since the April 2015 earthquake, many more unexpected challenges.
Today, I am running a workshop on women’s health and menstruation, so quickly eat breakfast and gather the materials for the day. The other community mobiliser, Samjhana, is already in the village, so I set off to catch a local bus. There are no timetables, so it is always interesting.
An hour later, and I begin the long walk to Bharte. This is a steep climb through jungle, paddy fields and terraces and I arrive, very hot and sweaty, two-and-a-half hours later.
Samjhana is now a very capable facilitator, so today’s session is relatively easy. We start with two hours of theory, where we discuss the menstrual cycle, physiology, local customs and challenges. In most villages, when a girl has her first period, she is sent to another woman’s house of a lower caste, for 10 days. For the second period, she goes for 7 days, for the third, five days. This can vary from village to village, but the girls must stay inside and are not allowed to see men or boys.
They therefore miss school, and this can be the start of poor school attendance. Many of the girls are expected to then get married – a culture that we are trying to change through education and community work.
Toilets are very basic and often don’t have locks or water, and certainly no bin. The women in the villages still use a wad of cloth and, as cases of infection and prolapse are high, we must cover these subjects.
Despite an initial reluctance to interact, soon everyone participates in the refreshing excitement of sharing knowledge. The highlight is always the practical session, where we make reusable sanitary pads.
These girls have seldom done any sewing, but with two hours and intense concentration, they are proud of their efforts. I have been told that the girls are sharing information and one school has held another workshop for women and girls to make more pads.
Samjhana and I set off, thankful that it is downhill all the way. We soon have a violent thunderstorm to contend with, but this does not dampen our mood. I believe this has been a very powerful experience: the knowledge and skills are sustainable and will help girls stay in school to complete their education.
Simon wanted to volunteer 40 years ago, but it was an unexpected plan for me. It is proving a great adventure; I am sure that we will look back on this experience as one of the most memorable in our lives.
To donate to the VSO earthquake appeal, visit: vsointernational.org/donate/nepal
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