Educated, empowered and equal: Her Turn Program, Nepal

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It’s a powerful spectacle to witness: a ceremony in a Nepali village, where girls as young as 10 perform a stage play and give speeches on child marriage or domestic violence. These are the issues they and women from their communities face on a daily basis. Last week, over 150 Her Turn alumni led such ceremonies in three villages of Sindhupalchok district, while their parents and teachers marveled at their public speaking and advocacy skills.

“After the workshop I found lots of changes in myself. Before I wasn’t able to talk much, but now I can speak in front of people.”

IMG_2358Her Turn tries to answer these and other risks rooted in patriarchal social norms. Our keywords are: educated, empowered and equal and our aim is to bring these values to Nepali villages. Our program consists of four weeks long workshops for girls from public rural schools. The curriculum first covers the basics: the issues of health (puberty, nutrition, menstruation management) and safety (bullying, discrimination, domestic and sexual violence, human trafficking and child marriage). Next, it focuses on developing confidence, advocacy and leadership skills. During the final week, the girls decide by consensus and implement a small community project – which can be anything from installing bathroom dust bins and door locks (an important factor in girls’ school attendance), to purchasing sports equipment, books for the school library, sanitary pads, or a small sound system.

“You have to be safe. If you see someone engage in human trafficking, it is your responsibility to help the girl and the perpetrator has to be in jail.”

The workshops are led by local female trainers, of which many come from low caste backgrounds. Majority of them speak indigenous languages such as Sherpa or Tamang, which is helpful to many of our younger participants, whose mother tongue is not Nepali. The curriculum is child centered, interactive, and fun. We emphasize the importance of education and we practice team work and inclusion. The attendance rates above 99% suggest that the girls thoroughly enjoy the workshops.

“If I was a leader, I would set up a system of sharing meals with people from lower castes.”

During the workshops, every day we provide full meals for each participant and their trainers. These shared lunches serve as an informal space to discuss the workshop and develop friendships. They help mitigate some of caste tensions these girls grow up with, which prevent them from mobilizing and addressing their issues as a team. One of our trainers comments: “before the workshop the girls used to discriminate each other based on caste status. During the workshop they shared meals together and the discrimination stopped. They are more helpful to each other.”

“I want to marry at the age of 25 because I want to be independent first. I would like to have a job before marriage. At that age I can also achieve my goals.”

IMG_2386Girls in Nepal are often seen as shy and passive. Child marriage rates here are at staggering 41%, and in some of the villages, almost all women are married off before they reach 18, sometimes as early as 13. They all experience the devastating health and social consequences of early marriage. In our program, we try to combat these perceptions and show alternatives for their futures. Her Turn proves to the girls themselves and their communities, that they can be powerful advocates and agents of change.

“There is human trafficking and sexual harassment, but I participated in Her Turn workshops. That’s why I know how to stay safe from those things.”

Our alumni learn how to protect themselves from this prevalent practice, and other harmful traditions. In each school, the girls form a Girls Support Committee that serves as a resource for all the students. The committee is equipped with a guide that includes information on local women police cells, women’s groups, and NGOs and the legal frameworks regarding various forms of gender based violence.

“During Her Turn workshops I learned you have to alert someone or report to the police if someone tries to touch you inappropriately.”

So far the reception from schools, communities and, most importantly, girls, has been promising. The trainers report that the girls start speaking up, playing soccer with the boys and become more confident. The parents, families and community leaders are surprised to witness their daughters advocate for their rights during the community ceremonies. While challenging the patriarchal social norms is a complex and delicate process, we see that for these girls Her Turn is a step in the right direction.

All of above quotes come from Her Turn alumni.

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Justice for Women: An Introduction to Nyaya Health

Nyaya Health

This post is by Shrima Pandey, Digital Marketing; Asmita Gauchan, Digital Marketing; Sarah Rasmussen, Development Assistant

In 2006, filmmaker Roshani Andrews and her husband, Jason Andrews, traveled to Achham, Nepal hoping to document the effects of the HIV crisis. But what they witnessed there was more than just an epidemic; it was a total lack of a healthcare system — a devastating reality that the people of Achham faced daily. In the wake of a ten-year civil war, little infrastructure remained, which further isolated this community from the rest of the country. Jason and Roshani travelled over fifteen hours from the capital city of Kathmandu to this far-western district of Achham, where there are few opportunities beyond a life of hard labor in the fields.

Achhami women are left with the burden of both working in the fields and providing for their families when their husbands migrate to India in masses seeking employment. With their families’ livelihoods depending on them, women are left with little time and resources to care for themselves.

These women, and 260,000 other Achhami people were living without access to a single doctor. Jason was immediately struck by the gravity of their plight. He emailed his close friends at Yale Medical School, Duncan Maru and Sanjay Basu, saying he felt “wholly compelled but completely adrift” by the devastation he had witnessed:

I literally had 10 women a night knocking on my door asking for medical help for themselves or their children.

After that email, Jason, Duncan, and Sanjay could have walked away from the challenges posed by this region everyone else had forgotten. They were told repeatedly that building a quality health system there wasn’t possible due to lack of infrastructure, the immense poverty, the political turmoil, and for lack of precedent – no one had done it before.

Yet they pushed back, determined to build an effective, durable organization rooted in the philosophy of “nyaya” or “the realization of just systems.”

Nyaya Health’s vision was realized in 2008, when the three were joined by a growing team of leaders from Nepal, India, and the U.S. Using a small sum of funds from friends and family, the team transformed an abandoned grain shed into a beautiful clinic operated by Nepali healthcare providers.

That commitment to realization then came to define everything we do, from forming a novel public-private partnership with Nepal’s Ministry of Health to moving radically beyond a shamefully substandard approach to transparency in international development work.

One of our most successful efforts in Achham has been the female Community Health Worker (CHW) program, which employs 93 community health workers and 9 community health worker leaders. These women, whose futures were once limited and marginalized, now play a vital role in connecting the local Achhami people to the necessary and available care. As leaders in their communities, Community Health Workers accompany patients across the emotional, educational, and literal distance to health in irreplaceable ways. Through this program, women are putting the power to access healthcare straight into the hands of their communities.

To date, we have treated more than 137,000 patients at our flagship facility, Bayalpata Hospital, employed over 160 Nepali staff, attracted over $1 million dollars of investment ($105,000 from Nepal’s Ministry of Health), and have been distinguished by GiveWell as a standout organization for our ability to deliver care in an extremely poor region with unusual levels of transparency.

The right to health is being realized, and we are excited to work with Girls’ Globe to bring health to more people throughout rural Nepal.

Nyaya Health is a new featured organization and will continue to share stories about their work on Girls' Globe. Connect with Nyaya Health through Twitter and Facebook.