It was 15th of December 2015; we started our journey to Sindhupalchowk. Shobha Shrestha of #WPD (Women for Peace and Democracy) Nepal http://www.wpdnepal.org.np/ and three members from #OCIC (Ontario Council for International Cooperation) http://www.ocic.on.ca/ and I were ready to head to three villages as planned namely- Kuwa Paani, Seto Pahara and Jyamire in Sindhupalchowk. My role was to mediate the voices of communities to the team of OCIC who were in Nepal to know the status of mainly women after the devastating earthquake on April 25 and collect photo stories for the #transformation exhibit in #Canada.
It took us almost three hours to get to Kuwa Paani from Kathmandu. As we reached Zero Kilo, the journey was with full of bumpy and slippery roads, in fact there wasn’t the proper road as driver was driving his van in the river. I pondered how these village people make their daily journey for school, office, to the market and most importantly to the hospital. Health institutions seemed to be non-existent.
WPD Nepal has been supporting the people in these three villages to build houses with the support of West Minister School in USA
http://www.westminster-school.org/page and HOPE international http://www.hopeinternational.org/ After we reached Kuwapaani, we were overwhelmed by the hosting of women. Most of the families in Kuwapani belong to Bishowkarma (B.K). Traditionally, people with this caste do metal works. WPD Nepal has a women’s’ group in Kuwapani named as Kuwapani Women’s Group. We were amazed to see how women in the group have been supportive to each other in clearing rubble and building a new shelter. All the women in the community have helped each other to build each other’s house in support of WPD Nepal.
Every single woman we interviewed expressed their happiness to build their new shelter and they all looked happy to work in a group and support each other during the time of devastation.
WPD Nepal with support of West Minister School USA and HOPE International built twenty houses in Kuwapani, ten houses in Jyamire and ten in Setopahara of Sindhupalchowk. It is indeed supporting to build twenty houses in Bade Gaun of Sindhupalchowk as well.
After Kuwapani we hiked towards the hill to get to Setopahara. Residents of Setopahara are Mizar. Women groups were welcoming the people who supported them to build their shelter where they can accommodate their children. Most of the adults in the village are out of the country as labor migrant so only women and children are left behind in Setopahara. Young boys have left their homes and schools in search of job in Kathmandu and other big cities in the country only to work as child labors. This shows how productive human resources are leaving communities in search of better opportunities and how their families have been left behind for uncertain future.
Our last village for the day was Jyamire. All most all houses there were destroyed by the earthquake in April 25. Jyamire is the resident of the people with the surname Nepali. Traditionally people with the surname Nepali used to do the tailoring work and still many people in Jyamire make their living by sewing clothes. In Jyamire also many young men are in Gulf countries for employment. Many teenager girls are left behind with small kids with them in the village with no skills, no jobs so they have to rely on some amount of money that has been remitted by their male counterpart. In recent years, remittance has become the most important source of income in the country. “The migrant workers abroad are sending home about Rs 1.5 billion on an average each passing day.” (The Himalayan Times, 12 May 2014 http://www.financialnepal.com/news/detail/nepal-gets-rs-15bn-as-remittance-daily)
On the top of that after their husbands leave their homes for foreign employment, these women have an extra burden of raising up their children. They have to take care of their children and other household works. Since they have to get busy in household works, they do not get time for themselves and are deprived from education, health and sanitation.
It was almost 4.30 in the afternoon when we left Jyamire and started our journey back to Kathmandu. Though it was only some hours we spent in those three villages but we had hundreds of stories of joy and pain of the villagers. Villagers are happy because they have now their own shelter.
More than the happy stories my mind was full with their worries for future. Because the skilled, energetic and young people have left community, only young mothers with minors are left behind. Many girls in their early twenties have child in their arms but the mothers are unsure about their child’s future, their education, and their upbringings.
Those communities are just an example of how these minorities have been deprived from developmental outreach. There are schools in the villages but very few go to school. After primary education, young boys are often seen moving away from their home to migrate- urban areas just to become child labors. In the case of girls, they drop schools either to help their parents in household things or get married. This is very unfortunate reality that rural areas sustaining in Nepal. Preserving this is not their wish but they are forced to do it because of poverty, because of less education, because of less awareness, because of minimum government efforts to upgrade their living standard.
Social taboo and traditional beliefs have hindered them from seeing life from different perspective. When I asked their names they were hesitant to even out speak their caste due to caste discrimination that is rampant in Nepalese society. These people- are the one- who migrate at first and and also victims of external forces. Usually, these castes are considered as lower casts in the community and they feel uncomfortable to tell the world that they are Bishwakarma and they do metal works or they are Nepali and they do tailoring. Many factors have obstructed them to move forward.
But now desire for change can be perceived in the people. Women want to learn and be skilled on what they have been doing and become economically independent. They are willing to work in group and support each other and they feel proud how they helped each other to build their shelter.
The most memorable thing of my trip to Sindhupalchowk was one of the women in Kuwapaani asked Shobha from WPD Nepal to bring them calendar with their photos. I realized that how these marginalized people have how realized their rights to demand. Since, people from OCIC were taking their pictures, they wanted to make calendar with their photos. I found that really appealing to see how a woman who used to be satisfied with what their husband gave them now can demand something for themselves. This could be a gesture by the Development industry (NGO) who takes photos of community people with or without their consent, at least provide back to communities, at least to put in VDC office or Health post as such.
Thanks to #WPD- Nepal and #OCIC for making me part of this trip!