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Stories of Partnership, Resilience and Positive Change in Nepal

Story by Transformations February 3rd, 2016

Transformations: Stories of Partnership, Resilience and Positive Change in Nepal is a collaborative photojournalism project intended to increase dialogue and further understanding of international partnerships that address complex global challenges. Through individual and organizational stories we invite you to actively engage in a new narrative on international cooperation and solidarity.

This initiative is rooted in the Istanbul Principles for CSO Development Effectiveness, a set of mutually shared values guiding the development work of civil society organizations (CSOs) worldwide. These include to: respect and promote human rights and social justice; embody gender equality and equity while promoting women and girls’ rights; focus on people’s empowerment, democratic ownership and participation; promote environmental sustainability; practice transparency and accountability; pursue equitable partnerships and solidarity; create and share knowledge and commit to mutual learning; and commit to realizing positive sustainable change.

Through this exhibit we hope you will join us in learning about the work of Women for Peace and Democracy-Nepal, and World Accord, to empower marginalized women and their communities. See how women in rural Nepal have re-built their homes and lives following the devastating 2015 Nepal earthquake, and witness ways Nepali women are transforming their communities through long-term socio-economic development programs.

The stories presented were documented by OCIC and Allan Lissner, Praxis Pictures, during a visit to Nepal in December 2015. We extend our deepest gratitude to our organizational partners and to the many individuals and communities that shared their experiences and opened their hearts and their homes to us.

This initiative was undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada.

Sarita Moktan is part of Srijanshil women‘s group in Makari Community, Nepal.

In the Land of Marigold Garlands

Makwanpur District, Nepal.

Enter Nepal, a beautiful, mountainous and landlocked country in South Asia, surrounded by China and India. One seventh the size of the province of Ontario, Canada, Nepal is amongst the poorest countries in the world, ranking 145th of 188 countries on the Human Development Index 2015. Perhaps best known as home to Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world, Nepal is also a country of enormous geographic, ethnic, cultural, socio-economic and political diversity. According to the UNDP, Nepal’s Gender Inequality Index value ranks it 108 out of 155 countries, with maternal mortality ratio at 190 death per 1,000 births, women holding 29.5% of seats in parliament, and only 17% of women achieving at least secondary education (38% for men). In Nepal 41.4% of the population is considered multi-dimensionally poor (deprived on multiple levels such as education, health and living standards), and 49% of total employment being categorized as working poor.

Though technically abolished in 1962, Nepal has an active caste system which predetermines social status, cultural behavior, employment and identity based on birth and ethnic background. Similar to that of India, Nepal’s caste system has four principle castes: Brahmin (traditionally priests, teachers and highest caste), Kshatriya (ruling and military elite), Vaishya (landowners, traders and money-lenders), and Sudra (also known as ‘untouchables’). More recently, after Nepal elected its first democratic government, policies and advocacy groups have put the rights of the lower castes, ethnic groups and indigenous peoples center stage in civic discussions.

On April 25, 2015, Nepal was struck by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake that killed more than 8,000 people and injured more than 21,000. More than 600,000 houses were completely or partially destroyed, impacting the lives of around eight million people from 39 districts. This was followed by a major 7.3-magnitude aftershock on May 12, 2015 that toppled more buildings and killed at least a dozen people. Smaller aftershocks and the fear associated with them followed in the months to come.

At the same time that Nepal and the international community is working to rebuild, following the devastation from this humanitarian crisis, a months-long unofficial blockade of the main entry points to Nepal from India has been underway, limiting the flow of fuel, medicine and other vital supplies. Media reports suggest that the blockade is led by ethnic minorities who feel discriminated against by Nepal’s first Constitution, which was passed by its legislative assembly on September 20, 2015. Recognized as unique in some aspects, including its recognition of gender and sexual minority people, the Constitution has polarized Nepali society on whether the newly drawn up provisional land boundaries should be ethnically delineated.

While not the focus of this photojournalism initiative, the political, socio-economic and historical context of the country has a significant bearing on Nepal during the time these stories were documented.

Grassroots Organizations Collaborate To Empower Marginalized Women

Founded in 2010, Women for Peace and Democracy-Nepal (WPD) is a women-run non-government organization (NGO) based in Kathmandu, Nepal, that works to empower poor, marginalized and dalit women to unite their passions for building a peaceful and democratic Nepal. Guided by Shobha Shrestha’s passion for promoting gender equity and equality, eliminating injustice and violence against women, and enhancing the practice of democracy across Nepal, WPD supports sustained grassroots development by building the capacities of rural women. WPD helps women and their communities become self-sufficient by providing training, technical support and resources in community development, basic literacy, sustainable farming, livestock rearing, micro-enterprise development and credit management.
Shobha Shrestha, Founder & Executive Chair, Women for Peace and Democracy-Nepal meeting with the WPD women from Chisapani village women’s group.

World Accord, a Canadian NGO based in Waterloo, Ontario, works to build effective partnerships that enable local leaders, organizations and communities to improve their effectiveness, and transform their lives. With over three decades experience, World Accord’s mission “to cultivate communities that thrive” is one of the key ingredients to their success accompanying WPD in Nepal. By investing in projects based on partnership, solidarity, accountability and beneficiary consultations, World Accord successfully partners with established local organizations working at the grassroots level.

Personal Relationships Strengthen Solidarity Across Continents

The institutional partnership between WPD and World Accord is rooted in a strong and personal relationship built on trust and mutual respect. In fact, in 2010 World Accord helped to establish WPD by providing seed funding to Shobha Shrestha, after having worked closely with her through their support of another Nepali NGO. Over the past five years World Accord has accompanied Ms Shrestha and WPD through a period of organizational learning and growth, helping her realize her vision to empower marginalized women in Nepal, and to build WPD’s capacity to partner with other organizations and individuals. In that time the connections between the two organizations and their respective teams and communities have evolved and deepened.

World Accord invests in the long-term growth and success of WPD’s efforts. Staff and volunteers visit WPD’s rural projects a regular basis, taking the time to know and understand the women and their challenges and successes, while also providing seed funding for new projects, and technical and moral support. The connection between the Canadian and Nepali people involved in this program is personal and runs deep, enabling a high level of transparency, effectiveness and impact on the ground.

Socio-Economic Empowerment Programs Improve Power Dynamics

Rupa BK (right) works to support her four children, in-laws, and husband (left), who suffered a serious back injury in the 2015 earthquake.

WPD’s flagship program is the Socio-Economic Empowerment Program for Women and Marginalized Populations (SEWAM). The objective of the program is to enhance living conditions of Nepalese women and socially excluded groups by encouraging participants to form groups, increase their capacity, and receive training in food production and then more sophisticated income generating activities. Participants also receive trainings in financial management and administration, learn to manage a group trust fund, and invest in their own small businesses.

The SEWAM program seeks to address gender inequality in rural communities. Through a rights-based approach, WPD empowers women to participate in income generation and decision-making at the local level. They also provide training in domestic violence prevention, and promote awareness of women’s issues and women’s rights. WPD currently offers this program to 414 women in 15 women’s groups, across seven villages in four districts in Nepal. In 2016, Ms Shrestha plans to expand this program to some communities in Sindhupalchowk and Nuwakot provinces as a means to support the women and communities WPD has recently reached through post-earthquake emergency response and reconstruction efforts.
Rita Praja (centre) and her husband (left) live in Basamadi village.

“We give them education on saying ‘no’ to violence against women, and knowing the laws, if they get harassed by men,” says Shobha. “If a woman is tortured or harassed all the women in her community group come together and deal with it. They talk to the men, and if it is serious, they take it to court. That is a big change.”

When the women in Basamadi village first formed their women’s group the men of their community were not confident the women could earn their own income. After five years participation in the SEWAM program, many women are now running successful small businesses, and community perceptions of their capabilities have significantly changed. The women say that the men are happy they are working and independent, and some male leaders have approached them to participate as decision makers in the community.
Nirmala Lama, WPD Field Supervisor in Basamadi village, supports women in developing individual and collective businesses.

“Our goal is to first educate and build the confidence of the women so they can walk hand-in-hand with the men, to speak for themselves, and gain respect from their husbands and the rest of the community,” explains Shobha. “The women now say they can earn their own money, and that they are independent. That is what change is all about.”

Economic Independence Changes Women’s Lives

Srijana Shah sells snacks from her food cart, purchased with a loan from the SEWAM Parijat women’s group.

Local SEWAM groups are comprised of 20 to 30 women from a particular community and are self directed, with guidance from WPD. The groups serve as sources of rotating credit, mutual support and collective action for income generation and community development. They also coordinate advocacy with local governments and other service providers, which helps the women involved access land and health services, and enables them to take on leadership roles in their broader communities.
Women in Newarpani community walk to their monthly meeting.
Women in the Parijat women’s group gather in Basamadi village.

In the Parijat women’s group, passion for their work is palpable. The women are actively growing their small businesses and their community at the same time. Supported by their children and families, they meet twice a month to discuss their savings, loans and payments.
Srijana Dangol (left), Nirmala Lama (right) and Bimala Nepali (bottom right) run a successful collective tailoring business in Basamadi village.

Through the SEWAM program they received loans to buy sewing machines and supplies, and took tailoring workshops. They now sell their clothes to other women in the group and the local and nearby communities. Each WPD women’s group has its own style and structure, based on the interests of the women involved. This makes the SEWAM program versatile, decentralized and able to appeal to diverse community needs.
Maiya Sunam (left) has been participating in WPD’s SEWAM program for five years. She now runs her own tailoring business and livestock farm, and generates enough money to help feed her family and send her children to school.

Rita Praja (right) is one of the newest members of the Newarpani women’s group and has accomplished a great deal in a few short months. “I want to work hard and give my children a very good life,” explains Rita Praja, as she gets ready to milk her water buffalo. After receiving a loan from the Newarpani women’s group she bought goats and is starting pig rearing, in addition to having corn crops, water buffalo, and a cow.
“We can start small and grow our businesses,” says Maya Chepang (above), one of the most active members of the Newarpani women’s group. “When I first joined the group I was shy to speak or introduce myself to strangers. Now I can speak for myself in my community.”

Maya Chepang is a ginger farmer who is able to support her family with the profit she earns from her farming and livestock businesses. An incredibly hard worker, Maya was able to pay back her first loan within six months, and has built a new house with the income she earned. Although her agro-business is thriving she says she still struggles, especially given that her husband is working abroad in Malaysia.
Phulmaya Theeng (left) Phulmaya Praja, and WPD Field Motivator Somlakskmi Praja (right) are active members of WPD’s Srijanshil women’s group.

When Phulmaya Praja joined the Srijanshil’s women’s group many things changed in her life. After taking trainings on micro-credit and ginger farming she started earning her living growing and selling ginger. She has since become President of the women’s group. Vibrant and energetic, she motivates other women to become independent and active in their community.

Sushila Blun has expanded her carpet making business with funds from the Newarpani women’s group.

Santu Lumba started her pig farming business with the support of a SEWAM loan from WPD’s Newarpani women’s group.
The home of Sita Magar, a member of the Parijat women’s group, was also impacted by the earthquake, but has since been repaired.
Santu Lumba and children in Newarpani community clear rubble from her home, significantly impacted by the 2015 earthquake.

Though Newarpani community is far from the epicenter of Nepal’s 2015 earthquake and aftershocks, Santu Lumba is one of several women in the Terai region whose homes were cracked or destroyed. With the support of WPD and community members Santu is now rebuilding. While she struggles as a widow and sole income earner to support her children and address the loss of their home, she is thankful for the support she is receiving, and optimistic about her future.

Communities Recover With Earthquake Relief and Reconstruction Support

Under the shadow of the banyan tree, Setopahara community was devastated by the Nepal 2015 earthquake and aftershocks.

Immediately following the April 25, 2015 earthquake in Nepal, World Accord was in contact with WPD. Once they had determined that none of WPD’s staff or community participants had been badly hurt or killed, the two organizations turned their attention and support towards new communities in the epicenter of the disaster. While World Accord immediately released emergency funds to WPD and launched a widespread appeal for financial support from the Canadian public, Ms Shrestha gathered and mobilized a team of 15 young volunteers to help her initiate WPD’s Nepal Earthquake Relief and Reconstruction Project.

As with WPD’s socio-economic empowerment work, the focus of this project was to improve the ability of women and marginalized populations hardest hit by the earthquake to access emergency shelters and relief supplies. With the support of a small and fearless volunteer team, WPD set-up eight emergency relief camps for more than 4,000 people, delivering tarpaulins, blankets, rice, snacks, medicines, stationeries and clothes. The project then moved on to building 83 temporary shelters in Sindhupalchowk for some of the same families who accessed WPD’s relief camps. After a house building survey in Sindhulpalchowk, WPD created household profiles and measured the community’s interest in rebuilding, as well as socio-economic project potential.
Bishnu Maya BK stands in front of her newly-built home in Kuwapani community, Sindhulpalchowk district.
Bishnu Maya BK’s house was destroyed during the earthquake, like many of the houses, schools and other buildings in her community. Some people were trapped under the rubble and were killed or injured, and most were forced to live under tarpaulins for two or three months, with seven to nine family members all living under the same tent. With materials and technical support provided by WPD, the women in Kuwapani community have helped each other re-build their homes.
Panmati (Kali) BK of Kuwapani community says that although she lost her home in the earthquake, she is thankful that her family survived. She now lives with her two sons, two daughters, her in-laws and her husband in a new home re-built with support from WPD. Panmati says she is happy to have this new house, and happy that her community is working together. She says she first came to Kuwapani through marriage and has always found that the people here work well together. In the future, she says, she plans to raise goats to sell in her community.
Rupa BK in front of her newly-build home in Kuwapani community in Sindhulpalchowk district.

Rupa BK says it was extremely difficult to work and live without a home after the earthquake hit. She wants her children to grow up with a good education and having a stable home is important for that. Her husband’s head and back were badly injured in the destruction and she has to work doubly hard growing crops and earning an income for her family. She is illiterate and cannot currently start a business, but she sells buffalo milk locally.
Corrugated metal roofs of newly built homes top a narrow ridge amongst terraced hills and valleys in Sindhulpalchowk district.

As the sun sets on the Jyamire community, the red mud plastered houses glow orange. The earthquake impacted all ten families in this community.
A 30-minute walk from the mountain road, over a red-clay and rocky path, is the community of Setopahara. Home to 12 families, Setopahara was devastated by the earthquake. Given its remote location, it was not serviced by any relief efforts until WPD arrived.
At the top of a steep hill, near an enormous banyan tree, women of Setopahara community explain how they carried the corrugated metal roof materials and other building materials provided by WPD in order to rebuild 10 homes in their village. Filled with pride and emotion they express thanks for the support they received, and share that these homes are far better than the ones they had before the earthquake.
Putali Mizar (above) says that following the earthquake older people and children in Setopahara community had great difficulty living under temporary tents, and it took two months to clear the rubble from their old homes. Because of her age she says she cannot do physical labour anymore, and wants to raise goats if she can, to live and earn some money for food.

Following their efforts to provide emergency relief and support rebuilding homes in Sindhupalchowk and Nuwakot districts, WPD is now assessing the need for longer-term development work in these areas, and hopes to introduce the SEWAM with additional support form World Accord, HOPE International Development Agency, Westminster College: Making Lives Better, Help for Nepal, and other individual donors.

Women’s Empowerment Programs Impact THE Broader CommunitY

Sushila Subedi (left), Susmita Subedi and Durga Subedi (right) live in Newarpani community.

WPD’s empowerment programs have wide reaching impact. Although each SEWAM group is limited to 30 participants — typically women experiencing discrimination and inequality, and with limited access to education, resources and economic opportunities — other family members and neighbours are also involved or affected in positive ways.
Only one member from each household can participate in the Srijanshil women‘s group, but the impact of their work is widely felt throughout the Makari community.
WPD works with populations that are the most in need, from a diversity of ethnic groups, tribes and marginalized groups.
Ambika Lamichhane (left) gathers the women of Kuwapani community to request paint to beautify their newly built homes. She says, “I am happy because I am helping the community, and they are happy with my work because they are getting things that they didn’t have before!”
An integral element of WPD’s success, whether in rebuilding homes in Sindhulpalchowk, or training women in starting their own tailoring business, is their effort to cultivate local leadership and accountability through Community and Field Motivators. In her role as Field Supervisor Ambika Lamichhane works to monitor the distribution and use of rebuilding materials in each village, and organizes group meetings.
Women of Kuwapani community work closely together to rebuild their homes in the Sindhulpalchok district.

“The women in the community are working together,” says Ambika. “Some of the houses do not have a male person, and the women have to do all the work. The women are really helping each other to do the work, turn by turn. I am inspired by what the women can do if they all work together.”
Somlakshmi Praja (above) provides guidance and support to the women in the Srijanshil women‘s group.

Somlakshmi Praja is the Community Motivator for the Srijanshil women’s group. As owner of a small food shop, banana plantation, goats and a tailoring business, she is a solid example of self-determination and commitment. She is also a local health volunteer, providing medicine for children and teaching maternal health, and she organizes literacy and adult education classes across her community. As part of her work for WPD she coordinates group meetings and trainings, and monitors and supports the women in their income generating endeavours.
A young girl in Kuwapani community (left) greets guests with “Namaste”. Children of the Srijanshil women‘s group members in Makari community (right), also gather to say hello.

When asked about their dreams for the future, the women of Parijat laugh and explain that they wish the same good education and independence for all their children, girls and boys. They also speak about the benefits of being economically independent, of saving, and making their own businesses.
“I love this work. When I go to the field and I see the women that I work with, and what they are accomplishing, I have so much satisfaction,” shares Shobha Shrestha.
The core strength of WPD’s programs lies in the sustainable local solutions that they cultivate, and their ability to respond to challenges with thoughtfulness and an immediacy that is mirrored in the high level of empowerment experienced across the communities they work in.
Footnote: All photos by Allan Lissner/Praxis Pictures. December 2015.