Story by: Elin Doyle
It was early in the morning when we took off. Winding along serpentine roads with rocky precipices running hundreds of meters down next to us made this road one of the roughest and bumpiest journeys I’ve ever travelled in my life. There were women in red, green, and yellow slowly carrying huge packs of leafy grass on their backs and children in school uniforms and braids with colorful ribbons staring at us with big eyes as we drove by. After hours and hours, we finally reached the Nepali village of Hayutar. I was going to spend the next four months on an internship in rural Mid-Eastern Nepal to try and get a grip of healthcare in Nepal.
From the moment I walked my first steps on Nepali ground, I was hit by the overwhelming chaos. People literally everywhere running around talking (screaming) with loud voices, the smell of dirt, curry, and yeah – just of a new, very different place. “Crash! Ouch! Heh!” airport trolleys crashed into me from back and front… My mind was ran in all directions as I tried to figure out where to go next, I could hardly even hear my own thoughts. I was overwhelmed. Was a Swede like me, used to cleanliness, orderliness and social graciousness going to be able to tough it out through these next four months? I wondered to myself.
The bumpy roads took me to a village guesthouse in the Mid-Eastern hills – my home for the coming two and a half weeks. In the two-story mud house, there were two wooden beds with one-centimeter-thick mattresses for me and my translator to sleep on. I was glad I had brought my sleeping bag; it still got quite chilly at night time, especially in these hilly areas. Meals were cooked over open fire; noodle soup or homemade fried donuts for breakfast and “dal bhat” (lentil soup and rice) for lunch and dinner. Dal bhat was served with chicken, mutton (goat meat), buffalo, or vegetable curry (tarkari), together with spicy vegetables (pickles) and greens (saag). It is eaten by pouring the dal over the rice, and eating is done with your hands. Or more accurately: your right hand. (Your left is used for – something more private).
6.15 am, while the sun was still rising over the round, tree-covered hills, I headed off to the village literacy center together with my local translator. I was there to teach personal hygiene, basic anatomy, first aid, and English to adult women who never had gone to school as children.
The center is housed in a blue tin-sheet building ubiquitous in Nepal after the earthquake in 2015 and run by a non-governmental organization (NGOs) in Nepal called the Grace Community Development Nepal (GCDN). GCDN started literacy centers in 2013 with the mission of empowering women. The women first go through a two-year literacy program, where they learn to read and write in Nepali and English. Nepal has an overall low literacy rate (65.9%) and it is especially low among women (57.4%), many adult women do not know how to write their own name in their language; the literacy rate is higher among young girls today though, to begin to improve their lives, these women need to first gain basic literacy skills. The next step is a two-year “post-literacy program”, where they learn things such as practical health knowledge, handicraft, farming, disaster preparedness and human rights. These free classes take place in a small window within the day when the women have time outside of their never-ending household chores.
The women I was teaching had already obtained some basic literary and were now moving on to more advanced practical lessons.
Around eight women in colorful dresses sat on the blue mat-covered floor each morning, eager to hear the days subject. I began class talking about the organs within the human body, something that they had never even seen on a picture before. “In this village people are not allowed to drink water when having diarrhea”, one of the women interjected when I discussed the importance of rehydrating from diarrhea.
Another woman thundered, “a girl should not touch a fruit tree while menstruating. All fruit will die and fall down. This is true!”. She looked at me quizzically, her face winced with confusion when I tried to explain that a menstruating girl could do whatever a non-menstruating girl did.
The classes were moving along, the women were learning important knowledge to improve their lives, then one day, I arrived to find the women deep in discussion.
“They say we should be at home and do work.” The women exclaimed. Some of their husbands didn’t want them to attend the classes in the mornings, admonishing their wives, “you’ve never been to school, and you’ve managed your whole life anyway. How important could it really be to learn reading and writing now?”
The success of the program was self-explanatory. However, there were stories about women who had got positions in local governmental bodies, women who had stood up against their husband’s beating, and women who had gotten promoted at work because they could now read and write. All these women gained their knowledge through this very program, thanks to this literacy program.
Women starting to know their value and reclaiming what is rightfully theirs.
YOUTUBE VIDEO FROM ELIN