Namaste our friends - how are you?
What a question in this unbelievable time. It goes without saying, we’re all adjusting to a new kind of normal. We hope you and your families are staying healthy, navigating the anxiety, confusion and enormity of COVID-19 and finding some social solidarity in the isolation.
We’re concerned for our colleagues and friends in Nepal, who like us, are working out how to move forward. Nepal has only 2 confirmed cases, but some say this number reflects a lack of tests. There is a strict stay-at-home order in place, with schools, businesses and government offices closed and domestic and international flights grounded.
Nepal has also closed its land borders with India and China. When one of our co-founders, Sarah, left Nepal over a week ago there were already queues for petrol, gas and cooking oil, with fear of fuel and food shortages, much of which comes from India and China.
The women and girls and our colleagues at our partner, Asha Nepal, are all healthy. They have closed the office and are continuing to support the family care homes and families in the community with the team working from home where possible. The family care homes are well stocked with food, toiletries and basic medical care. Asha has purchased induction heating stoves in anticipation of a shortage in cooking gas. With schools closed, the family care mothers are considering creative ways to make the time productive and not too disruptive for the girls. They have been reading, cooking together, playing indoor games, doing art and watching movies.
These are heartbreaking times for so many and especially for already fragile communities. For those already vulnerable from violence and precarious livelihoods, unable to rely on an affordable or adequate healthcare system, COVID-19 will be devastating. There are no stimulus packages in Nepal.
It’s also a testing time for our global community and the shared connections we have built across cultures and borders, as we, by necessity, turn to our here and now.
After a cooking class with one of our groups in Nepal last year, Mina*, who along with a number of the family based care mothers have set up a catering business, said
“I felt really joyful while conducting the cooking class."
So in the spirit of finding joy where we can and remembering we are part of a global community, the Project Didi team have decided to cook a number of the mothers’ recipes.
We’ve shared a recipe below, so we hope you’ll join in our Nepali feast and find joy in the food and connection to our didis in Nepal.
Mixed Vegetable Curry
*Name changed to protect privacy.
A reporter once asked A.J. Muste, a Dutch born American clergyman and
pacifist who protested against the Vietnam War, “Do you really think you are going to change the policies of this country by standing out here alone at night in front of the White House with a candle?” Muste replied softly,
“Oh I don’t do this to change the country.
I do this so the country won’t change me.”
In a world so complex, so overwhelmed with systemic poverty and injustice, it can be flummoxing and down-right exhausting deciding where your precious effort and resources should go, and even more so, understanding whether you are having any real impact.
2019 was my first year formally involved with Project Didi as President of the Board, and this role has been my own lit candle: the time I give and the work I do is my act of service to what I think is truly important. It has kept me tethered to the legacy I want to create in my life. I imagine it is the same for our supporters and the Project Didi community broadly.
There are many important causes in the world, and we as individuals cannot address every single one. What is important is that something about Project Didi’s mission resonated with you as it does with us. And you made the conscious decision to allocate your time or energy or resources to this community.
You, like us, understand how precious women and girls are to this planet. How critical education is to the lives of women, their families and their communities. You understand how critical it is to address the urgent crisis of trafficking and modern slavery. How central child rights are to a flourishing world. How everybody loses when gender inequality goes unchallenged.
We expanded our trips offering two new opportunities to travel to Nepal
We were thrilled to partner with Fernwood Tuggeranong, a female gym and health club in Canberra, to run a trip in March. We ran our first Women Empowering Women trip with nine women from across Australia. These trips provide valuable funding for critical care for survivors of trafficking and abuse, but they also are an opportunity for our community to gain an understanding of Nepal and the complexities facing women and girls through meeting Nepali community leaders, artisans and entrepreneurs. Travel with us in 2020! Read more about our trips over on our blog & sign up below to be the first to know about this year's trip.
We continued our strong partnerships in Nepal
We're proud to mark 5 years in our partnership with Asha Nepal. We supported the development of the growth of the women-led catering program with new women undertaking training. The women also landed a catering booking for a 5-day local government training session for over 30 people! Both our women's trips to Nepal enjoyed cooking alongside the women in their homes.
A very Happy New Year to you!
When I started Project Didi, with Fiona and Leonie, 5 years ago I couldn’t have imagined that we would have as full and bright a year as 2018. I am proud of many highlights with the women and girls we support. I’d like to share some with you.
But first I’d like to say a sincere thank you. Please share in my pride, as we couldn’t have reached 2019 without you and your commitment to making the world a better place.
My year started with a wonderfully warm welcome from our partner at Samunnat Nepal. I had a week at this dynamic organisation of inspiring, talented and dedicated women. My lasting impression is of a vibrant community supporting survivors of violence and an entrepreneurial spirit that has created jewellery making, a tailoring shop, a childcare centre, organic gardening and pickle making. Incomes, independence and a future for many!
We believe education transforms women, their families and communities and creates generational change. It's our priority girls get a basic schooling, have the opportunity to catch up on missed schooling and have access to further training. My best memory this year, is when 5 women, survivors of violence, gained certificates in Food Handling and Hygiene, now proudly displayed on their kitchen walls. They are working together building their catering business and cooking classes, making small steps towards an income generating success story. The smiles as they work, and receive endless compliments on their dishes (the veg curry is a winner!), are part of that success.
Our Youth to Youth Program, our seventh, was again a highlight. 16 students from St Catherine's School Sydney, joined 25 students from our partner, Asha, in a week of peer-to-peer learning, fun and friendship. The program continued the theme of positive psychology which we all benefited from. The Nepali cooking was a success and the soccer game decisively won by team Nepal! I'm in awe of how the students, Australian and Nepali, own and manage this week and grow through new challenges, experiences and understanding. I believe it changes lives.
Since the closure, 2 years ago, of the residential home at Asha which provided care in an institutional setting (now widely documented as detrimental to children’s wellbeing), I'm proud our priority has been family care. With your generous contributions to our recent crowdfunding, we are able to continue supporting our "family" of 6 girls and housemother, Binsa, into 2019. In addition to rent, education, counselling and health care, our support includes music and dance classes, sport and the celebration of birthdays and festivals, the important stuff of childhood and family life. The girls recently marked the holidays with their first exciting visit to a water park.
We’re committed to working with the girls’ biological families towards reintegration and we’re proud to say, after a long and sensitive process, one of Binsa's girls, Hasri, has successfully reintegrated with her biological mother.
In Australia, our wonderful community came together to learn more and speak out about trafficking, gender inequality and child rights. We held screenings of SOLD, which we have now taken across Australia, a panel event with modern slavery experts and our #SomethingForSlavery challenge. A special thank you to the volunteers whose energy and hard work made these events happen!
We were thrilled with the passing of Australia’s Modern Slavery Act. The Act makes Australia the first country to recognise orphanage trafficking as a form of modern slavery. Children, in Nepal who in many cases still have one or both parents, are recruited into and, in many cases, exploited in orphanages to attract volunteers and donors, many from Australia. This Act will raise awareness of the vital need for the type of family care for vulnerable children we provide and will bring us closer to ending slavery.
I am excited about the year ahead. In a couple of weeks, I’ll be in Nepal working with our partner on a new project. I’m also looking forward to getting to know the 15 ladies from Fernwood Gym Tuggeranong on our trek later in the Everest region. They will meet our partners, enjoy their cooking and learn about our work in Nepal.
On behalf of the Project Didi team, our partners and the women and girls in Nepal, a huge heartfelt thank you to the many of you who have been on this journey with us over the years and also to our many new and very valued supporters.
We can't do it without you.
All the best for a happy, healthy and light filled 2019.
Names of the women and girls in Nepal are changed to protect identities.
This year, the United Nation’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence calls on us to unite to break the silence on violence against women.
United under the Hashtag #HearMeToo survivors ask their communities to listen and stand with them when they speak up against one of the world’s greatest human rights violations.
For Human Rights Day, the last day of the 16 Days, we spoke with our housemother, Binsa*, a survivor, an advocate and an important role model and attachment figure for young girls.
Binsa, you are currently caring for 6 girls who have survived trafficking and abuse. The youngest just turned 10 years. What motivates you to do what you do?
I’m a mother to six children coming from different cultural and backgrounds. Seeing the world through their eyes gives me the opportunity to learn new things every day. Their stories are different and caring for them I realise that the work I do is important. What I like most is listening to them and their stories and answering the many questions they have. It gives me a great sense of satisfaction.
What are your hopes for the futures of the girls?
Like every mother, I hope that they will learn new things, study hard and live a happy life. Additionally, I hope they will be able to talk about their experience and problems openly with the important people in their life. I hope they will grow up to become caring and helpful individuals who find their way back to their families and lead a happy life.
What is the one important change needed for women in Nepal?
In my opinion, the traditional Nepali way of remaining quiet and enduring everything has weakened women’s position and exposed them to violence. Also, there is this belief that men are superior to women and women should always feel subordinate to men. If I can change one thing, I will change the way women see themselves, make them realise that they are strong and equal to men.
*Name changed to protect identity.
Author: Sabine Keller
What does your family do to celebrate special occasions?
For Mother’s Day last year, Binsa’s family surprised her. Her daughters hid little notes all over the house with what they loved about her - in the laundry, near the front door and even in the rice cooker.
The Project Didi family also has reason to celebrate - next year will mark three years of providing family based care to women and girls, who have experienced trafficking and abuse, in Nepal.
Through our local partner, we support Binsa, a survivor herself, to provide a safe home for her biological daughter and five other girls. Three years on and the girls are rebuilding their lives.
Urmila, the oldest at 17, has taken the role of big sister in her stride. She helps Binsa with the household chores and leads by example, raising her worries openly with her mother, something she wouldn’t have done when she first joined the home. Sofi, since her beginnings in the home as shy and anxious, has gained enormous confidence. She’s making friends and working hard at school. She just passed her mid-term test with flying colours!
Ditya was recently reintegrated into the community and is living in a small flat close by the home. She’s been busy – completing her schooling and interning at a local police station as part of a paralegal training program. She said hearing the experiences of violence other women have faced through her internship has made her feel less alone in her own experiences. She stays in touch with our local partner and drops by their centre for career coaching sessions. She’s thinking about what’s next – a law degree or maybe a job as a police woman helping other girls. She’s one to watch!
We’re really proud to have supported our local partner to make this transition to family based care from residential care. So, what’s the difference?
Family based care, when well supported and delivered, provides the individualised, consistent care children need. It values the whole individual, helping girls thrive with counselling, life skills development, schooling, sport and social activities, vocational training and career coaching - all part of our local partner’s program.
Family based care allows girls to be girls - ones who love Bollywood movies, dancing and hair braids.
It also provides a role model in Binsa. She models healthy relationships, open communication and resilience. She builds trust and self-confidence.
While family based care is often the best alternative, it can’t replace a child’s biological family. Our priority is always to keep families together. Where this is not possible, our local partner works closely with a girl’s family, while she is in care, towards reintegration. We’re proud to say that one of Binsa’s girls was reintegrated with her mother this year.
Three years of family based care has only been possible with generosity of the Project Didi community.
Help us to continue supporting Binsa’s home on our crowdfunding campaign. We’ve got lots of amazing perks (for the whole family!) to make your donation a little sweeter!
All names have been changed to protect identities.
Artwork by the very talented Emma Van Veen.
Author: Clare Bartram