This week we're taking you to Nepal to meet Clare Bartram, who recently joined our Board. Clare, who normally calls Canberra home, has been a volunteer
with us since the beginning. She and Kira are in Nepal leading our
women empowering women trip.
What would you share about Nepal with someone who hasn't been?
Nepal has an awesome community of young entrepreneurs, innovators and artisans - and it's growing! There is a really positive movement towards made in Nepal, keeping creative talent and production local. In the absence of effective government action, grassroots solutions are emerging. Youth marches to #Strike4Climate, a revitalisation of traditional Nepali fabrics in ethically made fashion and Kathmandu's waste turned into homewares (tackling the city's major waste management problem). We could learn a lot from Nepal's entrepreneurs!
What's your day job?
I'm a student! I've just started a Masters in Slavery and Liberation with the University of Nottingham, the first course of its kind. I'm learning about the incredible citizen-driven movements that ended the slave trade in the 19th century, right up to trafficking and forced labour in the supply chains of modern companies, that make the products we buy. It's fascinating and challenging - I'm lucky I get to take a year focus on this and Project Didi.
Meet our fantastic team!
This week we're in Sydney with Bryce Morton, who recently joined our Board.
As you know at Project Didi, we're all about strong futures for women. Why do you believe it is critical to invest in women?
There are a lot of answers to this question, and aside from the fact that women deserve the same agency, freedom, and dignity as anyone, I see the amazing potential for the betterment of Nepalese society (and the world as a whole!) that comes from empowered women.
What would you share about Nepal with someone who hasn't been?
Hot honey lemon ginger – a truly life changing drink. On a more serious note I wouldn’t share anything as much as I would strongly encourage people to travel to Nepal, it’s such an incredible place that words struggle to do it justice.
Join us as we travel across Australia to introduce you to our wonderful team.
This week we're in Sydney with Kira Osborne, who recently joined our Board.
What would you share about Nepal with someone who hasn't been?
It’s not “just like India” – people often ask this and I passionately respond with a rant about how different the countries are. Nepal is slower and softer, it has a sense of calm even amongst the chaos.
What is your day job?
Haha which one!!?? I work as a senior policy advisor in child protection and violence, abuse and neglect for the Ministry of Health. I also convene the Masters of Community Development at UNSW, and I work freelance as a research consultant with marginalised communities in informal settlements in South Asia.
“Amazing”, “spectacular,” and “sensational” were just a few of the words our Fernwood Tuggeranong trekking group used to describe their recent trip to Nepal with us.
Seeing Everest, learning to cook a traditional Nepali dinner and experiencing first hand the work being done to support survivors of trafficking and abuse were just some highlights.
We were blessed with perfect weather and the adventure kicked off with a trek along the first leg of the Everest Base Camp trek where the group got a taste of village life in remote areas of Nepal, spent a day in the traditional Sherpa trading centre of Namche Bazaar, and saw spectacular views of the Himalayas, including Everest and Lhotse.
Most had never travelled to Nepal and many hadn’t trekked, overcoming personal challenges they never thought possible, such as a fear of flying in small planes (we flew into Lukla to start the trek), walking along suspension bridges and completing a relatively challenging trek.
Back in Kathmandu the group spent time at our local partner, learning about the issues of trafficking and abuse in Nepal and the work being done to support survivors. We were also treated to a traditional Nepali lunch prepared by the team at our partner. Delicious!
The following day the group learnt how to cook a traditional Nepali dinner of dahl baht and vegetable curry in our partner's family based care homes, small family units for children who have survived trafficking or abuse with a mother who is a survivor herself. The cooking class is a recent Project Didi initiative to provide income generation opportunities for the mothers. A visit to the home also allowed the group to see first hand the positive impact family based care has for survivors. Read more about our family based care.
Other highlights included tours of the UNESCO World heritage Bouddhanath, Durbar Square and the Ason Tole markets in Kathmandu.
The tour was a huge success and judging by the feedback enjoyed by all - so much so that plans are already underway for another Fernwood Tuggeranong tour next year!
We would like to thank Fernwood Tuggeranong and the participants for making the trip so enjoyable and memorable, enabling us to raised funds to continue our work in Nepal and most importantly raise awareness of the issue of trafficking.
Words & images: Leonie Keogh, Project Didi co-founder and Board Member
Almost every day in Nepal is a celebration! From the Buddhist New Year Lhosar, to Hindu festivals worshiping Gods and Goddesses for prosperity, marital happiness, the triumph of good over evil and even to protect against snakebites, Nepal's festivals reflect its diversity and vibrant culture. We asked our fantastic volunteer, Sabina Maharjan a Kathmandu born, Canberra local, to tell us about the significance of Nepal's festivals.
Today is Shri Panchami. This auspicious day is dedicated to Goddess Saraswati, the Hindu Goddess of knowledge, music, arts, wisdom and learning. Most Hindus observe this day as highly significant in their journey of learning.
Most people are aware that Deepawali is significant for worshiping Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity and Dashain is significant for worshiping Goddess Durga, the goddess of power and valor. Similarly, Shri Panchami is significant for paying respect to the Goddess Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and wisdom. Shri Panchami is also widely known as Basanta Panchami, marking the beginning of spring, offering relief after a harsh winter.
Growing up, Shri Panchami was a very important day in my childhood. I believed that if I worshipped the Goddess with due diligence on this day, I would become wiser and more knowledgeable. I would visit Saraswati temples with my friends early in the morning with high hopes of receiving the holy blessing.
Although I am now a grown up, I am still keen to learn something new everyday. I hope to learn from my surroundings and the environment I live in, and from every person I interact with. We are all always hoping for something or the other, and it is this very emotion that keeps us motivated and determined.
Sabina in beautiful Nepalese dress.
This month, the UN released its Global Report on Trafficking in Persons that examines the prevalence of trafficking, including forced labour, sexual exploitation and forced marriage across 142 countries.
It wasn’t good news for women and girls. Trafficking disproportionately affects women and it’s only on the rise, particularly for young girls. The report found that since 2014, there has been an increase in traffickers targeting girls below the age of 18.
The young girls we work with in Nepal, survivors of trafficking, have missed their childhood. They’ve missed critical years of schooling. Stigma often prevents them from finding employment and independence. Their confidence and self-worth has been shattered by years of degradation and violence.
These lives seem far away from our reality, but we are hold more power in Australia than we might think to prevent trafficking and ensure that all women and girls have safe, dignified futures.
It's not too late to make a New Year's Resolution. Today, for the last day of January, commit to standing up for the freedom of our sisters with these 3 simple steps.
A lack of transparency in fashion supply chains (your t-shirt might pass through hundreds of stages to get to you - from the cotton picking to the printing and packaging!) and a demand for new, cheap and more has fueled forced labour and exploitative, unsafe working conditions for the garment workers, many female, who make our clothes.
We hold power in our wallets. Use the Good on You app to look up brands that respect their workers, pay them a fair wage and have no child or forced labour in their production.
On your next trip, take 4 photos of your hotel room and upload them to TraffickCam. The app’s database of photos are used by law enforcement to locate traffickers who are selling women into sexual slavery using online advertisements taken in hotel rooms.
Get involved with organisations, like us, that work to prevent trafficking and support survivors to rebuild their lives!
Could you put one of our donation boxes in your office or local cafe? Would you like some of our beautiful cards for your shop? Could you help us run an event? Or are you an admin whizz? We’re always looking for volunteers to support our work with women and girls in Nepal!
Author: Clare Bartram
Images: Project Didi & Unsplash.
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
I was fortunate enough to spend four days with some of the most amazing girls I have ever met and I loved every minute of it. Before going to Asha Nepal I was expecting the girls to be very shy and that there would be a large language barrier, however, I was amazed at how friendly the girls were and how well most of them spoke English. They made us all feel so welcome!
Our program at Asha focused on positive psychology methods and ways to deal with challenging experiences. Our teacher who coordinated the trip, had created worksheets designed to be easy and fun to use, whilst still conveying important messages for the girls to use in their everyday lives, to help them in tough or despairing situations. For example, we did an exercise called “letting go” where the girls wrote things that troubled them onto a balloon and then blew up the balloon and “let it go”. Through this activity, we hoped the girls would learn some simple ways to discard negative thoughts and focus on the future. We also spent time playing football with them where everyone, even the teachers played!
Our final day at Asha Nepal was spent talking to our new-found friends and enjoying ourselves. Asha Nepal has recently introduced a music program and to our delight, we were able to hear what they have accomplished on guitar, keyboard and in song. During our last day with the girls some of them did our hair in elaborate braids and others drew very decorative hennas on our hands. Our time at Asha Nepal ended with a few tears but with numerous memories which we will cherish forever. Through this incredible opportunity to get to know these girls, I have been able to learn so much and grow as a person.
By understanding what most of the girls had gone through and after seeing how resilient and how much determination they have to shape their lives into something positive, my perspective of the world has changed. One of the key messages, which I learnt from my time at Asha, was how important it is to be grateful for the good things you have in your life.
The few days that I spent at Asha Nepal were some of the best days and have left me with memories which I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I am now looking to my year as Project Didi’s Youth Ambassador! Keep an eye on their Facebook and blog for more from me later in the year.