We are very pleased to share with you our Annual Report for 2020-21.
Thank you to our volunteers, donors, partners and community members, who share our mission to empower women and girls to achieve their full potential. We are planting seeds for trees we ourselves may never sit in the shade of, and this is important work that requires patient, steady and sustained support.
Your contributions, time and energy have immense value and we're so grateful that you choose to share them with us.
In Nepal, COVID-19 has caused more deaths than the 2015 earthquake, with over 11,500 recorded and likely many more considering issues around reporting and testing. The national, government-run domestic violence hotline has had more than double the reports of domestic violence since 2019. Of the families Asha Nepal supports, 90% have lost their main source of income and here in Australia, COVID-19 completely disrupted the funding model we relied on to support our partners, Asha Nepal and Samunnat. The situation was, and in many ways remains dire and urgent.
But despite all the challenges of 2020/21, there have been many cracks where the light has shone through. The grit and practical optimism demonstrated by our partner didis (a respectful term for older sister in Nepali), in the face of incredible adversity has served as a lodestar for the Board and the wider Project Didi community. Our response was to focus our energy on adapting our funding approach to address the immediate needs of our partners in Nepal. Incredibly, our doubling down in efforts, coupled with our supporter’s enormous generosity meant:
We were able to increase our funding support from one Family Based Care home to two
Six children graduated from Grade 12 and three children from Grade 10
18 tablets were provided to children to study remotely
Six children were reintegrated with their biological families
At our recent AGM, we reflected on the challenges of the past year for our partners in Nepal. There are now more fatalities from COVID-19 than the 2015 earthquake and the impact of livelihoods has been devestating. Reports of domestic violence to Nepal’s government-run domestic violence hotline have significantly increased since 2019. The inability to run in-person events and trips to Nepal has made fundraising challenging.
We're proud that despite a tough year, we've been able to continue to provide vital funding for programs that have real impact for women and girls in Nepal. With your generosity, we've expanded our funding from one to two Family Based Care homes and supported new education projects.
We focus on having deep, rather than wide, impact. In the past year, we supported:
These may seem like small numbers but we know family strengthening, education and safe employment breaks intergenerational cycles of poverty and violence. We know that a child that grows up in a safe family has stronger health, wellbeing and resilience and has greater opportunity to make informed decisions about their future. We also know that a girl with an education has a decreased risk of domestic violence, greater decision-making power and is more likely to educate her own children.
Our founders, Leonie, Sarah and Fiona, have worked for over 15 years to support independent, dignified and bright futures for women and girls in Nepal.
They met in Nepal and formed Project Didi in 2014. They chose the name Didi, which is a respectful term for older sister in Nepali, as it reflected the supportive, collaborative role they wanted to take in Nepal, one working in partnership with local organisations.
Do you have any dreams for Project Didi and our work in Nepal?
I hope Project Didi's work in Nepal will continue to grow and be able to help more of those in need. I would also like to see us develop programs that support self-sufficiency and independence. In Australia, I hope we can raise more awareness and support for the issues facing many women and girls in Nepal.
Why is volunteering important to you?
I am very fortunate to be living in Australia with the luxuries and freedoms that we sometimes take for granted. There are so many causes in the world that need support and it can sometimes be overwhelming to know where to start. We don't need to change the world but if we can each do something small - that will lead to greater change.
Seeing the Everest trek advertised as empowering travel for women, I thought I’d better go before I get too rickety and humourless. It was good to be free, to fill up on pure air, be inspired and walk. I adore monasteries, singing, eating momos, watching Sherpa and their pack animals tackle the days with tenacity. With the challenge of altitude, appreciating the hard lives of others was ever present.
Project Didi helps young women who need protection from violence, sexual abuse and support to be self- determining. Climbing escarpments of fear, discrimination and repression is exhausting. Asha Nepal work tirelessly to help women who have no family support. I’m glad our donation really helps. Housemothers are kind. Solidarity and safety their strength.
Whilst Nepal’s sights and sounds are tantalising, a visual surprise around every Kathmandu corner, the real life of cultural constraints and customs makes a tattoo. Take your laundry for washing, there’s a brothel above… women with no choice. A lovely bangle is made by a family sitting on the dirt floor of their very hot hut. A beautiful carpet made by women in a shed, fibres and stale air for breath. A man selling a flute no one wants. He shouts his frustrations. Indelible memories of shrines and marigolds and at Asha house; hands inked in henna.
Our lady powered walking group were delightful, interesting, supportive, funny, energetic, grateful. A gang of Didis.
Ang Dami Sherpa spoke of running from Everest to Namche Bazaar. In May 2013 she was 3 months pregnant and won the women’s marathon challenge for a second time. Incredible as this feat is, she has recently lost her husband, runs a guest house, treks 4 hours to visit us, she is a gutsy gazelle and I’m in awe.
Education is essential to ending gender-based discrimination and poverty. For the women and girls we work with, survivors of trafficking and abuse, education strengthens their agency, empowering them to take part in the decisions that affect their lives.
In Nepal, only 3% of girls complete upper secondary school.
“Through lower expected earnings in adulthood and higher fertility over their lifetime, a lack of education for girls leads to higher rates of poverty for households, increasing the risks of trafficking. This is due to both losses in income and higher basic needs from larger household sizes. ”
“Women with primary education earn 14 to 19% more than those with no education at all. Yet women with secondary education may expect to earn almost twice as much, and those with tertiary education three times as much as those with no education. Women with a secondary education are less likely to state that they do not have enough money to buy food versus women with primary education or less."
Secondary/tertiary education also improves:
Throughout their schooling, Asha Nepal provides the young women in their care with tailored support, important in preventing the high school dropout rates for young women and girls in Nepal. Once in grade 10, the girls start selecting courses, with Asha providing guidance, employment pathways and options for further education.
We asked two girls at Asha Nepal about their school experience, and what education means to them.
We are committed to representing survivors' stories in a respectful, dignified, accurate and empowering way.
That's why, on World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, we've signed Freedom United's My Story, My Dignity Pledge.
Raising awareness of the lived experience of modern slavery and human trafficking is essential if we are going to make progress to end it, but too often, survivors' stories are told with disempowering language and images.
These images and lanuage can unintentionally create or reinforce stereotypes and further victimise survivors.
We commit to the principles of the My Story, My Dignity pledge:
How are we putting the pledge into practice?
We would like to thank all of you for supporting Project Didi and our partner Asha Nepal through the purchase of tickets for the screening of I AM BELMAYA.
We sold over 70 tickets and raised more than $1,600!
Belmaya and her daughter will also receive a portion of your contributions.
We hope you enjoyed the film produced by this inspiring young woman who was determined that her daughter would be able to ‘walk the right path’, through education. Her determination and resilience, along with the courage to challenge tradition and pursue the opportunities of filmmaking, has made her an amazing role model for other young women.
Here is what you thought of the film:
If you missed Project Didi’s Q&A with Director Sue Carpenter, you can access the recording at the link below.
In the last week, Nepal reported almost 30,000 new cases. The lockdown in the Kathmandu Valley has been extended to mid-June. Despite the challenges, the Asha team is remaining positive.
"In our part of Kathmandu the first initial panic of the second wave has calmed a bit. One of our staff member contracted COVID-19 but is recovering well. Many of the families we support in the community, who were showing symptoms of COVID-19, but hadn't been tested due to the cost and fear of overcrowded testing centres, have improved. However, with multiple family members sharing one room it is impossible to quarantine.
Most families are unable to work. The lockdown has been very restrictive with significant police presence on the streets and we generally only go out once or twice in 10 days to buy groceries.
Some families are experiencing a food crisis. Last week we are distributed food rations to 10 families in the community, who are unable to access government support.
It has been difficult to to provide regular counselling with lockdown restrictions. Our social workers and counsellors are doing phone call sessions but some of the women and girls are struggling without in-person sessions.
Schools have just recently started back and it's positive to see the girls continuing to study virtually.”
There are very few options for long-term, trauma-informed care for survivors of trafficking and violence in Nepal. The Nepali Police typically refer trafficking survivors to government-run, one stop emergency centres located within hospitals. These are often impersonal and lack the holistic care survivors need.
Family Based Care provides an alternative. For Mother's Day, we spoke to Bina, one of our local partner's Family Based Care housemothers. Bina provides a safe, caring home for children who have experienced significant trauma. Through her calm, consistent parenting, and the support of our partner's social workers and counsellor, children rebuild their wellbeing, confidence and hope for the future.
While some children are unable to return home, due to stigma, family instability or financial challenges, our partner works to strengthen children’s biological families to eventually transition them from Family Based Care to safe, happy lives within in their own communities.
What is your favourite time of day in your family based care home?
I like to spend time with children. I like to listen to them and I enjoy to see them play and the way they share their activities with me. My days passes well listening to them.
The greatest strength of the children in my home is they are fearless, they feel comfortable to share with people they trust, they can share their problems and difficulties.
What do you think needs to change for women and girls in Nepal?
There is a need to change the education system in Nepal. Children from many parts of the Nepal still do not have access to education. Equality between girls and boy is still a big issue in Nepal. Boys have more priority in comparison to girls.
What allows you to stay positive when you are facing challenges?
When I feel difficulty, I share with the Social worker or House Manager and I conduct a house meeting to find solutions to problems. When I am stressed and angry due to children’s behavior I use anger management techniques to manage my anger issues.
What hopes do you have for the future for women and girls?
Regardless of various difficult circumstances children have faced, they should focus and prioritise their academics and plan to complete their studies so that they could be capable enough to look after themselves and their family.
For Mother's Day,
make a donation to honour an extroadinary Mum, like Bina, in your life.
Your tax deductible donation will contribute to Family Based Care for families like Bina's - a safe, caring home for children to grow and thrive.
We’ve been feeling the fear and despair of our Nepali colleagues and friends as the COVID-19 crisis in India spreads into Nepal. Over 9,000 new cases were recorded on Thursday, compared to a daily rate of a couple of hundred a month ago. The fragile health system is already overwhelmed and oxygen is in short supply.
Kathmandu has gone into lockdown so Asha Nepal has distributed supplies and rent support for the next month for the Family Based Care homes and families in the community, who are mostly daily wage laborers and have lost their only source of income.
The ladies at Samunnat Nepal, who are near the border with India, are concerned about food shortages and the rapidly decreasing supply of oxygen. They have been doing twice weekly Zoom workshops with an American polymer clay artist. While these have been put on hold for now they were bringing much joy to the ladies!