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.
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!
Kira Osborne, Board Member
A person of many quotes, Winston Churchill once said
“Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential”
At the beginning of 2020 Project Didi had all the plans! Our newly established board were confident in our strategic direction, our Women Empowering Women trips to Nepal had received promising feedback and were gaining exciting momentum with new additions in the pipeline, and our intention for public advocacy and awareness raising was lined up.
In February I said goodbye to our partner Asha Nepal and returned to home with every intention of returning to Nepal in October to lead one of our women's trips. This now seems like a lifetime ago, when COVID-19 was still the mystery virus, when hand sanitiser was fast becoming the world’s largest commodity, and when the idea of restricting international travel let alone interstate travel was incomprehensible.
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