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.
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?
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.”
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.
Happy International Women’s Day!
A day to recognise and celebrate the achievements of women globally. To mark the occasion we caught up with Kusum, who is part of the management team at our partner organisation, Asha Nepal to learn a bit more about herself and Asha's commitment to improving the lives of women and girls, survivors of trafficking and abuse.
What inspires you about the work you do?
After receiving my Bachelor degree I worked as a literacy teacher in an NGO, where I first met girls who had survived trafficking. This experience gave me a deep commitment to help.
These women and girls have experienced so much, return to communities where they face stigma and yet they come together and have the confidence to support others and work hard to build better lives for themselves. They are so hard working, planning ahead to make their life well again. Their will power, that inspires me.
I have now worked in the sector for 7 years.
How does gender inequality make women and girls vulnerable?
Girls are born into this world but they aren’t given preference within the family and they are always understood as only temporary. A girl can never think of herself. When she is born she has to think of her family, then her husband’s family and after that she has to look up to her son and depend upon him.
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.
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.
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