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.
COVID-19 is a gendered crisis
COVID-19 disproportionately impacts women and girls.
Reduced access to protective services, higher rates of unemployment, and a greater burden of domestic duties leave women at greater risk of violence, privately and publicly.
In April 2020, data from the United Nations Population Fund predicted at least
15 million more cases of domestic violence globally this year, as a result of pandemic restrictions.
Stress on families has risen, while freedom of movement and privacy have decreased, leaving women already experiencing violence in their home particularly vulnerable.
Here in Australia, new data from the NSW Government suggests that domestic violence has risen, with a 10% increase in access to support services in March.
In Nepal, despite 1 in 4 women experiencing emotional, physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes, reports of gender-based violence to the police have dropped drastically since lockdown. Disturbingly, this suggests women are struggling to access help, with loss of funding and disruption to support services.
COVID-19 in Nepal + finding joy!
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.
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.
We're in Sydney this week to meet with Marie-Celeste Dagher, our Graphic Designer. Marie-Celeste recently completed a Bachelor of Visual Communications at the University of Technology Sydney. She joined Project Didi after she and a number of other design students worked on our #SomethingForSlavery campaign, as part of a socially responsive design unit with the UTS Community Shopfront Program. We're very excited to share their work later this year!
What motivated you to join Project Didi?
After having the opportunity to work on the #SomethingForSlavery campaign I realised I could help create awareness for an important issue many women and children face today: modern slavery. I want to use my skills as a designer to inform a wider audience on the topic and create action.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Sydney but moved to Lebanon with my mum for a couple years before returning to continue my studies here in Australia. Moving to Lebanon when I was 17 came with its pros and cons - travelling to Europe without long lay overs from Australia was a pro! Although at the time it was a worrying and tiring process I can now look back and see how much I've grown as a person.
Meet our team: Shannon Mony
This week, join us as we travel to Perth to catch up with Shannon Mony. Shannon is our Communications & Engagement Officer and has been with the team since mid-2019.
What motivated you to join Project Didi?
I am a strong advocate for gender equality and am passionate about working to ensure that every woman has a voice. As a mother of two daughters, this is a topic that is close to my heart. The sheer enormity of the human trafficking industry astounds me. Project Didi does such amazing work in this space and I was motivated to join in order to help promote awareness of this critical issue.
What is the best book you’ve read so far this year?
Given it’s only Februrary, I currently only have a very short list to choose from! However, I recently finished Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales. It’s a beautifully written collection of accounts from people who have faced the unimaginable but have found the strength to go on. It includes some compelling research about the way in which the human brain processes grief and trauma. It is an inspiring read and is a wonderful reminder to be grateful for and to find the magic in all those ‘ordinary days’.
Where did you grow up?
I am a bit of a ‘global citizen’ (and yes, my accent is a bit confusing!). I grew up in South Africa, lived in New Zealand for 12 years, travel on a Canadian passport and have lived in Perth for the last 8 years.
Meet our team: Elli Agathocleous
Last year, we introduced you to our inspiring Board. This year, we're excited to introduce you to the rest of our team. Please join us as we travel across Australia (and occasionally overseas!) to introduce you to our fantastic volunteers.
This week, we’re heading to London to meet Elli Agathocleous, who is originally from Sydney but relocated last year. Elli has been supporting our 2020 #SomethingForSlavery campaign to inspire action to end modern slavery.
Why is volunteering important to you?
I am strong believer that although it takes many to drive resounding change, that movement can start with an individual who makes the decision to act. By volunteering I am making a conscious decision to act for positive change.
What is a trip that changed you and why?
There are two trips!
Visiting Cyprus (where my dad grew up) in 2000 when I was 10 years old. It was the first time that I realised how being away from the distractions of big cities and material items could bring happiness. The village, where my dad's family still live, is a world away from where I grew up in Sydney. The community thrives by sharing what they have - my grandfather, the local butcher, reared animals on his farm, my uncle grows fresh fruit & veggie, my aunties make fresh haloumi, yoghurt and bread. There was no need to ever go to the shops!
The second was a visit to Fiji (where my mum grew up) when I was 15/16 years old. I became acutely aware of how privileged my upbringing had been. We never had to worry about a supply of clean water, having a roof over our head, where our next meal was coming from or having electricity. Coming face to face with the struggles of the local communities, particularly in smaller villages, opened my eyes to the things I took for granted. I was as fascinated with life in Fiji as with my father's village in Cyprus - the simple pleasures in life, spending time with friends & family, sharing stories over good food and appreciating how the ocean sustained the joy & happiness in these communities.
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.