• Courtney Kauffman

Who run the world? Girls! (& men who advocate for women)

Updated: Dec 29, 2018

Sunset above "Monkey Temple" in Kathmandu

Today was our second day in Kathmandu and was filled with reaffirming meetings and conversations regarding our menstrual hygiene management (MHM) work in Kalinchok. We went to the NCDC office in Kathmandu and met with Smriti Deykota, who is the gender equity officer for NCDC. She gave us some background about the Kalinchok village and some advice about our MHM project. Smriti emphasized the importance of advocating MHM-specific education as so many of the girls in the community are married off at such young ages (around 13 or 14) and most men in the community leave to work in India and other areas, only to return to the village for celebrations like the birth of their newest child. Education about reproductive health is generally skipped in school and so it is important for us to teach the students, girls and boys, about this topic which impacts each and every person.

Smriti gave us advice on conducting surveys, focus groups, and lectures about reproductive and MHM heath to get the students engaged and listening. For example, she said ask questions and facilitate conversations through different mediums such as written surveys, one-on-one conversations, focus groups, and powerpoint presentations to different groups where girls and boys are separated and then all together. Not only is MHM education important so that girls will continue going to school and hopefully marry at older ages, but also many girls in the community are affected by reproductive health challenges such as uterine prolapse. Our goal as a student-led volunteer organization is not to fix these problems or treat the medical and nutrition-related issues but rather to improve the lives and education of the Kalinchok community. However, we cannot effectively do this without having knowledge and background about the problems and hurdles faced by the people.

Smriti affirmed that the work we are doing with surveys and the MHM latrine are moving in the direction that she hoped and that what we are doing makes a difference. She suggested that any maintenance training and education for the latrine should be focused on the school girls and giving them a sense of responsibility. I think it is so important for everyone on our team (and everywhere) to understand the challenges faced by women and families across the world so that we can make changes and improvements that will benefit all.

“If you educate a girl, you educate an entire nation.”

Okay so we had this awesome meeting with Smriti who we didn’t know if we would see at all on this trip and then we went to dinner with Kiran Karjit, a friend of our mentor Lisa Cameli. Kiran does it all. She was a school principal in Kathmandu for many years, she currently works in schools creating organic gardens, she conducts teacher trainings, and has so much valuable experience to share with us.

We showed Kiran our designs for the MHM latrine which she seemed to like (“It looks perfect!” she said) and talked about conducting surveys and conversations about such a taboo subject like MHM. I told her that our main concerns with doing the educational workshops and building the latrine were the reactions that boys would have… why do girls get to use the nicer latrine? Why should us boys care about MHM? Why are girls so much different than us boys?

Kiran gave us advice on how to approach the topic of conversation with the school boys and how to relate it to their mothers and sisters - evoke their emotions so that they will understand the importance of the knowledge and respect the women without ever teasing them or questioning why life is different between boys and girls. The conversation was empowering and extremely informative. We must help educate the students because it affects each of them and with the goal of improving their education and lives in the future.

Travel Team and Kiran!

Bhupal and Kiran shared stories about things they have seen in the rural parts of Nepal (like Kalinchok) such as 19-year-old females with 3+ children and extremely young mothers who struggle with alcoholism and don’t care for the children. The men in the community are seemingly absent in these villages and the women are left to care for themselves and the children. These women carry on cultural traditions without considering more efficient or sustainable ways of earning money or providing for their families. We cannot change all of these cultural issues nor should we try to conquer such a task. But by spending time in these communities, listening to these powerful and shocking stories, and helping one way at a time, we hopefully can spark further change and empowerment that will ripple through all the area.

Today’s conversations and reflections were powerful and impactful for all of us. We are proud to be serving the Kalinchok community through technical means that impact the education and standards of living of the people beyond a structure to use as a bathroom or a tap stand to retrieve water from.

Oh and also, our finances were temporarily sorted out today and the food at the restaurant this evening was oh-so-delicious. I’d say it was a good day.

Until our next post,

Courtney, Ashna, & Megan

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A student chapter of Engineers Without Borders at the University of Colorado Boulder​

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