by Maya Casagrande, eA Grants & Reporting Specialist

Looking across the Kathmandu Valley from the Tewa Center. Photo by Maya Casagrande

Just outside the bustling and congested streets of Kathmandu is the peace and quiet of the Tewa Center, where I heard first-hand accounts from women who have survived domestic violence, as well as from women who have survived the devastating 2015 earthquakes. And, many who have survived both. But their story is not merely one of survival – for many that is only where their story begins.

The 14 women convened at the Tewa Center to participate in one of Tewa’s grantee capacity building workshops. This workshop focused specifically on federal and local legal frameworks in Nepal, women’s rights, and avenues for women to increase gender equality and reduce gender-based violence as part of larger efforts to effect positive change in their communities.

These 14 women are leaders in their communities, though that was not always the case. Take Juna Rana Magar who gave us permission to share her photo and story of how she was assaulted by a male friend of the family. She recounted how, rather than support and comfort, she later received accusations from her husband and parents-in-law. And, she retold how the isolation, loneliness, and pain she endured nearly destroyed her.

However, this horrifically painful experience sparked something remarkable in her. Despite feeling alone, Juna knew she was not. She knew there were many women just like her, struggling with the aftermath of similar experiences of domestic violence and assault.

Juna Rana Magar. Photo by Maya Casagrande

Juna pushed forward to raise awareness and funds. Rather than using the transportation allowance she received from the local government to take the bus, she walked for three to four hours, day in and day out, and collected her bus fare until she had saved enough money to create a center and community group for abused and vulnerable women. As the group grew, the women members found other resourceful and creative ways to grow their funds. For example, they saved money allocated for toilets by constructing the toilets themselves and repurposed the money to establish a revolving loan fund for vulnerable pregnant women. In addition, each contributed food to trainings to save catering funds and reallocated these funds to acquire computer skills training and their own computer.\

In addition to the community’s transformations, Juna realized that many
women 
who were once traumatized and withdrawn are now confident,
vocal participants and leaders in their community.

What started out as one woman’s tragic experience has now turned into a robust program that is helping the community flourish. In just a short time, the group has:

  • Established income generation projects
  • Secured skills development training to reduce migration for employment and increase economic opportunities
  • Provided ongoing support to more than 20 orphans and vulnerable children
  • Thwarted two human trafficking attempts, and was subsequently commissioned by the local government to run an anti-trafficking awareness campaign
  • Accrued savings to provide loans to vulnerable women and families affected by disasters (earthquakes, fires, floods, etc.)
  • Provided financial assistance and legal support to violence survivors and psychosocial support to women who have attempted suicide
  • Dramatically increased awareness about and decreased gender-based violence

In addition to the community’s transformations, Juna realized that many women who were once traumatized and withdrawn are now confident, vocal participants and leaders in their community.

It would be tempting to hold Juna up as a special case – a one of a kind woman who has a rare selflessness and inherent leadership qualities. However, there are many women just like her, and they were sitting in front of me at Tewa.

Representatives of women’s cooperatives and community groups from across Nepal convene at Tewa for a Grantee Capacity Training workshops. Photo by Dr. Neena Jain

Each woman at Tewa brought her own story of hardship and trauma, and of resilience and determination. They support and encourage their peers – both within and beyond their own communities, often with great personal sacrifice.

These are women who have recognized a problem and are creatively and persistently working to fix it, who are galvanizing their communities, who are building on their communities’ strengths and addressing their weaknesses, and who are fostering local leadership and women’s voices.

THIS is what emBOLDen Alliances is about.
This is why we exist.
And I, for one, would not have it any other way.

Whether through health programs, domestic violence prevention, economic empowerment, gender equality, or crisis response, Juna and women like her across Nepal and throughout the world know what needs to happen for their families and communities to have a better, brighter future. With little recognition or outside support, these women have stood up – for themselves and for others – to tackle deep-seated and widespread problems that should and canbe addressed. They are true activists, visionaries, and leaders, who are reaching deep within themselves and also reaching out beyond themselves to help their communities find better ways forward. They are the embodiment of altruism and self-determination and living testaments to the inner strength, resilience, and sheer power of the human spirit.

For anyone that has wondered whether communities really are equipped to solve their own problems, I would invite you to take a hard look. And listen. Because it is already happening, all around us.

THIS is what emBOLDen Alliances is about. This is why we exist. And I, for one, would not have it any other way.