Testimonial write in Nepali by Rupa Pandey, after the Nepali one you can read the English translation.
Just like every other day, on January the 11th, 2019, I was checking my Facebook and suddenly a post drew my attention: that post was about the Rato Baltin Project, about the menstrual tradition “Chhaupadi”, which is still practised and deeply rooted in the Achham district, Far West part of Nepal, and explained how the project had been helping women and girls in menstruating age for two years by conducting a menstrual health management awareness program and providing health and environment friendly options to the sanitary pad, i.e. the “menstrual cup”, which makes menstruation a little easier for women and girls in Achham.
The word “Chhaupadi” disturbed me a lot, this word is so cruel in its meaning. When mentioning Chhaupadi we only talk about Achham, but some kind of Chhaupadi is still practised in each and every village and cities of Nepal. The only difference is that menstruating women and girls in Achham are forced to sleep in the chaugoth. Except that, everything is quite similar: don’t touch this, don’t go there, don’t do this, you are impure… We have grown up with all these restrictions and heard these harsh words all our life, which is truly painful.
After reading this post, I felt a strong impulse to help in the project so I immediately wrote a message to the Rato Baltin project in the “How can we help the project apart from with financial support?” part. The next day, on the 12th January 2019, Rato Baltin replied to my message with a “Hello, My name is Clara, you can come to our office if you want to help”, and including the location map. This was how my relationship with Rato Baltin started.
I started to work in Rato Baltin as a volunteer from that January, and my main responsibility was to translate all the documents related to the project into Nepali. Clara asked me if I wanted to go to Achham in April for the project. At the beginning I told her that I would only go for 15 days, but later I changed my mind and wanted to go for 2 months, say the full period of the Rato Baltin Project in Achham. This decision changed my life in a very positive manner.
When we finished all the work for the project in the Kathmandu office, we left for Achham on the 14th April 2019. After 2 days of travelling by bus and jeep, we reached Sanfebagar, municipality of Achham, where we were given a course to become trainers for 10 days. The Rato Baltin project had been working in the Mangalsen municipality for 2 years only, but from this year the project was going to work in one more municipality: Sanfebagar, and 2 rural municipalities – Dhakari and Turmakhat.
On the 17th of April 2019, the education of the trainers started. 5 foreign volunteers were also with us to help with the project. My job during the training was to translate the training scripts, make our trainers and mentor understand the scripts, and translate their questions and curiosity to Clara. I was there as a translator because all our mentors and trainers were local girls from Achham, who had difficulties in understanding English. During the 10 days of training in Safebagar, I had the opportunity to know our mentors, trainers and foreign volunteers, and to learn to live together helping each other. Every day after the training we used to go for a coffee and a brownie. A brownie in Achham was like water in the desert. Now when I remember those moments, I realize that to be happy you don’t really need big things, as even small things can give us so much happiness.
When the 10 days training finished, it was the moment for the teams to leave for their work destination. Every team had 1-1 foreign volunteer. Saying goodbye was really hard for me after the bonding we had formed, but I knew I would get the opportunity to meet with all the group members again because Clara and I were in the managing team.
As the managing team, Clara and I had to visit at least one village of each team and evaluate and supervise their work. I was able to see again all the members of each team and had the opportunity to get closer and to know them more. The girls called me didi (elder sister), and they used to come to me for each and every problem they were having. At the beginning I generally taught them with anger and rudeness, but slowly I realized that I could help them with patience, care and love.
This project has made me learn to be more patient and kinder in my personal life. The foreign volunteers also needed my help whenever they had to communicate with the girls because neither the foreign volunteers nor our girls could understand each other’s language. I was helping them to connect with each other and understand what they wanted to convey. It was my privilege to be able to help.
I had a good relationship with all the foreign volunteers. Even though we were from different cultures and backgrounds, we were able to live as a family, helping each other and comforting each other whenever we missed our families. During the stay in the remote village of Achham, sometimes we had to sleep in same room, and at times, due to the superstition of the Chhaupadi, we had to spend the night at the school’s library. Even the simple food we ate in the village was tasty because of the affection that people showed us. We didn’t even have basic things we needed in the village, but I never felt like I was missing something. Two months in Achham has taught me a lot, and I was able to see real the Nepal. I will always thank Clara and the Rato Baltin for this opportunity.
I consider myself very lucky to be able to help the women and girls of Achham. I felt so proud when I saw our mentors’ and volunteers’ confidence growing slowly with the Project and being empowered. In a society where menstruation is considered a taboo, when our girls describe how clean and pure the menstrual blood is, I really feel proud to be a woman. The work the Rato Baltin Project is doing for the women and girls from Achham is really significant and deserves respect. I cannot describe the happy faces of the women and girls when they were able to talk about their menstruation and when they were receiving the menstrual cups. The Rato Baltin Project is actually changing the menstruation conditions of the Achhami female population. It is priceless.
Now, I am back to my regular life, but the 2 months in Achham will always be in my heart. Those moments are very precious to me. All those memories from Achham, like bathing in the community tap with our petit-cot, waiting in the queue for using the toilet, the evening walk to the village and through the forest being so beautiful. The simple life and the love of the people of Achham has made this place very special to my heart. I feel like Achham is my second home.
While working with the Rato Baltin Project in Achham for 2 months I had the opportunity to learn a lot of things. I established some very precious and beautiful relationships which will always remain in my heart. The love and affection from our girls make me feel like they are my own little sisters (bahini), and I wish for their happiness and progress in their future lives.
My confidence has grown together with that of our girls. I can feel the change in Rupa before Achham and after Achham, and this change is very positive. I had the opportunity to know myself and my capabilities. I have developed the ability to cope with and handle difficult situations, of how to live and work together in a team, and to be able to be helpful to others. The Rato Baltin Project has given me a beautiful family. I want to express my gratitude to the Rato Baltin Project and to Clara for accepting me as a member and giving me the chance to grow positively.
Thank you so much, Clara and the Rato Baltin Project, for believing in me.
Written by Rupa Pandey, photos © Anne-Laure Crepin, correction by Ixone Saenz and Tere Salinero.
West Nepal girls need this kind of program. And we need help to continue the project!
Paypal recurring donations:
Or if you feel like it, you can donate via bank transfer at: Banc Sabadell IBAN: ES23 0081 0900 8200 0430 1934 BIC: BSABESBB (your recurring donation will help us have a better planning of our budget to carry out the projects undertaken).