As a fresh graduate, I was searching for opportunities to showcase my skills and abilities by volunteering and working for social change. I got a chance to know Clara G.O. through an international journalist and joined Rato Baltin project by an NGO called be artsy as a volunteer starting March 7, 2019.
Working on this project made me aware of the harsh menstrual restrictions and also about chhaupadi faced by the girls and women in Achham. Getting to learn about chhaupadi so closely also stroke my mind about the menstrual restrictions which also exist in the urban areas where more educated people live, and girls and women are still restricted to enter their kitchens and also temples. The only difference is that it is much safer in the city.
During my follow-up visit in November for 15 days, I got a chance to go to Achham for evaluation and got introduced to the team. I became more aware of the harsh reality of the community. I travelled to the village of Sanfebagar named Khalsen and Dhakari (Hichma, Dhakari, Dhungachalna) for the follow-up of the schoolgirls and women using the menstrual cups. In Dhungachalna, I also got an opportunity to talk to the mayor of Sanfebagar, who donated funds for the Rato Baltin project. Due to trust to the local partner, the money was all seized by the local partner of that year. At the same time, along with Clara, while managing the team, I interacted with a female teacher continuing Chhaupadi after her delivery. During the interaction, she told me that she has been following this practice because of her fear to God, and fear of society. Even though she is a teacher, she still could not change her beliefs which made me depressed and worried about her 2 months old daughter.
Similarly, at the same time, I got another chance to talk to the mayor of Sanfebagar about the money taken by Samabikas Nepal and misused in the destruction of Chhaugoth at Sanfebagar Municipality. I called him from the office number, but I believe that the number was blocked by him. The second time I called him with another number, he picked up the phone.
The details about our conversation
Me: Hello sir, Good afternoon! I am a volunteer of be artsy’ Rato Baltin project (he recognized the project name). Sir, I am talking on behalf of Clara as a translator anything I am telling you is Clara asking you don’t mind if it sounds harsh.
Mayor: Yes, please tell.
Me: Sir, the money you have been giving in the name of Rato Baltin project has been captured by Samabikash Nepal. The purpose of the project is not to destroy the chhaugoths. This money has been misused by the local partner and has not been meeting our objectives. Whereas, Sama Bikash – Nepal is not in communication with Rato Baltin project.
Mayor: Look! I gave the money to Rato Baltin, now it’s not my thing. You should talk to Sama Bikash – Nepal and move cooperatively. I am a mayor and have a lot of things to do. Don’t call me and ask about small things, now you have to coordinate with the local partner.
Me: Sir I get that, but we could see the money is being misused, and we are trying to contact Sama Bikash – Nepal, they never pick up the call. The money has been used to destroy chhaugoths which is causing more deaths of girls and women. This is not our way for the change!
Mayor: Listen, we are planning to destroy chhaugoths, until and unless we don’t do that people are not going to leave this tradition.
Me: This is a tradition which has been followed by infinite generations. And at once destroying chhaugoths does people get awaken and stop this practice? Many NGO’s and INGO’s have been working in this sector for many years. They are not able to bring change over time can this decision of yours bring change instantly? Who will be responsible if the females die after the destruction of chhaugoths? Can you take the responsibility of girls who dies because of the destruction of the menstrual huts?
Mayor: I don’t know other things, but I am into destroying chhaugoths. Maybe we give one hour or two days notice to people before destroying them. If we don’t do this, then the practice never ends. During this period if ‘one or two girls die then it is not my problem. They die due to their own reason. We are destroying chhaugoths and allowing them to live inside their house. If because of it they die, it’s their personal matter’.
Me: How can you tell this sir? You being a leader of the area, it is your responsibility to take care of the females and protect them! We can know how many girls die after this step-through media.
Mayor: This is our decision, and we are doing this. No one can stop me from this revolution. And if you are giving me the threat of media then I am not afraid of the media (cuts the phone!).
I got traumatized because of his words and knowing his mind-set. After that conversation, I could only see the girls in Achham having dark future because of the cruel mind set of the people here. Yes, revolution brings change, but this kind of selfish revolution will kill many innocent faces.
Similarly, Clara and I were there with the local ward leader disseminating information about the film projection and check if he could manage the hall for film projection. I was talking about social change and how hard it is to change the mindset of people. The local ward leader told us to distribute money, if not much, at least 10 NRupias per person and the hall for the film will be full. I told him- ‘We are here for projecting film for the purpose of changing people’s mind-set and their perception. We don’t want people to come here for the greed of money, but we want them to come here for the real change’.
The overall field trip was a learning experience, while listening to people with patience, analysing the people’s mind set and bring innovative ideas for change. However, this whole experience also made me realize about the harsh reality which was totally unexpected for me.
Text and photos by Simran Adhikari, Program officer in be artsy' Nepal headquarter. Correction / translation by Shweta Manandhar / Tere Salinero.
For just €1.80 a day you can change the future of a girl and prevent her from being forced to marry at 14 years old!
There are several ways in which you can get involved and sponsor a girl in Achham:
Teaming Group: 1 euro a month – become part of Rato Baltin Project!
Teaming Group: 1 euro a month – become part of the team and get your friends to help you sponsor her and avoid early marriage!!
Regular donation: to https://donorbox.org/againts-chhaupadi
Become a member: https://beartsy.org/associate/