Women in the far-west looking forward for more to happen
July 2009; Gajari, a village located in one of the remote green hills of Baitadi district in the far-west Nepal looks serene and beautiful from afar. However, life for the people of this village is one hundred years behind. It is one of the many backward villages where almost 100% women are illiterate. Only the old, the women and children are left in the village as 90% of the men are working in India or elsewhere as migrant labourers. They go in search of work because the yield from their small fields is not sufficient to feed the family for 12 months. These men return once in 2-3 years but some don't. There are many cases of men abandoning their homes and not leaving a trace of where they are. The women clad in red sarees and green beads (symbol of being married) keep waiting for their husbands all their lives without even knowing whether they are alive anymore!
With a very difficult geographical terrain, scarcity of food and water, life is very difficult for these women who are heads of households. We have to walk in this dangerous trail for 2 hours to reach a place where we can fill a pot of water,' say the group of 25 women gathered to talk to their visitors. They have small pieces of land but due to scarcity of water and lack of irrigation facilities the land remains barren. "Our men send money once in 4-6 months and sometimes in 2 years, which is not sufficient to buy food and educate our children," they add.
The Village Development Programme has been implemented in Gajari since November 1998 through the governance programme jointly funded by UNDP and the Government of Norway. The women feel grateful that the social mobilisation has brought about social and economic empowerment. They feel more confident to talk about themselves and put forward their needs to the local authorities. After the implementation of the programme, the women organised themselves to form a community organisation. As per the rule of the organisation, every member contributes rupees five per every month to a common saving fund.
Belonging to a district that does not have schools and health posts at accessible distance, the women feel that they need to have some savings ready at hand for times of crisis. They say, "sometimes our children fall off from the cliffs and we urgently need money to take them to the health care centre that is located at a walking distance of almost two hours from here."
Kalawati Bhatta, one of the members of the community organisation has received training on tailoring through the support of the programme and she caters to the need of the women in the village at a reasonable price. Her earning is mostly being used for household purposes. Similarly Bimala Airi has some chickens that she bought after taking a loan from the organisation. She gives loans in turn to other members from the profit that she is making from selling the chickens and eggs. Jaswari, 43, for 17 years has been living alone as she does not know about the whereabouts of her husband. The community organisation has selected her to be trained on making cookies and biscuits. She sells these small packets of cookies for Rs. 10 each to the communities nearby.
"Prior to this, we used to stay idle. Our society is very conservative and we were not allowed to come forward and speak. After forming the community organisation and becoming united, we are able to speak for our rights and put forward what we need for ourselves and our children. The school building supported by UNDP and NORAD is an outcome of our demand," they say.
They have experienced difficult times during the conflict period. However, 'Peace and Development' for them is being able to eat two square meals a day, having some health care facilities and providing good education for their children.
The rest of the world and all the modern technologies are far away from the village. A lot needs to be done but the small things these women are doing has created a hope for them for tomorrow!
Children are able to go to grade six in their own village
Until recently Gajari village had only one small old school built nine years ago by the community themselves, the first ever school in the village. "Before we used to send our children to school only when they were 8-9 years old, when they could walk for one and half hours to reach the nearest school", say the mothers. This small old school ran classes up till grade five only. After completing grade five, the children had to go to other villages.Thanks to the UNDP Quick Impact Peace Support Initiative (QIPSI) Programme, the village has now been able to add two more classrooms for 6 and 7 grades.
Keshav Dutta Joshi, one of the teachers says, "We hope to have classes up to grade 8 and we still need more support. There are altogether 102 students in the school and 60 are girls."
The new school building was built at a total cost of Rs. 3,71,220. The QIPSI programme provided Rs. 3, 04400 and the community contributed labour worth Rs. 66,820.
The students do not have chairs to sit but at least they do not have to sit outside under a tree. The District Education Office has provided only one teacher to the school. The four other teachers are either volunteering their time or getting a small financial support from the community, based on what it can afford at the time.