3 Sisters: Empowering Women of Nepal
Trip Start Oct 15, 2010
27Trip End Jan 11, 2011
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Eventually the sisters decided that they were not as good at guiding as they would like to be. They had no safety training and only limited information about the areas they were working in. They became aware of some cross-organisational training that was taking place and requested to be part of it. The Nepali organisers refused but the American company that delivered the training agreed to set up a separate course, if the sisters could scrape together ten participants. Over the next few weeks they used all their networks to try and convince seven other women to take part. Eventually they succeeded and converted the restaurant of their guesthouse into a classroom for the next ten weeks.
Now the Chhetri sisters run their own full training programme for female guides. This consists of lessons in summer and winter (the low season) and work experienced as 'assistants' in high season. People can hire assistants instead of or as well as a guide and they will carry up to 12kgs of weight. The trained guides also continue to receive development throughout their employment.
The sisters now also run an NGO called Empowering Women of Nepal. The profit they make from trekking, or at least part of it, goes towards this organisation. They believe that through providing women with education and meaningful employment they are "encourag[ing] the development of self-supportive, independent, decision-making women. Perhaps with knowledge, skills and confidence in themselves, these women will be able to bring about real change in the way women are viewed and treated in this society." (quote from the Empowering Women of Nepal website). Dicky said to me: "See Mala over here," she pointed at the woman who runs reception and seems to manage the entire operation. "When she came to us she was a typical Nepali girl, very shy and very quiet. Now she runs reception, can manage the restaurant upstairs and can guide trekkers as well." I found it interesting to compare Mala to the waitress in the restaurant who is incredibly shy and subservient, while Mala was is now anything but and has no problems asserting herself. Empowering Women of Nepal also run an anti child labour programme, and I believe they have homes in rural areas where abuse is most common, but don't know as much about this side of their work.
One of the saddest stories I’ve heard about the plight of the women of Nepal is told by the New Zealander, Elizabeth Harding, in her book You Are a Brave Man. This is her memoir of the years she and her partner Diana ran a hospital in the Everest region that is funded by the Edmond Hillary Foundation. If I remember the story correctly, a heavily pregnant woman came to the hospital. Feeling her belly, Liz decided the baby was breached. Knowing she would be unable to deliver the child with only the basic medical equipment available at the hospital, she offered to helicopter the woman to Kathmandu for the necessary cesarean, at the hospital’s expense. However, the woman’s husband refused due to the Nepali belief that all operations weaken the patient for life. Apparently it is better to have a dead wife than a weak one: after all, you are then able to remarry.
Instead the husband forced his wife to walk for many hours back to their home village. She was not angry, but accepted that this was his decision and that it was his right to make it. She clearly had no expectation to have control over her life. When labour began the husband sent her out into the fields to die. It breaks my heart to picture the poor woman squatting in a muddy rice paddy, expecting to die a hideously painful death, all alone.
However, there is a twist to the story. The baby was not breached after all and the woman successfully gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl. Without ultra-sound equipment Liz had been unable to determine that there were two babies.However, the story does not end there. A few months later Liz travelled through the village where the couple lived. She made some enquiries and found out that there was now only one baby: the boy. The little girl was left to starve to death, while their valuable child, the boy, was allowed to flourish.
What I particularly like about Empowering Women of Nepal is that it is set up and run by Nepali women for Nepali women. More information about the organisation and the situation for women in Nepal can be found at the Empowering Women of Nepal website http://www.3sistersadventure.com/EWN/. For more information about the 3 Sisters trekking agency see their website at http://www.3sistersadventure.com/.