I've mentioned in prior reports how Her Farm needs to replace an entire family support structure. For a woman to leave even a bad relationship means cutting all family ties and the support that comes from those ties. Take our newest addition to the Her Farm family, Kalpana. Kalpana is 23 years old and has a three, almost four year old daughter. She married a man who happens to be in the army when she was quite young. She gave birth to a daughter, which is a problem for a Nepali woman, so much so that in fact her husband arrived home one day with a "second wife." While technically not legal in Nepal, the second wife business still takes place quite often. As Kalpana had not produced a male heir, the man asserted his "right" to take another wife in the expecation that she would produce a boy-child. That relagates Kalpana to being more-or-less a servant to the new wife, a domestic employee in her own home. She had the good sense to reject that arrangement and move to Her Farm. To do so however meant giving up family ties and support. To that end, our community center is an integral part of creating a new family for her. When complete, which it will be in the next month, it will have a large kitchen on the first floor (right side of photo) that will serve up hot meals to the many chldren who come daily for English classes and tutoring at Her Farm plus additional classrooms and including a large meeting hall for community events.
When we started Her Farm we had a vision of women coming from abusive family situations and living at the farm where they could support themselves and their children. That's still our mission and vision at the farm, however something else is taking place at the farm, something unexpected and wonderful. For the past two years as we've been working to get all the infrastructure in place to house and feed women and educate their children the farm has been managed by young women. Most of these young women also work for us at Mountain Volunteer, our program for volunteering in Nepal.
These young women have proven to themselves and to everyone else just how capable they are. They are taking care of the livestock, farming the fields, caring for volunteers at the farm and helping build the infrastructure every single day. As one of them recently reported to me, "I grew up in the city, I really didn't know what I was capable of doing, but now, I see this farm, I see all we've done here and I feel I am capable of doing anything." That's a WOW event in my book. That's really growing hope in the Himalaya.
I hope you'll click on the link included with this update to understand why it's so important that young women have options like this. I've related a true, heartbreaking story of what can, and has happened, when young women are not given options.
While this project is intended primarily to provide school uniforms to girls, it's a lot more than that. I have had a struggle with how to write this and be delicate. Let's start with the fact that girls are unwanted in Nepal. A girl represents a huge future liability in the form of dowry, a practice that is technically illegal, but thriving none-the-less. The parents of a girl will have to pay, in cash, in property or some other gifts to the family of her husband when she one day marries. Girls who leave school early face a lot of pressure to marry. But young girls are often neglected family members. The family doesn't want to spend money on food or clothing, nor education for their daughter. There's saying in Nepal that educating your daughter is like watering your neighbors garden. The consensus is that a young girl needs only to know about cooking, cleaning and caring for her husbands parents and many boys are reluctant to marry an educate girl as they see that as a source of trouble.
My wife, who is Nepali, has related to me what it was like for her growing up. She got the leftovers at meal time and often there wasn't enough. She was dirty most of the time and once a week she'd bathe with her friend, in the open at a cold-water tap where they'd have contests to see who had the most lice. She had but one pair of underwear for the week. The female readers of this may appreciate the problems associated with that, and since I promised to be delicate, I won't give details. As they say, google it.
Older girls often are not provided with bras and as they develop that becomes a source of humiliation. Typically they take to wearing several undershirts in an effort to mask their development and avoid the teasing and taunting that comes with that. Teasing about such matters in Nepali culture is a more serious issue than in ours. Girls have left school at that age rather than suffer the teasing as it's a humilating and shameful experience for them.
Even older girls, face larger problems still as their menstration begins. Many schools do not even have toilets so they have to hide in a bush or behind a tree, or rock to change pads. Pads in Nepal as we think of them do not exist. A pad is simply some old clothing torn and sometimes, but not always, sewn together. That requies careful cleaning, which many do not know how to do or they are too shy and ashamed to be seen cleaning so often they get a only a cursory washing before reuse. Many schools will not allow a girl in the classroom at this time, which further encourages them to just quit, stay home and wait for their parents to arrange a marriage.
This program attempts to address these issues by providing a uniform, which is a financial block to keeping daughters in school and providing everything that is supposed to be under that uniform such as a bra, if needed and several, not just one, pair of panties as well as pads and instruction in care and cleaning. Girls suffer from various infections and skin disorders due to dirty underwear and improperly cleaned pads. We are changing that. So, don't think this just about the uniform, while that is certainly an important part of this project, what goes under the uniform is equally important in the lives of young girls. Help us to help them grow up healthy, grow up understanding their bodies and what is needed for good health. Help delay the age of marriage and keep girls in school where they belong.