Posts Tagged:

Nepal

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    [post_date] => 2020-10-06 12:24:13
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    [post_content] => I want to tell you about my extraordinary friend Sushil Babu Chettri from Nepal. He’s an inspiration for a whole number of reasons, not least for his remarkable life story. His full firsthand account can be found on the Learning Service blog.

He was born in a remote village in the west of Nepal, but ran away as a child and ended up on the streets of Kathmandu. At the age of eight, he learned how to beg from tourists and avoid getting addicted to drugs, while enduring the violence of street gangs.

After some time a tourist “rescued” him and brought him to an orphanage, but unfortunately, the place was corrupt and abusive. The children had no-one to care for them and had to cook and clean for themselves. They did not go to school and had no healthcare. The kids were not even fed enough and were sent out to beg for food. The owner collected donations from various sources but the money never reached the children.

 

Volunteers would come in and out of the orphanage, never suspecting that they were contributing to the exploitation of the children. The volunteers showered love and gifts on the orphanage kids, but the children found it traumatizing to have a conveyor-belt of caregivers, and when they left the hardships resumed.
At the age of twelve, Sushil was the oldest child in the orphanage and felt responsible for getting the children out. He eventually exposed the situation to an American lady and then made a police report about the conditions in the orphanage. The children were all rescued and it slowly their story came out – none of them were orphans, they had all been trafficked there.
The children all went to an organization that cared for them and tried to reconnect them with their families. Sushil felt he was too old to start school but instead he learned skills like how to use a camera and started making short films. He started documenting the lives of street children through film and raising awareness of social issues such as getting children of Kathmandu’s slums into schools. He only reconnected to his family and returned to his village when he was an adult, finding out for the first time that he had a younger brother. The issue that Sushil campaigns on most passionately is orphanage trafficking. After experiencing firsthand how orphanages are run as businesses in order to attract donations, with children stolen from rural areas like where he grew up, he now hosts talks and workshops with tourists and volunteers – and Dragons students! – to share his experience. Recently he has been trying to draw attention to the plight of children trapped in abusive orphanages during the coronavirus pandemic. In recent months, Sushil has been back in his remote home town documenting the situation of migrant laborers as they pour over the border from India despite the strict lockdown. He has been active in campaigning for aid for them, but also for aid to be given in the right way and to not be tokenistic or vanity-driven. He is also launching a project to build a well in his village in order to support vegetable growing there.
Throughout Sushil’s life, he has demonstrated remarkable resilience. He is friendly, positive, and fun, and is always willing to use his time and voice to help other people. He is an enormous inspiration to me – and as close as they come to a living legend.
Sushil Babu Chhetri is a freelance photographer and filmmaker who is based in Kathmandu, Nepal. His films include Flowers in the Dust and Letter to God. He is also an activist campaigning on behalf of children living on the street and in orphanages. You can follow him on YouTube and Instagram.  
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    [post_date] => 2020-05-05 12:46:54
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Did you catch this episode of Dragons podcast featuring a mother and daughter who have both been on a Dragons course in Nepal?

Bub Vernon (Dragons Indonesia Semester Alumni) and this mother-daughter duo discuss:

  • Seva goes to Nepal for a Dragons semester. Years later, her mother goes on a Dragons Program for adults.

  • The differences & similarities in Dragons experiences for a student & adult.

  • What “immersion” really involves and looks like.

  • The nature of time and depth of relationships built on programs.

  • The difference between “going on vacation” and building relationships with people who have lives and culture different from your own.

  • Favorite moments & mishaps.

LISTEN NOW ON APPLE PODCASTSSPOTIFY, AND MORE.

 
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    [post_date] => 2020-04-30 11:17:02
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    [post_content] => 

Dragons Alum, Eugenia Chow, wrote this reflection on her 3-month Gap semester in Nepal for her Veganism and Sustainability blog.

[caption id="attachment_156722" align="alignleft" width="329"]Nepal Gap Year Mountains Rolwaling, Nepal. Photo by Eugenia Chow.[/caption]

During three months in Nepal, I cycled through five outfits, hand washed all my clothes in one bucket of water, ate with my hands, wiped with my (other) hand, lived without digital devices, navigated using landmarks, ate the same meal (dal bhat 90% of the time—yes, breakfast, lunch, and dinner), took 15-hour bus rides without a phone or music, did 11-hour trek days in mostly silence (speaking isn’t much of an option when you’re at high altitude), and camped out in tents at 15,000ft, with nothing but each other to warm ourselves up at sub-zero degrees.

And for the most part, it was the most content I’ve ever been.

These 85 days were, on average, very blissful. And they also happened to be the most simple. For a moment, I was able to step away from a life rife with mental, physical and digital clutter, and this novel experience drew me to an alternative way of living—revealing that it’s possible to maintain slowness in a society that idolizes speed.

So, while culture and climate change happen to be two topics that I’m passionate about, the first thing I realized after living out of my 40L backpack for 85 days was that:

1. The two are far more interconnected than I’d ever considered.

Although most of the things I listed above were simply out of necessity that the form of travel I was embarking on (device-free, challenging, encouraging you to become a ‘traveler’ rather than a ‘tourist’) entailed, many of these habits were also born out of an attempt to imitate another culture.

In psychology class last year, I learnt about a social organization framework that distinguishes cultures from being either individualist or collectivist structures. In contrast to Western ideals which are predominantly individualistic, community, unity, and selflessness are cornerstones of Nepalese culture. As a result, instead of prioritizing individual goals and wellbeing over the benefit of the greater good, they emphasize a commitment to familial values and community-oriented aspirations.

Individualism thrives off competition in a manner than drives the depletion of resources at a rate that the world can hardly sustain. As the world’s biggest capitalistic power, cultures like the U.S. have ended up conflating success with wealth, and the race for profit consequently becomes a rush to extinction—with the accompanying cost of environmental destruction.

However,

2. Consumption, greed, and virtual validation will never be the solution to happiness; nor will they be the solutions to climate change.

[caption id="attachment_156721" align="alignright" width="506"]Nepal Gap Year Mountains Mountain views in Nepal. Photo by Eugenia Chow.[/caption]

My most memorable moments in Nepal were not marked by the purchase of my traditional-themed notebook nor the new headlamp I bought for trek. It was when I could dance and sing on top of a mountain with 14 new friends and a beautiful view of the sunset or stargaze while listening to music for the first time in two months. I was happiest when I was could feel myself forming connections with others and engage with local members of the community.

Imagine a Christmas without presents—or, at least, without material goods. I’m sure a game would be equally as—if not more enjoyable than the exchange of gifts. However, we have sadly attached the value of our relationships to the value of our goods, and we have evolved to pursue happiness in the most stressful of ways.

In Nepal, the festival we celebrated (Tihar) was not mediated by physical (or non-consumable) gifts; instead, it involved a succession of dances and offerings to celebrate and maintain intimate relationships with humans, animals, and Gods alike. Sometimes, people would freely enter and exit the homes of their neighbours during the dance ceremonies, because everyone was considered to be family.

Consumerism makes us vulnerable to the misconception that economic growth is the solution to all problems, convincing us that meaning is something which can be bought. Living in a rural village for nine days, none of us had or needed a fridge. Most of us simply used buckets as showers. Yet I was eating some of the best food I’d ever tasted and taking some of the most appreciated showers.

Which leads me to my next realization:

3. A fridge, dishwasher, washing machine, etc. are not a necessities; they are simply supplements to current lifestyles that appease our desires for efficiency.

According to Groundwork, “every year, U.S. businesses spend $207 billion on advertising to convince you that your current life is not enough,” and “some U.S. neighbourhoods have banned clothesline as an “ugly” sign of poverty.”

With the emergence of initiatives like Amazon prime, our culture of impatience has only been exacerbated to the extent where we can hardly wait more than one day to receive our online purchases. To think that Dash buttons almost became a thing simply exemplifies our incapability of remaining patient—not to mention the blatant environmental damage they would have produced.

As someone who still hand-washes dishes and air dries clothing at home, it almost makes me question whether these practices make me ‘enough’. Because “[consumerism] encompasses more than material space;“ it manipulates us into believing that our lives could be improved through the addition of something—anything.

But when will we decide that what we have is enough?

After doing some reading online and participating in Kiss the Ground’s Soil Advocacy Training online course, I’ve come to the conclusion that:

3. The term sustainability in its current use may not suffice. We need to redefine the boundaries of what is attainable in the first place before sustaining what clearly doesn’t work.

The first step is to reflect and then reconsider, or regenerate, a society that is more compatible towards the livelihoods and needs of the entire population—and not just a select few. The way we’re operating right now is evidently not working. It follows a degenerative model, which allows production and policy to leave the planet worse off for the fact that it’s occurred. This sets us on path towards ecological demise, and we need a new way of moving forward.

4. We shouldn’t just look to be mindful ‘consumers’, but mindful ‘citizens’.

Being a mindful consumer implicates that you’re ‘voting with your dollars'—purchasing items that are less harmful towards the environment and its inhabitants. But being a consumer also assumes that you have the purchasing power to allow your spendings to reveal your political standings, which automatically neglects or dismisses those who lack the monetary ability to do the same.

Therefore, being a mindful citizen focuses more on the values we embody and how this determines our everyday interactions and decisions. As a mindful citizen, we can allocate our time to being politically active or educating other individuals—important tasks that are obscured when citizens are whittled down to being simply consumers.

As mindful citizens, we can look towards building community and working together. But ultimately,

5. What we need is a cultural solution.

[caption id="attachment_156720" align="alignleft" width="395"]Nepal Gap Year Homestay View from the kitchen of my homestay in Patan, Nepal. Photo by Eugenia Chow.[/caption]

The image on the left was captured from the kitchen of my homestay family’s house in Patan. My “morning routine” during this time consisted of: waking up and drinking chiyaa (tea) alongside my homestay parents and sisters. And my night routine involved journaling and reading.

If only that was the norm; if only we haven’t internalized capitalism with the expectation that if we’re not constantly producing something or berate ourselves for taking a break almost to the point where we neglect our health—both physically and emotionally. If we don’t confront our unending desire for economic growth—a principle founded on the abundance of consumption—then we will never be able to address the looming issue of climate change. Because the two are inextricably linked.

To illustrate this point, let’s use Bhutan as an example.

Not only is Bhutan the world’s only carbon-negative country, but it’s also a nation built on happiness.

Bhutan is governed by their four pillars of ‘success’—one of them being environmental conservation. Their policies are determined under the basis of of gross national happiness as opposed to GDP, a more accurate factor of a country’s ‘success’. The government has mandated that forest areas cannot fall below 60%, partnered with Nissan to distribute electric cars to discourage the use of fuel-based ones, and subsidized LED lights and electrical public transportation—all nested under the collective goal of valuing the environment over economic growth.

Similarly, in some parts of South America, the term “Buen Vivir” has been adopted to reshape the conversation around community success. It stands for a collective well being, concluding that success hasn’t been achieved if money is earned through a means that devalues or harms your community. For instance, if wood was cut from a tree to build your house and was not replanted, it’s not beautiful because it destroyed natural space; if your shirt was produced in a sweat shop, it’s not beautiful because it exploits labourers.

So, evidently, what we require is the conversation about climate change to shift to sustainable culture. Climate change is rooted deep in our lifestyle habits, and these habits are largely determined by what we deem to be the ‘norm’.

Our values and attitudes have the capacity to slow climate change, but in order to create a truly sustainable culture, we have to be willing to change our mindsets,

accept a different pace of life and rethink our goals and place in society. This may require a fundamental restructuring of societal values, reorienting our emphasis from individualist to collectivist values. Because while many solutions to the climate catastrophe are scientific, a significant amount are cultural.

7. We need to rethink our cultural priorities/values and generate broader definitions of success.

A sustainable culture functions in harmony with the earth (take aboriginal/indigenous communities, for instance). And to quote Groundwork again, values of a culture that loves the earth include:

[caption id="attachment_156719" align="alignright" width="508"]Nepal Gap Year Village Living in a rural village in Nepal. Photo by Eugenia Chow.[/caption]
  • Patience: I experienced this while trekking in Nepal—without any devices and sometimes the inability to have conversation due to the high altitude we were in—going on walks—sometimes at 5am with my homestay mom around the village—navigating the city without a phone or GPS, and experiencing an alternative way of thinking and living.

  • Enoughness: I encountered this phenomenon while living simplistically on a permaculture farm in Gundu and in a rural village called Koshi. Everything was produced right from our doorstep, and we were living in nature, without the distraction of any devices—just our own thoughts and occasionally a book or journal to jot them down. This idea of living off-the-grid remains unconventional in the modern world, but this simply leads me to my next realization, that:

    8. Things are simply a burden, and we shouldn’t let marketers define what success or happiness means for us.

    There are so many social constructs we could simply neglect had they not been normalized by the culture around us.

    One of my favourite things about travelling (especially when packing lightly) is how un-stigmatised it is to re-wear clothes. For three months in Nepal, I rotated between five different outfits, and never once did I ever feel “deprived.” Due to the transitory nature of fast fashion, it has been normalized to wear a new outfit to every occasion. But this expectation to wear something new or different every day is highly unrealistic, and we have to rethink the conversation on what kind of standard this sets—not just for the sake of environmental sustainability, but also because of the statement it implies towards the issue of classism.

    Moreover, during our first trek, we had no mirrors for seventeen days. This meant we could abandon all self-doubt surrounding the notion of beauty, which was not only liberating, but also a jarring reminder of how much of our self-perception is determined by what common marketing has conditioned us to desire.

  • A broad[er] definition of success: This can include being self-sufficient, preserving heritage and culture and traditions. For example, my homestay father in Patan specialized in stone carving—a form of work that is viewed as successful, partially because it serves to maintain one’s family legacy.

  • And my own: valuing community. I witnessed this through entering each other’s houses freely during the dances celebrating Tihar, stopping to actually speak to one another in the village, and seeing how everyone’s considered a brother or a sister, regardless of whether actual family ties exist.

9. Kindness and generosity are faces of collective success.

One of the most distinctive memories that remain with me from Nepal involves a singular bus journey from Bhaktapur to Nagarkot. Amidst the frenzy of boarding an overcrowded bus, one lady immediately handed her blanketed baby into the arms of another passenger. And the passenger graciously accepted it without comment or complaint. The only further interaction was an appreciative nod from the former lady, and a warm, understanding smile from the latter.

Within this few second exchange, what I immediately gathered was that people here are willing to make sacrifices for each other—prioritizing a collective wellbeing.

Sure, this may be a vast over-generalization of how all people in this country act, but it’s sad to think that the first thought in response to a free cake at my door step would be “it’s probably drugged” as opposed to “that’s so thoughtful!” because that’s the way we’ve been brought up to react.

What if, instead of competing in the name of self-interest, we took the time to connect with each other and work towards our shared goals? We need to bring back collaboration and the act of working in harmony with one another.

10. While politicians play an important role, we also have to create an environment that is receptive and ready to welcome this change with open arms.

Seasonal outfit trends, Amazon Dash buttons, and clotheslines as a sign of “ugly poverty” won’t do anyone justice anymore; it’s time we create a new normal.

As Wagner writes, “when something is public, it can become a part of a culture.” And we can do this through every day actions, in many different forms! We can shape the change and lead the conversation through education people in real life by talking to them, using our social media platforms to reach a larger audience, or running campaigns to unite people under a shared cause.

A concept I learnt in psychology class last year, reciprocal determinism, states that an individual is both influenced and exerts an influence on their environment, and while culture affects us, we, as individuals have the power to affect culture as well.

“Society's response to every dimension of global climate change is mediated by culture.” And it is our role, as citizens—not consumers—to set the precedent for governing bodies. A global problem needs a global solution, and be it from the angle of clotheslines, clothing, or consumerism, the first thing we can do is begin by normalising simplicity.

 

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Culture, Consumerism, and Climate Change: 10 Things I Learnt from Living Out of My Backpack for 85 Days

Posted On

04/30/20

Author

Eugenia Chow, Nepal Semester Alum

Description
Dragons Alum, Eugenia Chow, wrote this reflection on her 3-month Gap semester in Nepal for her Veganism and Sustainability blog. My most memorable moments in Nepal were not marked by the… Read More
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    [post_date] => 2020-02-27 08:44:42
    [post_date_gmt] => 2020-02-27 15:44:42
    [post_content] =>  

Did you catch this episode of Dragons podcast featuring Dragons Instructor Claire Bennett on the subject of  Learning Service?

Bub Vernon (Dragons Indonesia Semester Alumni) and Claire Bennett discuss:
  • What is Learning Service?
  • How can we most sensibly do good abroad?
  • What’s wrong with "voluntourism?"
  • How do personal motivations affect volunteering?
 

LISTEN NOW on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and more.

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[post_title] => Dragons Podcast: Interview with Claire Bennet on the topic of Service Learning vs. Learning Service [post_excerpt] => Bub Vernon (Dragons Indonesia Semester Alumni) and Claire Bennet discuss: What is Learning Service? How can we most sensibly do good abroad? What’s wrong with "voluntourism?" How do personal motivations affect volunteering? [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => dragons-podcast-interview-with-claire-bennet-on-the-topic-of-service-learning-vs-learning-service [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-03-02 17:51:02 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-03-03 00:51:02 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 1 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 700 [name] => For Parents [slug] => for_parents [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 700 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Blog posts specifically curated for parents wishing to know more about Dragons culture, programs, company, and community. [parent] => 0 [count] => 48 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 5 [cat_ID] => 700 [category_count] => 48 [category_description] => Blog posts specifically curated for parents wishing to know more about Dragons culture, programs, company, and community. [cat_name] => For Parents [category_nicename] => for_parents [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/for_parents/ ) [1] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 653 [name] => Global Community [slug] => global_community [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 653 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured International People, Places, Projects. [parent] => 0 [count] => 50 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 6 [cat_ID] => 653 [category_count] => 50 [category_description] => Featured International People, Places, Projects. [cat_name] => Global Community [category_nicename] => global_community [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/global_community/ ) [2] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 641 [name] => About Dragons [slug] => about_dragons [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 641 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Press, Essays from Admin, and Behind-the-Scenes HQ. [parent] => 0 [count] => 53 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 9 [cat_ID] => 641 [category_count] => 53 [category_description] => Press, Essays from Admin, and Behind-the-Scenes HQ. [cat_name] => About Dragons [category_nicename] => about_dragons [category_parent] => 0 ) ) [category_links] => For Parents, Global Community ... )
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    [post_author] => 21
    [post_date] => 2020-01-16 07:03:18
    [post_date_gmt] => 2020-01-16 14:03:18
    [post_content] => 

We LOVE seeing our alumni featured in the press, and this piece spotlighting Blake Myers (Dragons Nepal Semester) is so fresh and thorough.

We've included a few of our favorite excerpts below. Head over to Buzz Magazines to read the full feature!

"Blake graduated from the Emery/Weiner School and was accepted to colleges, including Boston University, but he decided to put his formal education on hold. “I didn’t feel ready to go back to school again,” he said. Blake’s mom, Lisa, suggested looking into a gap year. She says Blake is an extremely good student and hard worker, but he was worn out and tired of school by the time he graduated. “We would rather buy a year of growing-up time so he can be excited about college than him going and maybe not having a great year,” she said." 

Alumni Magazine Feature

"Lisa says she is not surprised at all that her son chose such an unusual adventure. “We travel a lot as a family, and Blake always loved it more than the other kids,” she said. Blake spent his junior-year summer in Guatemala, where he became fluent in Spanish, and the experience reinforced his interest in learning about other cultures. “The change in him has been huge. He’s more mature with a broader view and appreciation of things,” Lisa said. “Travel has given him a whole different perspective. Living in Nepal piqued his curiosity to learn more about different Eastern religions, and he’s much more interesting and worldly.”

Read the full article, Bridging the Gap, online at Buzz Magazines.

 

Also, if you are alumni and were featured in any press after your Dragons program, please let us know!

 
PS. WANT DRAGONS BLOG UPDATES SENT DIRECTLY TO YOUR INBOX? ONE EMAIL A WEEK. NOTHING MARKETY. UNSUBSCRIBE ANY TIME. SUBSCRIBE TO DRAGONS BLOG AND STAY CONNECTED TO THE COMMUNITY. ❤️
[post_title] => Dragons Alumni Featured in "Bridging the Gap" article in The Buzz Magazines [post_excerpt] => We LOVE seeing our alumni featured in the press, and this piece spotlighting Blake Myers (Dragons Nepal Semester) is so fresh and thorough! We've included a few of our favorite excerpts.... [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => dragons-alumni-featured-in-bridging-the-gap-article-in-the-buzz-magazines [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-02-28 09:45:51 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-02-28 16:45:51 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 700 [name] => For Parents [slug] => for_parents [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 700 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Blog posts specifically curated for parents wishing to know more about Dragons culture, programs, company, and community. [parent] => 0 [count] => 48 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 5 [cat_ID] => 700 [category_count] => 48 [category_description] => Blog posts specifically curated for parents wishing to know more about Dragons culture, programs, company, and community. [cat_name] => For Parents [category_nicename] => for_parents [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/for_parents/ ) [1] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 646 [name] => Alumni Spotlight [slug] => alumni_spotlight [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 646 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured Student Alumni and their projects/organizations/visions. [parent] => 0 [count] => 47 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 10 [cat_ID] => 646 [category_count] => 47 [category_description] => Featured Student Alumni and their projects/organizations/visions. [cat_name] => Alumni Spotlight [category_nicename] => alumni_spotlight [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/alumni_spotlight/ ) ) [category_links] => For Parents, Alumni Spotlight )
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    [post_date] => 2020-01-09 13:05:26
    [post_date_gmt] => 2020-01-09 20:05:26
    [post_content] => In an effort to give back to our wonderful network of international partners, Dragons has a Community Grant Fund that awards grants to local organizations based on a comprehensive application process.  Some of this year's grant funds were distributed to support a menstrual health project in Chaukati, Nepal. Thank you to Michael D. Smith MSW/MPH (Nepal Himalaya Studies Instructor) for sharing more about this project via the following report! 

Introduction

For over ten years, Where There Be Dragons has had the pleasure of bringing numerous Gap Semester, Summer, and College Study Abroad student groups for rural homestay visits to Chaukati village in Sindhupalchowk District, northeast of Kathmandu. Travel to Chaukati from Kathmandu takes about four hours by bus on the Araniko Highway to the nearest town of Bahrabise, located just above where the Bhote Khosi (Tibetan River) meets the Sun Khosi (Gold River). Then one must hike three hours up a hill through forests and fields from the highway to the villages above. Chaukati was one of hundreds of communities whose village was completely destroyed in the devastating earthquakes of April and May 2015. Of hundreds of houses, not a single one remained standing. Many families lost most of their possessions, as well as livestock such as chickens, goats, cows and buffalo (the lifeblood of rural Nepal).  Chaukati is a village of mixed ethnicities and castes, including many members of the Thangmi (Thami) community, a small ethnic group known for traditions that reflect a close relationship with the natural world. The Thangmi continue to gather food and medicines from the forest and maintain unique shamanic cultural practices. Most Thangmi elders never received any formal education, and many only speak Thangmi language, of which an estimated 20,000 native speakers remain.

Project Origin

Dragons student groups and alumni instructors, together with local government and some development NGOs, have joined a number of projects in Chaukati, before and after the earthquakes, including construction of a new health center and elementary school, dozens of new homes for marginalized local families, and other assistance such as agricultural development and new stoves. Other organizations, such as Its Her Turn Nepal (Hamro Palo Nepal), have assisted the community with non-tangible social development, such as conducting leadership trainings and empowerment workshops for girls.  In the Fall of 2017, as Dragons instructors interviewed host families about learning service opportunities in the village, the idea of reusable sanitary pads came up in conversation. Some local girls were aware of the benefits of reusable sanitary pads from the previous Its Her Turn project, but there was nowhere to obtain the cotton pads in the area. When one instructor asked the girls if they would be interested to receive a distribution of the pads, they refused, instead suggesting that it would be best for them to organize a training in Chaukati to teach local women to make their own cotton pads, so that they would not be reliant on others to bring them to them. The instructors approached a Nepal-based social enterprise, Dharti Mata ("Mother Earth" in Sanskrit), which runs a small factory that employs village women to sew a variety of sanitary pads from organic cotton. These attractive reusable pads, called "Love Lady Pads," are designed to reduce social stigma in rural areas around menstruation, to support safe and healthy sanitary practices, and to reduce the problem of solid waste from single-use disposable sanitary pads. Dharti Mata was co founded by Claire Lin, an eco-social entrepreneur from Taiwan, and Mithu Dhital, of the Hasera Permaculture Farm in Patlekhet in Nepal (where many Dragons students have studied). The women of Dharti Mata were enthusiastic to partner in the project, so the instructors applied for a $2000 of funding from Dragons Community Grant Fund to support Reusable Eco-Sanitary Pad DIY training workshops in Chaukati.

Project Description

Due to the limited availability of trainers and the onset of monsoon, which is very heavy in Chaukati (as anyone who has been there during that time can attest!), the group of seven trainers from Dharti Mata were not able to conduct the workshops until late October of 2018. A four-hour workshop was held each day for three days. The workshops included sessions on female reproductive health, developing positive attitudes about women's bodies and the menstrual cycles, massage and yoga techniques for maintaining a healthy uterus, discussions of the health and environmental benefits of reusable sanitary cloth pads, and a training session on how to stitch one's own pads that included distribution of cloth, needles, and thread. Each woman was given five pads in total: A pre-made simple pad and two pad components that were stitched during the training (a long pad and a night pad). More about the Love Lady Pads line can be found on their website at www.dhartimata.com In total, 150 local women of a variety of ages, castes, and ethnicities representing all six wards of the Chaukati area attended the workshops. The workshops were supported by the local government and were officially opened by the municipal Chairperson, Man Bahadur Thami. In the Spring of 2019, one instructor returned with the Dragons Nepal College Study Abroad course and visited Chaukati. They interviewed the local Women's Craft Development Committee about asked about their impressions of the workshops. The women reported they were pleased that the workshop had taken place, as it created a safe forum for women to openly discuss issues they were facing. They requested more trainings and workshops in the future, and offered to serve as the local organizing partner. The conversations surrounding women's health in Chaukati inspired one of the Spring 2019 Nepal College Study Abroad students to return to Chaukati for two weeks to study local midwifery practices. While she was there, she participated in the birth of baby, and was able to learn a great deal about taboos and progress in the areas of female reproductive health.

Importance of Menstrual Health Projects in Nepal

In the contemporary Nepali context, programs such as this DIY Reusable Eco-Sanitary Pad training take on a larger significance than merely environmental or economic benefits. In many sectors of Nepali society, especially in rural areas, menstruation and female reproductive health issues have been considered taboo subjects. Myths and stigma surrounding ritual pollution from the touch of a menstruating woman prevails. In some areas, chapaudi, a practice where women move to a shed behind the house during menstruation, is still practiced. Though this tradition has been banned in Nepal, recent incidents of young women or teenage girls dying in their 'menstruation sheds' due to snakebite or other hazards have highlighted the persistence of these practices. Even in communities like Chaukati where Chhaupadi is not practiced, taboos surrounding menstruation still affect Nepali women and girls. Many households in Kathmandu still prohibit menstruating women from entering kitchens, temples, eating with the family, and sleeping on their beds. These practices can condition women to view their bodies as unclean and  devalue themselves because they take  blame for any misfortune their families experience. Chhaupadi’s legacy contributes to a wider disregard of women and girls that places them in danger. Nepali news outlets have been raising  awareness of this issue, and there are some indications that the media is in general, reporting more stories of female reproductive and gender related issues. Recent incidents of women dying in menstruation sheds have even been covered in international media such as the New York Times. Encouraging projects that support local women to advance the conversation about female reproductive health, helps de-stigmatize harmful attitudes and given women the space to voice experiences previously neglected in formal and public spheres.  Michael D Smith Dharti Mata and the organizers of the Chaukati Reusable Eco-Sanitary Pad DIY training workshops are grateful for the support of the Dragons Community Grant Funds for this project. It would not have been possible without the creation of the Fund or the instructors who carefully managed program budgets in order to contribute money to the fund. Thank you!      
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