Women’s Center Magic

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The first week that Magdalena, our amazing Women's Center Fellow, arrived at Kopila, the two of us sat down and drafted a little case study to gather data from the women who come to our center every day.  We decided we wanted to get to know our women and the challenges they faced on both a quantitative and qualitative level.  With our team's input, we designed a pretty extensive survey/assessment and interview.

The objective was to design an assessment to gather accurate data for ourselves so we could figure out how to tailor our curriculum, track our progress, and set goals for ourselves for our center.  The questions we asked pertained to socio-economic condition, household work, health, education level, marriage and relationships. 

Some of the questions were basic like, "Do you have a toilet in your home?" "How old were you when you were married?"  "Did you ever go to school and what grade did you complete?" Others asked whether or not they saw violence and alcohol as a problem in their home, caste issues, and women's reproductive health. We sat down with each and every woman for what we thought would be a ten minute interview. Magdalena is meticulously organized, systematic and a DO-er in every sense of the word. She had every detail worked out. I would ask the questions, and translate to Magdalena who would mark the answers on the paper. What we didn't anticipate was that as soon as we let the women open up about their lives in a private setting they kind of unravelled.  It was as if they'd never been asked to talk or think about certain things.  No one had ever asked them.  Before we knew it, yes or no, and what we designed as multiple choice answers to questions turned into life stories and anecdotes.  There were laughs, tears, and story after story.  It was definitely an unexpected twist. Magdalena and I exchanged glances across the room and talked after our first four interviews. Ten minutes was just not enough and we quickly would need to readjust our timeline.

Our first day we got through about 30 interviews.  

There were common themes.  Almost none of the women had been to school. Almost every single woman said that if she had more money, she'd buy more fruit and vegetables for her family. Vegetables. That was a hard one for me to swallow.  I don't think I've thrown out a vegetable since. Many of them had lost a child and combatted things that I've only ever read about in books.  I heard the words "I was given away" more times than I can count on my fingers. Of course I knew what these women dealt with but hearing it all again there, their life stories, stacked up, one after the other was a lot, even for me, even after living in Nepal for all these years.  What was the hardest for me was realizing how very little control they had over the most simple things in their lives. So many of them are trapped.  The last question was open ended. We asked what their dreams and goals were for their future, what they wanted for themselves. Some of them looked at us totally dumbfounded, like they had never been asked the question before. Most of their greatest wishes were for their children.   

The entire day I just kept thinking the same words over and over again. "I am so lucky." and "I am never ever ever going to complain again. Like ever. About anything." Magdalena just kept writing note after note in her notebook. She's an all action kind of gal. She wanted to come up for some solutions for our women immediately. Fast forward a few days later and it all started happening!

This entire month there has been some serious magic happening in the women's center. I actually found myself smiling every time I walked into the room. The positivity is really oozing out of that place! There's something really special about women coming together. I haven't put my finger on it just yet but I know we're onto something big!

First, our friend Ginette from Purple Lily arrived to run a Life Skills training course for all the women in our program.  Ginette shared her Purple Lily curriculum that's taken her years to develop, and imparted us with her wisdom and everything she's learned working with women in the developing world over the past ten years.  She is a genius when it comes to women's entrepreneurship and empowerment and it helped having her here to keep us from making mistakes, and getting us off on the the right foot. She was an incredible mentor, resource, and guide for me and for Magdalena (Women's Center Fellow).

The basis of the course training was to teach self-confidence, goal setting, managing stress, and healthy habits.  My favorite part of the entire thing was watching the women do their power poses and positive affirmations.  They took this exercise so seriously and you could totally feel the energy in the room shift in just two minutes. It was so powerful!!! This was concept based on Amy Cuddy's TED Talk.  (Definitely worth the watch!) The women left the training saying "I am strong. I am brave.  I am powerful.  I am amazing." We're going to have the women do power poses before they leave our center each day.  Another part of the training was learning to give each other compliments, share their strengths, and focus on the positive.  I couldn't have imagined a more important workshop to start out with then this one that Ginette put together. Another cool thing was that two of my teachers Man Kumari (Science) and Susmita (English) co-facilitated the entire training and did an amazing job.  We're looking forward to running more of these trainings in the future.  All the women said they were going to go home and practice with their daughters and the other women in their lives.  How cool is that?  Thank you Ginette and Purple Lily!!  We absolutely loved having you and hope it's not too long before you're back.

At the same time Cara, Lucky, and Zenda, our dear friends from Mia Amicas Globally arrived!  This was Cara's third trip to Kopila and whenever she comes it's almost like a tornado of action and amazing projects begin!!  Cara and Zenda spent most of their time in the women's center conducting a few days for more hands on trainings in sanitary pad making.  Since most women don't have access to sanitary napkins, we've decided to make our own!!!  The women's center looked like a big production line factory.  The pads are practical, hygienic, cost-effective, environmentally sustainable.  We're so excited for the women to start making manufacturing and selling these to the local market.  We even have this vision of having some door to door saleswomen.  In Nepal menstruating is pretty taboo.  In villages women sleep on a cowshed while they are and aren't allowed to participate in many every day activities.  There is a lot of fear around it and many people feel that if women break the rules while they're on their period, bad things will happen to their family.  We're working to bring awareness to menstruation, and have a better cultural understanding about practical ways to deal with it.  

Cara and Zenda worked so hard.  There were a few days straight when I didn't even see them step out of the center.  They organized, moved furniture, labeled, and painted some pretty sweet murals and quotes on the wall.  My favorite was "Keep Calm and Knit on."  I kind of wished they could stay forever.

For some incredible portraits of women in the Nepal, check out this link with a beautiful NYtimes slideshow.  It's a wonderful way to get a look into the window of a Nepali woman's life.  They are really some of the strongest and most hardworking women I've met on the planet.

Also please please show your support for Purple Lily and Mia Amicas Globally on Facebook and their websites!!!  These women are amazing and the Kopila Women and I feel lucky to have them on our side.  

Stay tuned for a REALLY exciting announcement and as always thank you for supporting the Kopila cause!

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