18 June 2019

Mitrataa's Opportunity Box

One of Mitrataa’s core responsibilities is to fill the opportunity gap for our students – research globally shows that one of the core challenges of the poverty trap is the missed opportunities to expand their knowledge and skills. One of the biggest indicators of the learning gap tends to be what happens in school holidays - students from wealthier families tend to visit new places, go to museums and experience other educational enhancement activities while students from less advantaged families tend to stay home not doing much in the holidays. Part of our role is to fill this gap for our students.

The Opportunity Box expands on and underpins in-class education, increasing the range of skills and knowledge of the students and giving them a richer tapestry on which to build.

The National Trust in the UK prepared a list of activities that they recommend all children experience before they finish school. Drawing on this list and localising it for the Nepali context, we have prepared our own Opportunity Box: a list of 15 things which we want all of our students to have experienced before they finish class 10:

1. Visit a museum
2. Visit an art gallery
3. Visit the 7 UNESCO Heritage Sites in Kathmandu Valley
4. Visit a factory
5. Hike for a day
6. Visit a farm and learn where food comes from
7. Visit Kathmandu
8. Make a speech
9. Do something that benefits something else
10. Teach a class on a topic of their choice (run a workshop)
11. Eat in a restaurant
12. Make momos
13. Take a visitor on a tour of something in their local area
14. Learn to swim
15. Go shopping for a new set of clothes they can choose themselves

This week was the annual Panauti Jatra, a 3 day chariot festival. As we have a number of students in Panauti, we decided to celebrate the Jatra with them by combining No.15 from the Opportunity Box with our Financial Literacy Project. Each of the students were given Rs 500 (around A$6.50) to spend at the festival market. They had to buy at least one practical/useful item that they need and the rest of the money could be spent however they chose but they had to plan carefully and make sure they got everything they wanted within their budget. Then they had to come back and show us the calculations for what they bought, the total they spent, and how much money they had remaining. For some of the students, they had never had money to spend themselves before and they had so much fun choosing things. 

We were really impressed with how practical they all are and how good they are at bargaining! For example, Swostika bought an umbrella and raincoat as monsoon season starts this week, Rithika bought a kurtha and some sunglasses, Ashalal bought some underwear, a wallet. some socks and a t-shirt, Uma bought a bra, a t-shirt and a doll keyring. Megha and her sister bought some clothes and then some bubbles which they used to entertain us all for the afternoon! 

01 May 2019

Cultural Tours of Nepal's UNESCO Heritage Sites

Students in Nepal learn about the 7 UNESCO Heritage Sites in Kathmandu Valley in Social Studies at school. Despite being able to list these sites, very few students have visited them, especially students from outside of Kathmandu. 

As a reward for all their hard work this last year and as a networking opportunity for students across our different projects, our Panchkal group as well as several of our Nuwakot students travelled to Kathmandu for a 2 day cultural tour during their school holidays. Several of our Kathmandu students took turns being their guides as they visited 5 of the 7 sites - Boudha, Swoyambhu, Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Patan Durbar Square and Pashupatinath. 

The students were exhausted but had a great time and now they can relate to these places when they study them at school. 

Thanks to Saraswoti and the team for organising and hosting them all and to the Kathmandu students for being such great tour guides. 

22 February 2019

We're back! Learn about our Saptari Women Entrepreneurs Art Project

After a few years of posting our updates on Facebook and other media, we are bringing our blog back to life as well to share some of the lessons we are learning through our work in Nepal. 

We'd like to introduce you to a project we have been working on for the last year in Saptari.

In a nutshell

To develop a sustainable business with 10 women from Saptari business using their Mithila art skills.

The need

Saptari is commonly referred to as one of the most underdeveloped districts of Nepal. It lies in the Terai area of Nepal on the border with India.
A few statistics from the 2011 Census set the scene for Saptari’s challenges:

·       59% of households rely on cow dung for cooking fuel
·       34% of households rely on wood for cooking fuel
·       94% of households rely on tube wells or handpumps for water
·       55% of households rely on kerosene for lighting (v 42% who have electricity)
·       80% of households do not have a toilet
·       42% of the population of Saptari cannot read or write (28% of women and 15% of men)
·       Of the literate population of Saptari, 40% just finished up to class 5. Only 21% have completed their SLC or higher education (only 16% for females)

Saptari was also the scene of many riots in relation to the 2015 constitutional debates and bore the brunt of many issues at the centre of the blockade at the end of that year.

The majority of the population is dependent on agriculture for income, including those who sell the products in the market and the itinerant seasonal labour force. Ever year, the region suffers from floods which combined with the infertile soil causes many challenges for the people to sustain their households.

There are many discrimination issues in Saptari amongst the lower caste people, particularly against women of these castes. Daughters cost their families a higher dowry (despite this being illegal) and so families do not invest in an education for their daughters and often arrange marriages for them early to dispel their responsibility to them. The risk of violence against women is significant with over 25 women reported killed as a result of gender-based violence last year. 

Madhesi communities use art as a form of worship and communication. They paint their houses in bright colours for weddings and other ceremonies. This art, known as Mithila art is becoming known around the world as creative and it is increasingly being commercialised in India amongst Madhesi communities there as well as in Janakpur in Nepal. As yet, little commercialisation has occurred in Saptari of Mithila art, providing a great opportunity for entrepreneurial, artistic women in Saptari.

The plan

A group of 10 low caste Madhesi women were selected who have a proven interest in art. Prior training in art is not a pre-requisite and there is no age preference.

How does it work?

The women have been having some art lessons, history lessons and Mithila art lessons as well as some classes to learn skills to help them commercialise their new art skills for the last 5 months. This training will finish in March.

The women will start a business, owned and run by the women with all profits going to the women who work in the business. The women will be asked to contribute 10% of the profits into a fund to support other women to receive literacy training in Saptari. This fund will be managed by the women with support from us as required.

What challenges have we faced?

It has been challenging with the local culture as women are not permitted to work and all household responsibilities fall on them. When this requires handwashing clothes, planting and harvesting crops, cooking all meals for extended families, all by hand, this is time consuming work and families often complain if the women are not available for this work whenever they demand it. We have been working with the local community to try to encourage them to allow women to work when they want to.

Learning to paint has also been a challenge as some of the women had never held a paintbrush before the project but were keen to learn. They have practised a lot to develop their skills. 

08 August 2015

Meet Tulasha - recipient of the first Roshani's Award

In March 2014, the children of Nepal got a new angel to watch over them. Roshani Balika died at Bal Mandir, Naxal, aged 4. Roshani was a gorgeous, energetic, inquisitive young lady who unfortunately had a minor mental disability which meant she was treated differently. We were not able to protect Roshani but we vowed to ensure that her spirit lived on and that her death was not meaningless.

Roshani's Award

In Roshani’s memory, Mitrataa created “Roshani’s Award”. This scholarship would be awarded to a very special young woman who had faced discrimination due to her disabilities. When we met Tulasha Poudel in her village in a remote part of Dolakha, we knew she was the perfect recipient for the first Roshani’s Award.

Meet Tulasha

Tulasha has Down’s Syndrome. She is approximately 20 years old. Her mother and sister were killed when she was about 6 years old when their house collapsed in a landslide. Her father is hearing impaired and cannot care for her. She lived with her neighbour and just sat idle at home with no support, interactions or care.

We spoke with Tulasha’s father and the community and discussed the possibility of bringing Tulasha to Kathmandu to teach her some life skills and independence so she can take care of herself in future. They agreed.
Tulasha visits Kathmandu
Initially, we brought Tulasha to Kathmandu in April 2014 for a health check-up and to see how she liked it. She came with her uncle and father. After a successful health check-up, we gave her a bath, bought her some new clothes and gave her some good meals. We sent them back to the village while we worked on a solution for accommodation and support in Kathmandu.
In May 2014, Pushpa and Asbini went back to Dolakha to check on Tulasha. The village’s attitude towards her had changed and they were now caring for her more actively although she still needed a lot more care and teaching to become independent.
Finding a solution for Tulasha in Kathmandu
Tulasha with Bec and Ranju
We needed to find a supportive, caring and creative environment for Tulasha in Kathmandu to achieve the aims of her scholarship – independence for her in future. We explored options in hostels in Special Needs Schools and in the Downs Syndrome Society of Nepal. Unfortunately, we were not confident in their ability to be able to deliver our stretching objectives.
This process took a long time but became particularly urgent after the earthquake in April 2015 when Tulasha’s house was destroyed and her family had nothing left. We finally found the perfect solution – one of our Mitrataa girl’s mother was looking for a job and she is a natural working with disabled students. Her house had collapsed in the earthquake and she had nowhere to stay with her 2 young children and no job. We organised a new room for her to live in and offered to pay her rent and a salary if she would take care of Tulasha and teach her the skills she needed to move towards independence. We are very grateful that Babita agreed and Ashwini went to Dolakha to bring Tulasha to Kathmandu. She will visit her family in Dolakha a few times a year to maintain contact with them and ensure she can return to her community in future.
Tulasha’s journey towards independence begins
Three months have passed and Tulasha has settled in incredibly well with Babita and her family. She has learned to bath herself, wash her dishes and her clothes, to say her name and where she is from as well as to greet people.
People with Down’s Syndrome are generally left in a corner of a home with no support or opportunities in Nepal. Disabilities here are not well understood or respected and Tulasha has been great at teaching people that she has wonderful passion for life, an ability to learn and a huge heart. Not only has she learned a lot, but she has taught all members of the Mitrataa family about tolerance and understanding and we have already seen this message being passed on to others in the extended Mitrataa family.
The road towards independence for Tulasha is long and full of twists and turns. But she has started her journey and embraced it completely. With Babita by her side, we are confident that in a few years, Tulasha will be able to live independently with a support network around her.
Huge thanks to Ashwini, Bandana, and of course Babita for their support and passion for Tulasha. We know that Roshani would be smiling knowing that her memory lives on and has given Tulasha the opportunity for a better future.

20 January 2015

Dream Catchers Scholarships Monthly Meeting - Bringing girls together

Introductions of new friends
I love our monthly Dream Catchers Meetings. The energy of having the girls together and sharing their stories, dramas, learnings, always inspires me. This month’s meeting was extra special for several reasons. 

Generally, we hold 2 separate meetings – one for our Kathmandu Dream Catchers (college scholarships) and one for our Bhaktapur, Panauti and Sanga group. Each month, we cover a different theme – leadership, cheer squads of support, cybercrime and online safely have been our recent topics. The girls prepare and lead the meetings. This month we decided to do something different. We combined both groups of girls for a total of around 50 and held our meeting at Riviera, our model school. It was great to see the 2 groups getting to know each other and expanding their support networks. 

Sorting values, projects and team details
The topic was Mitrataa. The girls decided that they needed to improve their knowledge of Mitrataa’s values, history and activities. We explored Mitrataa’s beginnings in 2000, our projects along the way which gave the girls an opportunity to share their experiences with Mitrataa since they have all come to this group through different projects and journeys – the Project Snow Leopard photography group, the Riviera group, the Passion for Life group, Rabindra’s group, the ex-Bal Mandir group. We then discussed Mitrataa’s Values and our Dream Recipe which underpins all of the work we do.
For me, it was the first monthly meeting I have attended since returning to Nepal so I loved catching up with all the girls, seeing how much they have grown over the last few months. Sharing more of Mitrataa’s history with the girls was also an opportunity to celebrate their progress over the last several years. We celebrated Sangita who was one of our first scholarship girls under our new programs in 2007. Back then, she was a shy class 6 student. Now she is a very confident class 12 Travel and Tourism student with big dreams. We celebrated the Passion for Life girls who were in our first batch of Dream Centre girls in Baneshwor and are now in class 11 at Texas College. We celebrated Ashmita’s progress from government school in Panauti to top of her class in class 9 at an English medium school. 

Sangita sharing her journey with Mitrataa
Each girl has an amazing story. Knowing that Mitrataa has played a small role in their stories and their confidence gave me a very warm fuzzy feeling. I am really proud of them and grateful for the opportunity to be a part of their lives. Every single one of them is amazing and I can’t wait to see where their dreams take them.

Ashmita - first in her class in class 9

08 September 2014

Have you ever travelled to a country where you don't speak the language? That uncertain feeling is what millions of illiterate people feel every day. At home.

The Mitrataa gang celebrates Literacy Day
Have you ever travelled to a foreign country where you don’t speak the language, can’t read the signs, can’t order food because you have no idea what menus say? For the millions of illiterate people around the world, that feeling of fear, being out of control, lack of trust and incompetence, accompanies them every day of their lives, in everything they do, like a shadow they cannot shake.  
For me, literacy is about freedom. That’s why Mitrataa focuses on it. One of our women described it best – literacy is like “suddenly having a cloud lifted and seeing the sunshine. Now I no longer have to have such a good memory and be so tricky to hide my illiteracy. Now I can hold my head high in the community and stand up for my rights because I can sign my name instead of with my thumb print. And now people can’t rip me off because I can count money and I can read signs.”
Sabitri pledges to read
To celebrate International Literacy Day, Mitrataa teamed up with one of our favourite partners, John Wiley & Sons, to challenge the Wiley staff to pledge to read for 890 hours and the Mitrataa girls to pledge to read for 89 minutes each to celebrate their literacy. The girls also explored the impact of illiteracy in their community in Nepal.
Thank you to Wiley for their wonderful support and to all of our generous supporters who allowed us to give the gift of literacy to the girls and women of Nepal.

To donate, please visit our website – www.mitrataa.org.

Junu's story of the impact of illiteracy - click to read

12 July 2014

Our personal Cheer Squads

With the World Cup final around the corner and Nepal transfixed, we decided it was a good opportunity to talk to the girls in our network about the huge power of our own personal Cheer Squads - those we can turn to when life throws us challenges.

During our monthly meeting with our girls from Bhaktapur, Panauti and Sanga, spent some time talking about the very high rate of suicides amongst young people, especially girls, in Nepal at the moment. This week alone we heard of a girl committing suicide over a fight with her boyfriend, another because she didn't get into the college she had been trying for (as her SLC result was 79.5% and not a distinction of 80%) and another because Brazil lost in the semi-finals of the World Cup.
There is a pervading feeling of hopelessness amongst many teenage girls here at the moment and we wanted to remind our girls that they have a HUGE network of people who believe in them. They each drew their own Cheer Squad Maps, to stick up at home and remind them that they have people they can talk to when life gets challenging, or simply when they have a bad day. We then role-played how to give advice to an upset friend.

We challenged each of them to ask 3 people tomorrow - Are you OK? Sometimes, that's all it takes to give someone hope or the courage to reach out.
Mitrataa is all about friendship and the power of networks. If all of the girls in our networks reach out to 3 people, we can try to turn the helplessness into a circle of support.
Thank you to the girls for their participation! Keep dreaming and don't forget to believe in yourselves!