Krishna Pokhrel, British Red Cross/DFID DRR Programme Community Trainer
Shova Dhakal, a young Nepalese woman, fought poverty, abuse and humiliation to redefine her entire being with a helping hand from the Nepal Red Cross Society. Married at the tender age of thirteen years without any exposure to education whatsoever, Shova represented the fate to which poverty-stricken young girls of her village often succumb.
Her first marriage was not very successful and she was subjected to frequent abuse by an overage alcoholic husband. Eventually, Shova was compelled to leave her house and move in with her parents. She labored fiercely to care for herself and her children, engaging herself in digging others’ fields, carrying cow dung, ploughing hard soil for farming, and collecting fire woods for others.
Her parents provided her a roof until she decided to re-marry, this time with a person of her own choice. Soon after this, she was not only forced to leave her parental home, but also became an outcast in her own community, where she was born and brought up. Her new husband though poor and uneducated, lovingly took care of her and her children.
Then, one day, Shova chanced upon meeting one of her cousins, Narmada Neupane who is a Red Cross Community Worker.
Narmada explained to her about the Red Cross Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) training programme and urged her to attend on of their courses. Having listened to Narmada, Shova asked, “Will I get money for attending the Red Cross training?” To which Narmada responded, “You will not get money, but, if you contribute fifty rupees towards the community Emergency Fund and become a member of the community committee, you will be able to receive a thousand rupees as a loan under the DRR Income Generation Programme to start a livelihood activity to earn money.”
The idea appealed to Shova and she immediately became a member of the community committee. With the nominal amount that she received, she and her husband bought some rice grains, which they laboriously carried on their back to a mill up a hill, to get it processed. They then sold the rice in Phidim bazaar, the local market, which is a 45 minutes steep walk from their home in Sejepa village, a small hamlet which lies near the Pheme Khola river, in the Panchthar district in the eastern part of Nepal.
This business involved a lot of hard work, but they no longer had to work for others. They were doing this business on their own with much pride and satisfaction and could finally make some savings. Both their economic and social status improved quickly as they started reinvesting their funds by buying and selling buffaloes which paid them more money. Meanwhile they could also afford to marry their elder daughter, Ismita, 18 yrs old, in a decent home in a nearby village; a wedding which had seemed impossible, even a year back.
Their son, Bikram who is 15 years old also goes to a village school now while their 8 year old daughter Kavita and the youngest son Prakash, who is 4 years old, live happily with their mother. With the savings, Shova was able to secure a passport for her husband and contribute towards his visa, airfare and other travel costs, to send him to Saudi Arabia as a migrant worker.
With a big smile, resting on the sack full of grain, Shova thanks the Red Cross for bringing the DRR programme to her village saying that it “changed my destiny and fate.” She added that she could now help other women in need, “I feel much more confident and empowered. Due to my volunteer service my whole family enjoys much respect and dignity in the community.”
The success story of Shova Dhakal has become a living inspiration to several people associated with the DRR programme in Nepal today. One of the programme trainers in the Panchthar District Chapter says: “Though we work in a tough region, each time I pass this Sejepa village and talk to Shova, I feel motivated to continue this DRR programme in other villages where there is a need. As part of the Red Cross, we have the ability to make a difference in the communities.”
In a similar note, Krishna Prasad Neupane, President, Panchthar District Chapter’s says: “This Income generation activity under this ongoing British Red Cross/DFID Phase II DRR programme has not only empowered community women for equal participation in decision making, it, has also enabled them to earn respect, dignity and pride within their own family and also in the community.”
Shova’s story is just one instance from a multitude of such similar cases where women and the community at large have been benefited from the DRR programme.