Nepal Teacher Training Innovation’s (NTTI) main mission is to improve the quality of teaching in Nepal by encouraging creativity and critical thinking in Nepali classrooms. Dining for Women is supporting an NTTI project called “Her Turn – Girls Education and Empowerment Project”. The project mission is to help Nepali girls from Sindhupalchok District become educated, empowered, and equal through a process that emphasizes team building, sisterhood, inclusion, and consensus.
Life Challenges of the Women Served
Women and girls in Nepal face many challenges: limited access to education, health care services, and other resources; child marriage; violence; sexual abuse. Nepali society is incredibly diverse culturally, socially, religiously, and linguistically. How women and girls are viewed varies across ethnic groups. Different ethnic groups and castes have cultural practices and traditions concerning issues that directly affect girls and women, like marriage, childbirth, and menstruation. For example: Hindu communities often practice chhaupadi – where a menstruating girl or woman is isolated in a separate room or out-hut for a period of 4-7 days. For girls, this may constitute a health risk if hygiene and sanitation cannot be maintained. It may also mean missing school every month, affecting their attendance and performance.
Women and girls in Nepal face many forms of inequality, but among the most significant challenges are child marriage and human trafficking.
Child marriage drastically limits girls’ access to education and is a major physical and emotional health issue. Child marriage has serious social and health consequences, and on a national level contributes to limited access to resources and power, which is confirmed by low number of female politicians and leaders. Nepal is 8th on the list of countries in which child marriage is most prevalent.
- 51% of girls marry before they turn 18 – the legal age for girls to marry in Nepal is 20
- More than 10% of girls are married off before they turn 15 – child brides are twice as likely to become victims of domestic and sexual violence
- 11% per cent of girls give birth before they turn 19 – early pregnancy and childbirth increases the risk of obstetric fistula, uterine prolapse, and maternal/infant mortality
- Almost 100% of girls who are married off stop attending school – traditionally they move to their husbands’ households, where they are burdened with many chores
Sindhupalchok District is a well-known hub for women and girl trafficking. The victims end up as bonded domestic workers or sex workers in Nepal and India. The traffickers, who are often known to the girls and their families, promise them good jobs in the city, or marriage opportunity.
- An estimated 10,000 to 12,000 girls and women are trafficked from Nepal every year.
- A stigma around women who pass “marriageable age” makes many girls vulnerable to traffickers.
- Some of the trafficked girls become domestic servants in Nepal or India, often unpaid – domestic work also means higher vulnerability to violence and sexual abuse.
- More of the girls end up in sexual slavery in Mumbai’s notorious red light district – there they face high rates of sexual violence, HIV/AIDS, and drug addiction.
Girls have the lowest social status. Not only are they female, but they are also children – both factors placing them low on a social ladder. Traditionally, they are not encouraged to speak up, to work in teams to address their issues, or to participate in decisions. Their opinions are not valued. They are usually seen as shy and don’t realize their potential as community members. There are not many female leaders who could serve as role models for Nepali girls and illustrate to them who they can be when they grow up.
Dining for Women will fund twenty groups of twenty girls to complete the four-week workshops of the Girls Education and Empowerment Project. The project
- facilitates and promotes dialogue between girls from different ethnic and caste backgrounds by creating a safe space to share problems,
- addresses the underlying causes behind girls’ early drop-out and low performance by providing the girls with the resources, practical information, and support they need to excel in and continue their education,
- emphasizes the importance of education, and
- provides girls with information about scholarships available to them
Week One: Health – Topics include hygiene, safe water management, adolescence, nutrition, disease prevention, child marriage, girl trafficking, and menstruation management techniques with resources available in a rural setting.
Week Two: Safety – Girls learn how to deal with bullying, domestic violence, sexual abuse, early marriage, and human trafficking.
Week Three: Leadership – The girls talk about empowerment and their strengths, plan their futures, and participate in a series of confidence building and team building activities. They also meet a female leader from their village or from Kathmandu and have a chance to discuss with her the advantages and challenges of leadership.
Week Four: Community Project – Through consensus the girls decide upon and implement a community project that demonstrates their leadership and ability to transform their communities and schools.
One of Her Turn’s aims is to place girls at the center of the decision making process and demonstrate to them different models for cooperating and leading. Whether decisions are taken individually, by small working groups or by the class as a whole, the emphasis is on the girls voicing their opinions and deciding what should be done. When working as a group, participants have to agree on certain decisions while trainers help facilitate group discussions and make sure everyone is heard. The focus on group processes is intended to foster the spirit of collaboration, communication, inclusion and respect for others’ opinions in order to give girls a chance to practice voicing their thoughts publicly in a safe and supportive space.
The program is designed to be comprehensive, locally sensitive and culturally appropriate for girls. The curriculum, however, is not fixed. During every workshop session, there is a “secret box” placed in a visible place. The participants are encouraged to write questions they don’t want to share publicly and place them in the box. The trainer answers the anonymous questions during following session. The questions are later reviewed and the girls’ interests and concerns are included in future workshops. Consequently, the participating girls have direct influence on the curriculum.
Formation of Girl Support Committee – During the workshops, a Girl Support Committee is established. The member girls and a female teacher are elected by the rest of the group. The Committee’s role is to identify and address girls’ issues and act as a resource for girls at risk. The Committee is provided with a resource sheet where contact information to various local organizations is listed. The creation of the Girl Support Committee is an exercise in democracy. All the details, such as the name of the Committee, the members, and their positions are decided by voting and the process is facilitated by one of the trainers. Thanks to the voting process, the elected Committee members reflect the trust and sympathies of the whole group.
Community Engagement – Over the course of four weeks, girls host community ceremonies where they invite school staff, their families, and local leaders. During these events, girls’ concerns are discussed and they perform a stage play which addresses their issues and raises awareness about child marriage and other risks. Female teachers are selected by students to observe the workshops and promote institutional sensitivity and support for girl-specific issues in the school. Finally, Her Turn raises awareness of the school staff and girls’ communities and provides space for them to start a discussion about the issues that the girls themselves find relevant. During the workshops, various cultural beliefs and practices and how they change over time is discussed. The participants are asked to talk to their mothers and grandmothers about their youth and analyze how women’s situation is changing in their communities.
Questions for Discussion
- Popular culture in the US and Europe promotes certain body image, and reinforces certain social norms, values and relations in reference to girls. What are they? How does popular culture influence girls’ position in American society and their self-perceptions?
- Did you have a role model when you were growing up? What was their influence on you?
- What are the most serious challenges that girls face in your community? How do they differ from community to community? What are the prevention and response mechanisms?
The Project Budget and How DFW's Donations will be used
Her Turn will receive $48,369 over the course of two years. Each year, workshops for 200 girls will be conducted by five local female trainers (each conducting 4 workshops) over the course of four months. Over two years, 400 girls and 25 teachers will participate in Her Turn workshops. The grant will cover the cost of trainers, supplies, meals, training the trainers, and organizing community ceremonies. Out of total program cost, 6.37% is dedicated to administrative expenses such as office rental and office consumables. The remaining 93.63% is spent directly on the program activities. NTTI estimates that 1,400 individuals will be indirectly affected – assuming at least 3 people from each participant’s household (1,200) and at least 10 additional unrelated community members (200) attending ceremonies.
One of the highest budget lines is for the meals for participants. Every day of the 4-week-long workshops, the girls, their trainers and observer female teachers will receive a full meal. This adds up to 5,280 meals each year. While this is such a significant part of the budget, Her Turn provides participants with a full meal every day of the workshops for three reasons:
- Since the girls often come from poor households, feeding them takes the burden off their families and encourages families to send the girls to workshops.
- Meals provide an opportunity to use the experiential education model: washing their hands before meals is practicing the hygiene information they receive, and the meals illustrate the nutrition information.
- Cultural practices in these communities often prevent girls from low caste from sharing meals with others. Dining together combats these caste divisions (which often prevent girls from mobilizing and addressing their issues as a team) in a culturally appropriate manner.
The Program Budget
|Her Turn – DFW Budget|
|Program Coordinator salary ($900/mo for 8 months)||$ 7,200|
|Trainers’ salaries||$ 3,900|
|Field Coordinator’s salary & per diem ($195/mo for 8 months)||$ 2,280|
|Teachers’ remuneration||$ 800|
|Instructor training orientation & travel expense||$ 760|
|Office expense (supplies, communications, rent)||$ 3,080|
|Equipment & Supplies (white board, camera, projector, community project supplies)||$ 6,654|
|Meals (participants, instructors, community events)||$23,695|
|Total DFW Support||$48,369|
Please note: Net donations over the grant amount will be reserved to ensure we fund in full all future selected program grant requests, provide Sustained Program Funding to former DFW featured programs, and to offer up to $30,000 to an organization selected by member voting through the new Member Choice Program.
Why We Love This Project
We love the fact that this program works with many different ethnic groups (including the "untouchables") to build bridges and understanding between the groups by focusing on inter-group relationships, consensus, leadership, and the sense of sisterhood that results.
Evidence of Success
The pilot project of Her Turn workshops was implemented in January-February 2012 in a government school in Sindhupalchok district. Forty girls participated, divided into two groups led by two local trainers. One of the most important findings was the attendance rate – 94% of participants completed the project and received a certificate. Surprisingly and despite the holiday season, 25 girls (62.5%) did not miss a single day of the workshops. Furthermore, only 12 girls (30%) missed between one and three days. This rate is quite remarkable considering that the girls’ school was closed for 9 days when the sessions were held. High absence rates are common in rural Nepal amongst girls and their usual reported absence rate is much higher than it was during the program.
Following the project’s completion:
- 97% of the girls were able to list the main steps in proper hand-washing.
- 79% understood hygienic and healthy menstruation management techniques. (A potential reason why some of the girls still did not know menstruation management techniques at the end of the program could be that some of them still had yet to menstruate.)
- 91% per cent of the girls disagreed with a statement that there is nothing a girl can do when she gets hit.
- 100% agreed that if a girl is harassed, she should tell someone.
- All the participants agreed with the following statements:
- I feel I am as important as my brothers.
- I feel I have a number of good qualities.
- I am proud of things I can do.
- 94% of girls stated that they feel as capable of doing things as boys.
- 97% agreed or strongly agreed that they were as intelligent as boys their age.
- The average reported best age for marriage was over 23 (41% said over 25).
- The average reported best age for child birth was almost 27 (26% said the best age for child birth was 30).
- 68% reported they had made new friends during the workshops (important considering the inter-caste dynamics which are especially present in the rural communities).
During the pilot project of Her Turn, an important process of knowledge transfer between girls and their families was observed. Other girls and women who did not participate in the workshops benefited from them as the participants eagerly shared what they learned. The knowledge of health and safety increases self-sufficiency of not only direct beneficiaries, but also their sisters, mothers and friends. During a follow-up visit by the Field Coordinator, she was approached by older girls from the school aged 15-17. They asked when, and if there would be a similar workshop for them. They also said that they learned a lot from their younger friends who attended Her Turn workshops. It illustrated child-to-child knowledge transfer without the need for formal programming or support. This transference also suggests that the program was relevant and provided girls with good and needed information. The older girls particularly listed the health and safety issues that they learned about from their peers as useful, important, and relevant.
“After the workshops, I understand why we girls need to work together as a team. I now know what are the advantages of teamwork and how to solve problems together.” – Participant, age 14
“Women have to be strong. One of the qualities of a strong woman is to be able to speak publicly and share her thoughts and ideas with others. A strong woman should be confident and not afraid of men.” – Participant, age 10
“After the workshops I became more confident. I am not afraid to talk to people, even the older people in my community.” – Participant, age 12
“When I grow up, I want to be a nurse. I’m studying hard to achieve this goal. Even if it will be difficult to become a nurse, I won’t give up. I will invest in my education and work hard to become a nurse.” – Participant, age 13
From a letter to her future daughter: “Dear daughter, I hope your study will be as high as Mount Everest and that you will be successful and achieve great things in life.” – Participant, age 10
An unexpected decision made by the group during the Her Turn pilot workshop was to present a play the girls had worked on. The play was about bullying at school, and the girls decided to present it at a school ceremony in front of all staff and students instead of just within their own group. It was a way to show the school how they would deal with bullying in the future and educate other victims of bullying. This was surprising for the staff, as they were not used to the girls taking initiative. However, the girls felt it was important to talk about the issue on the wider forum and the play, written and directed by them, was a great way to raise awareness and educate others on how to deal with the problem.
About the Organization
NTTI was founded in 2010 by Ashley Hager, a veteran teacher from the United States who initially came to Nepal as a volunteer. NTTI was founded to encourage critical and creative thinking in schools – as opposed to the prevailing emphasis on rote learning and memorization. Initially training private school teachers, NTTI switched its focus to government school teachers in January 2012, training 319 government school teachers from Sindhupalchok District.
The teacher trainings include a gender sensitivity component to raise teachers’ awareness of the unique needs of female students. The Her Turn Program was developed following a needs assessment that included focus group discussions and meetings with women’s groups and girls from the district. Girls were involved in the design of Her Turn workshops and decided upon its content, focusing on the particular challenges that girls and women from the region identified as the most important.
Where They Work
Nepal is an incredibly diverse country: there are over 100 ethnic groups and languages in an area slightly larger than Arkansas, with a population of about 30 million people. All these groups differ in cultures, customs, attire, ways of living, and social norms. Additionally, many of them practice caste divisions, which make the social system still more complicated. The official language is Nepali, but less than 50% of the population speaks it – most people, especially in rural and remote areas, speak their indigenous languages. About 80% of people are Hindu, about 10% Buddhist, and there are smaller fractions of Muslim, Christian, and indigenous religions.
Landlocked between India and China, Nepal is located in a rapidly changing part of the world. The country’s mountainous Himalayan terrain presents unique development challenges as well as opportunities. Nepal has achieved significant development gains in recent decades, particularly in the fields of health and education. School enrollment has increased significantly, and the maternal mortality rate has declined drastically, earning Nepal the Millennium Development Goals’ “Millennium Award” in 2010. Nevertheless, an estimated 25% of Nepalis live below the poverty line, and the unemployment rate exceeds 40%. Nepal’s total population literacy rate is at 56.6%. Gender disparities are high, with men’s literacy rates at 71.6% and women’s at 44.5%. These rates are especially low for members of the most marginalized groups: girls, ethnic minorities, and rural children.
NTTI works in the rural schools of Sindhupalchok District, located in the north of the country. Although the district is close (85km) to Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, it is among the least developed districts in the country. People there depend entirely on agriculture for their survival, but since the district is hilly, the land is not very fertile.
Key challenges in Nepal include stagnant economic growth, poor road connectivity, high malnutrition among children, acute food shortages, low net enrollment rate at secondary education level, and climate change risks related to glacial melt in the Himalayas, which can lead to dwindling water sources in some areas and increased flooding in others. Nepal continues to struggle with the effects of a decade-long insurgency that ended in 2006 but has resulted in frequent changes in government leadership, interest groups jostling for power, and political and social divisions. In 2012, there was deepening political deadlock when their Constituent Assembly failed to meet the May deadline for finalizing the country’s constitution. Just this month the four major political parties have agreed to form an 11-member elected government, and hold fresh elections in June to form a 490-member Constituent Assembly to write a new constitution.
- Nepal Teacher Training Innovations and Her Turn websites – http://www.nepaltti.org and http://www.her-turn.org/
- NTTI on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/nepaltti
- Documentation and images provided by NTTI to Dining for Women
- Politics / Economy / History / Geography –