On a cold November day, seven girls stand on a stage in front of their community singing and dancing to a song they wrote about sanitation. Here in the remote village of Laprak, the fog hangs so thick the girls seem to almost disappear into it, but their voices carry way out into the crowd:
“Pay attention to hygiene, you could save your life by being clean!”
Small children imitate the girls’ dance steps as their teachers clap along and beam with pride. A young boy accompanies them with loud thwacks on a traditional Nepali drum.
It has been a tough two years in Laprak with few occasions to celebrate. Most of the families have only lived at this displacement site since the earthquake and its subsequent landslides ripped through their villages two years ago, taking everything in their path.
“That was the day of sadness,” says one of the young performers, Srijana Gurung. “People were running and shouting with fear. It was hard to find a safe place. I felt like we would die soon.”
Srijana’s family decided to stay in their original village, despite losing their house and the risk of more landslides. Her friends, who had moved to the camp, told her about how they had to deal with violence and the consequences of alcohol abuse in the close quarters of their temporary shelters. The girls said they were also sexually harassed by boys.
These are common occurrences after disasters when lack of safe shelter and disruptions to normal social networks put women and girls at greater risk of exploitation. To address the situation, the EU Humanitarian Aid has funded “Her Turn” workshops for adolescent girls, which help empower them to recognise and avoid such risks. Implemented by People in Need (PIN)’s local partner, Hamro Palo, the workshops also teach female adolescents about health issues such as menstrual hygiene management, and safety concerns such as trafficking and child marriage.
Raising awareness among girls
“Some families think it’s safer for their adolescent daughters to be married”, says PIN Programme Manager Ola Perczynska. “But in reality child brides are at a higher risk of domestic violence, sexual abuse, health complications from early childbirth, and they are very likely to drop out of school.”
“I knew about human trafficking, but I didn’t know how to avoid it. I learned that if a stranger comes to the village offering us something good we should be sceptical,” says 14-year-old Srijana Gurung who also learnt not to be afraid of reporting suspicions to the police. “I used to think that we shouldn’t report cases to the police because I would get in trouble from them.”
Aasmani Gurung, another one of the young singers, is bringing what she learnt back home – she has convinced her family members to brush their teeth twice a day, and even tackled domestic violence. “I used to think that when parents fight, I should cry,” the 15-year-old confides. After learning the meaning of “domestic violence”, she realised it had been happening at home, and now she knows there are ways to address it. “We can go to a trusted person for help,” she adds.
For adolescent girls like Aasmani and Srijana, teaching their parents, let alone standing in front of whole communities, is a big deal. It is not something Aasmani would have done before the workshops. “I’m much more confident now than I was before.”