Saturday, September 24, 2011

If we organize...they can't ignore us

Lumbini Gate marking the road to Buddha's Birthplace

I write this with arms and legs so tight I can barely move - a slight exageration but I spent most of my day hiking up the steep hills of Nepal meeting with women in farm cooperative groups. Nepal is a small country in South Asia bordered by China and Tibet to the North and India to the south, it is also the birthplace of Buddha. This cultural mashup of Indian and Chinese culture is evident in the food, religion, ethnic makeup, and unfortunately the preservation of the caste system.

Me in front of the entrance to the women farmers co-op
The majority of the women in the co-ops are members of the Dalit class, the lowest members of a system that places poor (and often times brown) people in a permanent state of disadvantage within society These women have come together to find better ways to feed their families, send their children to school, earn an income, and prevent their daughters from beign married away as children as young as 10 years old, which was the case with one member a few years back. The co-op gives them a voice, one woman put it bluntly "If we organize, they can't ignore us". [This hit home as we reflect on the recent execution of Troy Davis and the need to ban the dealth penalty in the US but I digress]

An hour away from Tibet

Dalit woman near her field in the hills

All was not doom and gloom, my visit was amazingly refreshing. One member of the group, a girl of 13 named Jashaipuri and I hit it off. After interviewing her she and I did a mini-photo shoot which quickly reminded me of my days as a 13 year old. Eventually she proposed that my colleague and I kiss for the camera while balancing yellow flowers on our heads, I opted out of that shot but obliged her request for me to shoot up the peace sign in consequent photos.

Hospitality in Nepal takes priority and it was truly an amazing experience. I took special note of the fact that the young girls and women, especially took to me making sure to layer extra flowers on me during the welcoming ceremony. I was even gifted an authentic scarf! My colleague later explained that it isn't often that they see a woman so young (and brown) being addressed in such a manner. This made me especially proud, this life is not our own and you never know just who is looking to you for an example.

Right after an official Nepali welcome ceremony!

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