Visiting Josephina

Yesterday, a ChoraChori field team visited Josephina, one of the girls who completed her basic tailoring training course with us earlier this year.

These pictures were taken yesterday of the head of our vocational training, Lily (centre), and staff lawyer, Sunita (right), visiting Josephina in Jhapa. This is the District in Nepal with the highest incidence of sexual assault and girl suicide. School drop-out Josephina was one of the first group of students who attended our six-month residential basic tailoring course at the end of last year. On completing it in January, she returned home with her sewing machine as a gift from ChoraChori to help her set up in the village. This sewing machine cost us 22,500 rupees (£160). Josephina is now earning 2,000 to 3,000 rupees (approximately £20) per month through tailoring that helps support herself and her family. So you could say that after one year this investment (including training costs) has largely paid for itself and a girl like Josephina has a skill and income for life.

Lily and Sunita are continuing their visit this week, accepting applications from other girls who wish to follow in Josephina’s footsteps. We are proud to be able to support this wonderful work, including through our three-year SIGBI collaboration “Empowering Girls in Nepal” that launched at the end of last month.

 

Back home to Jhapa

Last weekend ChoraChori returned a group of girls from Jhapa to their homes after completing their six month tailoring training course at our Kathmandu centre. ChoraChori supporter Caroline Milne joined them for the trip and shares what she saw along the way.

After spending six months at the ChoraChori refuge in Godawari, Kathmandu it was time for eight girls to return home to Jhapa. Six months may not seem like a long time, but it’s long enough to make new friends and feel sad when you have to say goodbye. There were hugs and tears as the girls packed up last Sunday afternoon and got ready for the long journey ahead.

As well as all their personal belongings, the girls each had a sewing machine to take home with them so that they can put their new tailoring skills to good use at home and hopefully provide a source of income. By the time everything was loaded onto the minibus, it was packed both inside and outside. There was a big send off from the children and staff left at the refuge and the journey began (cover picture).

The main town in Jhapa, Birtamode, is only around 440km away, but due to the mountainous roads and difficult driving conditions it can take over twelve hours to get there. Driving through the night with passengers, thankfully not the driver, sleeping on the way and a stop for food around 10:30 pm, we made it to the first drop-off at 2:30 am. The necessary hand-over paperwork was done we were on our way again. After a deliberately slow remaining journey and a few hours sleeping in the bus by the side of the road, we finally arrived in Birtamode around 6:30 am.

No rest for the wicked. Bags were left in the hotel, a quick attempt at freshening up and we were on our way again to drop the other girls at various locations. Fortunately, there was time for some tea and a taste of a local roadside delicacy, bhakka. The girls gradually left us to complete their journeys via auto-rickshaw and we reached our final destination in the tea plantations at 9 am.

The final stop was at the Jesuit School and this provided an opportunity to meet Father Norbert who has helped ChoraChori find the girls who will benefit most from the vocational training in Kathmandu. One of the girls was really excited to finally be almost home and very quickly disappeared on a bicycle, complete with a rather heavy sewing machine. We found her later at home, happily reunited with family.

We should not underestimate the challenges these girls face on returning home. Their lives have been very different for the last six months in Kathmandu; living with friends and having a good support network. This is not always the case back in the tea plantation. Living conditions are basic and, in some cases, key family members are working overseas leaving the girls potentially feeling isolated and alone. It is important that as an organisation we continue to monitor the situation and provide further support to allow the girls to successfully use their new skills if it is needed.

This is not the end; it is just the beginning.

The tea plantations of Jhapa District, southeast Nepal

In August 2018 a ChoraChori research team visited a tea plantation in Jhapa District, southeast Nepal, to see living and working conditions for themselves.

Just over two years ago Jesuit priest Fr Norbert (pictured left), requested us to help a group of girls in Tipling, Dhading District. The girls’ school had been destroyed in the 2015 earthquakes and we agreed to bring them to Kathmandu to complete their grades 11 and 12 while learning some income generation skills. That was the start of a programme that is ongoing. Since then Fr Norbert has been transferred from Tipling to Jhapa District in the southeast where he is teaching at the Moran Memorial School. It was set up by the Jesuits in 1999 to support the children of impoverished tea plantation workers. Last month Fr Norbert asked if we could admit a group of Jhapa girls – school drop-outs – to our income generation programme and seven of them start tailoring training this month following a short course in candle-making.

When he isn’t teaching “moral science” Fr Norbert is touring the tea estate, meeting with workers and their children, hearing their problems and helping them where he can. Yesterday we were privileged to join him as he did his rounds. He showed us the mud huts that provide only the most rudimentary of shelter in an area where there is no sanitation and open defecation remains common practice. The school is doing its best to educate the children but obviously the home environment is dreadful rendering home study almost impossible. Exam results are therefore only average and drop out rates are high.

We saw men and women (no children) plucking tea for which they receive $2 per day for an eight hour shift that yields 26kg of tea per person. The tea is weighed on a basic set of scales and from there taken to the nearby factory (which we also visited) where it is processed on the spot. Plucking tea is laborious but the workers are threatened by the impact of mechanisation. For we also saw a machine being operated that skims the tops of the tea bushes, albeit without the delicacy of the hand. Since their jobs are potentially on the line, the workers are in no position to complain about the pittance that they are paid.

Fr Norbert does the best that he can to jolly the workers along but the over-riding sentiment within the estates is one of hopelessness. The poverty is obvious but the misery is compounded by alcohol abuse and depression is widespread. Jhapa has the highest girl suicide rate of any District in Nepal.

ChoraChori is pleased to support Fr Norbert and the community by teaching skills for life to Jhapa girls at our training centre in Kathmandu. This will give them and their future families a chance to escape the cycle of poverty and de facto slavery.

A “creche” at the tea plantation in Jhapa

 

Supporting the girls from Jhapa

ChoraChori is providing skills training to a group of highly vulnerable girls from Jhapa District in southeast Nepal.

A Nepali Times article of July 2016 described how Nepal at that time had the seventh highest suicide rate in the world and the third highest rate of girl suicide. And the District with the highest suicide rate was Jhapa in the southeast, with an annual rate of 31 per 100,000 compared to the national average of 24.9 per 100,000.

A number of factors contribute to these dreadful figures including inward migration, natural disasters (floods), gender discrimination, grinding poverty and lack of employment prospects. One of Jhapa District’s major sources of employment is the tea plantations and these pay the women workers an absolute pittance for back-breaking labour. Another key factor is alcohol and drug abuse that, according to another Nepali Times article from June this year, makes Jhapa also a hotspot for sexual abuse and child rape. Alongside assisting child rape victims and supporting prosecution of offenders, ChoraChori will also be extending assistance to vulnerable girls in Jhapa and other Districts.

This week we admitted seven Jhapa girls (school drop-outs) to our refuge/training centre in Kathmandu. British (volunteer) consultant David Mintz is training them in candle-making skills appropriate to the Western market. The girls will also receive six months’ worth of tailoring training, life and language skills before they return to Jhapa each with their own sewing machine. It’s a small initial step but a significant one.

On Monday the girls were very excited to meet their first-ever foreigners, Beverley and Philip Holmes, the Founders of ChoraChori. And then, like London buses, David arrived on the scene two days later….

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