Talking to Narmaya over the delicious lunches and dinners she cooked for us when she was our host Aama and interviewing her for the previous blogs made us want to find out more. Narmaya has worked and campaigned hard to obtain improvements, not only for her village, Adhikari Gaun, but the surrounding area too. She is involved in numerous committees and charitable organisations further afield.
The respect Narmaya receives form everyone here has clearly derived from her natural urge to help. For 26 years, she has focused on the health and wellbeing of pre- and post-natal mothers and their babies, after observing high infant/mother mortality rates. This has ranged from from ensuring they have access to medicines and suitable nutrition, to protection from domestic violence (a common problem in remote areas of Nepal).
Linked to this, she has also proposed measures to ensure people do not marry too early: “Physically, girls’ bodies are not ready for childbirth and they to not have the knowledge and experience to raise a family,” she explained.
As a result of Narmaya’s tenacity, marriage under the age of 20 has become less common in the area. She has achieved this independently, by visiting surrounding homes and villages to impart her knowledge and expertise, but also latterly through her involvement with the Village Development Committee (VDC) which covers 11 villages.
Her work with the VDC extends to supporting children who have lost parents or whose family’s lack sufficient funds to get them into school. As she talked about this, Narmaya pointed out some children playing happily nearby who had been helped by this scheme.
However, Narmaya’s influence is not only felt by women and children, but impacts the community as a whole in other areas: she is a member of the forestry and road construction committees and is governor to both the local primary and secondary school here.
Raleigh volunteers have also experienced her kindness and hospitality during our stay in Adhikari Gaun; from celebrating Holi together, to being invited to her house for pooja, a religious ritual.
We have always felt welcome and a part of the community – indeed our shelter was built on Narmaya’s land.
Narmaya – in her own words: “I am uneducated, but I can write my name” – is an example of someone who has been able to make her presence felt even though she is an uneducated woman from a lower caste. We think this shows she has started a shift in gender equality in this area from previous restrictive cultural attitudes to amore inclusive community, where both males and females contribute equally. We have learnt that, although education is important, Narmaya is proof that it is your experiences, what you learn from them and how you proactively resolve issues that can be key to sustainable change.
At the end of our community phase as a team in Adhikari Gain we bade Narmaya and her family a fond farewell as she performed the traditional tika blessing on us. Soon afterwards, she was due to embark on a four-day tour of the Terrai region after winning an award in recognition of her work. We feel privileged to have had the opportunity to spend time getting to know with this inspirational woman.
Words: Daisy and Holly
Photos: Daisy and Min
16 April – end of Phase 3; return to training centre
18 April – ‘endex’ (end of Expedition); Venturers depart
22 April – Volunteer Managers depart