DAWN of June 5, 2017, our team of ten women and our translator or interpreter Lazarus took a van from Kathmandu to Damak, Jhapa. It was a 475 kms (kilometers) ride traveling ten hours down winding roads to flat lands of the Terai region situated in Mechi zone in the eastern development region of Nepal.
Jhapa is bounded by Ilam district in the north, Morang district in the west, the Indian state of Bihar in the south and east, and the Indian state of West Bengal in the east. It is one of the trafficking prone areas as women and children are exited through Kakarvitta into India. Two months preparation with coordinators resulted to “empowering women seminar.”
Originally, they thought of conducting the conference in an air conditioned facility in consideration of the Filipino visitors, but later on we agreed to have it in Jyoti Church where the Nepali women are more comfortable. There were 148 registered women with at least 25 unregistered men, women and children. Women participants’ ages range from 23 to 83 years old. Of the registered 148 women they have an aggregate total of 296 children, of which 126 are girls.
Only 30 percent of the participants cannot read and write. At least there are 45 or 25 percent who have or are in business, at least 45 percent are involved in church and 10 percent are employed. Most of them are house makers for their families. Watery eyes I met them again, saw the kids grown and the women are now grandmothers. They would bow and fold their hands to greet me “Jaimashi” Namaste!
The first session was in the afternoon and I did “empowered women” after worship and the swagat (welcome ceremonies) and lei of thin cloth material was given to the guest.
The second session we had Filipino team sharing about the different roles that a woman can be, Rufina Balanon a retired government employee, Julia Pucay a retired nurse, Nellie Diego a retired teacher, Dr. Rhoda Maguinsay a dentist, Llamana Pio and overseas worker, Dorothy Pucay a teacher, Feliza Ronquillo and Rose Mary Dulnuan as business persons and Sister Satty as a member of the religious. These sharing opened a new understanding that women are not only bounded to the land and the home. They aired their regrets for not supporting girls to go to school to better themselves. They think the girls and women should also take skills training for business or employment. The older generation now realizes that they have bounded their children so adults of today have limited opportunities. It was a wonderful exchange that at the end of the session Julia Pucay everyone to dance that necessitated the worship team to return on stage and play a number.
Everyone was encouraged especially when Reverend Thulung, the head pastor ended the sessions with a powerful Evangelistic message. Dinner was Nepali Khana, hal, bhat, curry. Subji (vegetables) papar and pickles.
The second day, June 7, Rose Marie Dulnuan shared principles and experiences on “women in business” and it was interesting to note that many want to be in business, but also realized that they need to train and change mindsets. After that Lazarus and I spoke on the “introduction to human trafficking.” This drew a request for more training in the area of empowering women and should include more topics on women issues, rights and opportunities.
The team decided to go to Ilam during the afternoon while the women were doing “the role of women in the church” topic. It was a long ride covering 120 kms to Ilam with a stop at the Kanyam tea farm where we had photos taken, buy tea and pee break. Reaching the Ilam Bazaar was another shopping spree, photo taking, tea/coffee and pee break. We returned to Kamashya hotel in time for dinner as the kitchen closes at 9 p.m.
We got to meet the rickshaw drivers, the hotel staff, the shop owners and most especially the women and church leaders.
The morning before we travelled back to Katmandu, Llamana, Rose and I took a rickshaw and went to the Thullung Nursery. It was a memory trip for me and glad that Mukti and family retained the old house. The old two story building that used to be a church was gone, where I stayed during my first encounter of Damak in 1994. That time I flew in from Singapore to Bombay to Baldogra airport, alone and looking lost as my pick up from the refugee camp left before I arrived due to delay in my flights. I took an Indian taxi from the Baldogra airport and asked him to bring me to the church as that was the most sensible thing to do. The taxi stopped in front of the Thullung cottage and all their neighbors came to stare at me. They did not know me, I did not know the Thullungs, but they took me in and fed me and gave a bed for me to rest the night. The next day Mukti brought me to the refugee camp. That visit in 1994 started a commitment to work among the Bhutanese and the Nepalese. According to Mulkti it’s been 22 years ago.