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Women's Day: Helping Nepali Women and Orphans

Kathmandu, Nepal – In support of the United Nations' International Women‘s Day 2011 members of the Women‘s Federation for World Peace-Nepal visited a home for elderly women and orphans in Kathmandu on March 8. The program at the homeless women‘s home fit the UN theme "Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women" in a very novel way.

Fourteen years ago Mrs. Dil Shova Shrestha (57) opened the doors of her home to those less fortunate. She had been married for 28 years, a rare love marriage in Nepal at that time, when her husband suddenly left her and their 16-year-old daughter. From this shocking experience, she realized that most of the unfortunate elderly women in Nepal are discarded from their family, according to Mrs. Shrestha‘s sister, Rajya Gopali (42), who helps run the home. They draw inspiration from Mother Teresa.



Ten years ago the needed paper work was completed, and the Old Age Management and Social Welfare Trust was officially registered. It continues running as a home for homeless elderly women with financial support from many quarters, including the Rotary Club, ARTUS (an association of the wives of pilots), the UN, the NIC Foundation (a Nepalese bank), the Women's Federation for World Peace, and others international agencies.

The most regular support, however, comes from Mrs. Shrestha‘s daughter, Sabnam, who lives in Chicago, USA with her husband who teaches computers. She sends nearly $300 a month to support her mother‘s work.

Then last year things changed—in a dramatic way. Mrs. Shrestha visited Karnali, a northwestern city in Nepal. And she just couldn‘t say ―No. She met orphans, called conflict victims, whose parents were killed during the decade-long civil war in Nepal from 1996 – 2006 which left nearly 13,000 people dead and 150,000 displaced.

In the end, she brought 43 children from Karnali, ages 4 to 13, to live with her—along with the 28 elderly women already in her home in Kathmandu. Her heart was bigger than her home, but they manage.

When the UN talks about equal access to education, training and science and technology, these orphans hit the jackpot! In Karnali, there was little opportunity for education. But in Kathmandu, all the children go to school, except the youngest one who came to the capital too late for registration. They will start next year. The elderly women suddenly became grandmothers; the orphans got a family and an education.

Although tuition is free for the children, they still need to manage the costs of uniforms, books and snacks. "This is very challenging," said Ms. Gopali. "It already costs about $70 per day just for simple food: dal, bhat, tekari (lentils, rice, and vegetables) and only two meals a day."

Nevertheless regarding the UN‘s call for "decent work for women," this was the biggest change of all. Suddenly the elderly women became grandmothers—the most meaningful way they can spend the rest of their lives.

"It has given meaning and purpose to their lives," said Ms. Gopali. The elderly women mother and care for the children in their new family. It brought additional discipline, order, and sacrifice to everyone‘s life. Normal conversation fills the air: "Do your homework; make your bed; pick up your room." At meal times the elders eat first and the children afterwards (beginning with the youngest). Everyone washes his or her own dishes, including one woman who is blind.

Even though the home is overcrowded, no one complains. They have each other. The children have bright futures, and the women a meaningful livelihood. They are, after all, a family.

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