By Robin Giri
KATHMANDU, Nepal, 13 January 2012 – On his first visit to Nepal, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake lauded the role played by Nepalese women and children in trying to better their lives.
During his two-day visit, Mr. Lake met with senior government ministers, heads of other UN agencies, staff members of UNICEF Nepal, and travelled to the field to see how UNICEF’s support has helped Nepalese children and women to find their voices and realize their rights.
Reaching out-of-school children
On a field trip to Kavre District, west of the capital Kathmandu, Mr. Lake met with children from Urban Out-of-School Programmes (UOSP), children’s clubs, members of women’s Community Improvement Forums, Village Paralegal Committees and Female Community Health Volunteers, and saw first-hand how active participation by children and women was enabling them to make huge changes in their lives.
“I am so proud of what you are doing and especially more proud that UNICEF is a part of this,” said Mr. Lake to 13-year-old Udhab Khadka, an orphan enrolled at an UOSP in Banepa town, who works odd jobs to support himself, including picking scrap off the street.
UNICEF-supported learning centres like these focus on out-of-school children and provide them with a 10-month bridging course so that they can continue formal schooling. A visibly impressed Mr. Lake also met with teenagers who had graduated from this learning centre and had now completed formal high school.
Making a difference
Travelling to Methinkot village, Mr. Lake then met with women from UNICEF-supported Paralegal Committees and health volunteers and learned about the differences they have been making in their lives and of those in their community.
One after the other, Mr. Lake heard testimonies from women, some from historically discriminated against groups, who stood up and spoke for themselves and about the work that they have been doing.
“The Paralegal Committee has boosted our confidence, and now we are able to settle domestic disputes, matters relating to property rights, discrimination – but most of all, it has helped us gain the understanding and love of our husbands, who appreciate what we do,” said Nanda Kumari, a Paralegal Committee member.
UNICEF initially created the community-based Village Paralegal Committee Programme in 1999 as an anti-trafficking effort. Now, these women’s committees address all forms of violence and exploitation against women.
Mr. Lake couldn’t help breaking into applause repeatedly, while noting the work done by these ordinary mothers and women.
“I just want to tell you that strong women are changing the world today, and I do not mean the women on stage and in the public arena – but women like you,” said Mr. Lake to the Female Community Health Volunteers, after learning about how they can treat pneumonia, diarrhoea and whooping cough and help reduce child mortality.
They also told Mr. Lake about how they convince pregnant women to seek antenatal care, convince mothers to immunize their children, promote hand-washing with soap at critical times and, with partial UNICEF support, have also set up an emergency fund to deal with crises.
“This is the silent miracle. This is what happens when women can realize their rights and their potential – they can help themselves and others,” said Hanaa Singer, UNICEF Representative in Nepal, who accompanied Mr. Lake on the field trip.
Initiatives like these have helped Nepal combat child and maternal mortality and make steady progress toward realizing some of the related Millennium Development Goals.
Wrapping up the visit and speaking to the media who accompanied Mr. Lake, he said, “This participation of women that we just saw is equity at work. This change has been brought about because this process is inclusive – it includes all community members and not just leaders, and I love to see this on the ground.”