Editor’s Note: Every year, Heifer International hosts the Beyond Hunger: A Place at the Table event to raise awareness and critical resources for marginalized women and their families worldwide. On September 18, Heifer donors will come together in Beverly Hills to recognize the integral role women and girls have in feeding the world and to lift them up with education and gender equity and justice in rural communities.This story is just one of many examples of our work to empower women.
Several years ago Maya Chaudhary was traveling to visit her uncle in Tamnagar, Nepal, when she missed her stop. It was her first time to travel so far from home by herself and she was too timid to ask the driver to let her off. As she got farther from her uncle’s village, she became more afraid. It wasn’t until another old woman on the bus noticed Maya’s fear that she asked the driver to stop the bus.
Now, three years after joining a Heifer Nepal women’s self-help group (SHG), Maya says her meekness is more of a distant memory than a personality trait.
Maya’s SHG formed in March 2012 under the Strengthening Smallholder Enterprises project with Parroha Village Development Committee in Rupandehi District. Heifer uses this project to empower women by building their capacity and providing physical inputs such as livestock, and in return the women are expected to help Heifer scale-up the project's impact by empowering other women so they too can achieve similar success. When Heifer initially approached Maya with the idea she felt hesitant, but the idea of receiving training on improved animal management, fodder/forage production and homestead gardening to increase her family's income was too attractive to miss.
"A lot of the women in our group cannot read or write, so we received our trainings through posters that made it easy to understand and remember," Maya said. She left school after the ninth grade to marry, a common practice in Nepal even today. After receiving training themselves Maya and her group members began organizing women from their community into similar groups and training them using the posters.
"The Madhesi women did not understand Nepalese so we trained them in our own [Tharu] language, which is quite similar to theirs, so it was easier for them to understand us,” Maya said. “They felt more comfortable to ask us questions and share their opinions."
Nepal is home to numerous ethnic groups with their own language and culture. Empowering women to train other women in their community has proven to be highly effective, especially in closed communities that have their own language where women are hesitant to speak to outsiders.
Besides training other women, she has passed on four goats as a gift to another family with the hope that they too can improve their lives with the additional income. With her husband working in the Middle East as manual labor, Maya stays busy caring for her family, which includes her in-laws and her 5-year-old daughter, and her farm. This year alone she has sold vegetables, poultry, mushrooms and goats to earn about $2,700 (NPR 270,000).
Though it can sometimes force the family to sacrifice some of their basic needs, Maya uses a large portion on her income to send her daughter to an English medium school where she is learning to read, write and speak in both Nepalese and English. She believes her daughter’s education will give her the confidence to speak up in front of others.
Maya, without even realizing has become a strong role model to her daughter. In such a short period of time she has transformed from a timid girl struggling to find the words on the bus into a strong woman with her own voice.
At a Passing on the Gift® ceremony, Maya spoke before a crowd of almost 1,000 people from 10 neighboring villages and government officials.
“On that stage I shared my group's progress to the mass—into a microphone! That was one of the happiest moments of my life,” Maya said. “I realized I was not a mute any more. I could speak, and people wanted to hear me."
With Heifer, Maya has not only found her own voice but she is also giving other women the strength to speak up. For her daughter and other young women in her community, she is a leader to whom they look as an example.
You can help women everywhere by making a gift today or by joining us in L.A. next week.