UMN's Peace & Conflict Transformation Advisor, Joe Campbell, spent last week in Rukum District in the mid-west of Nepal, seeing the progress being made with an Integrated Programme for Widows' Empowerment that is being supported by Presbyterian Women.
It was in Rukum that the Peoples' War started in 1996 which, it is estimated, left 9,000 women widowed across Nepal after 10 years of violent conflict. Many of these widows are from Rukum.
Until two years ago there was no road into Rukum. Now, a single track road runs from Nepal's east-west highway to the district centre, Musikot, clinging to the near vertical hillsides as it wends its way through this remote area.
The road is open for all but the two months of monsoon, when landslides make it impassable. Travelling this narrow road is slow with the journey to the district centre normally taking 14 hours!
The women have had health checks through health camps organised by United Mission to Nepal's (UMN) partner organisation in Rukum, the Christian Society Development Campaign (CSDC). In addition, their children have been supplied with school uniforms and books; while many of the women are learning to read and write through Non-Formal Education (NFE) classes organised by CSDC.
Cash crops of mushrooms are being grown, a first for Rukum District, as well as tomatoes and other vegetables. Lemon grass has been planted and is growing well.
By the end of this year, it will be possible to harvest lemon grass, ginger and other plants. These will be processed locally by the woman in a machine purchased with support from PW, into essential oil and exported to Ireland where they will be sold on to the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industry.
Longer term, CSDC has plans to help form small women's co-operatives, both in the district centre, Musikot, and through a sister church in Sama, a village two days’ walk away.
Janet Campbell has helped the woman with trauma healing sessions and these have been continued by local UMN staff. New trauma materials are being developed by UMN in Kathmandu and these will be used over the coming years. The violent circumstances of their husband’s (and, in some cases, son’s) death, has left many of the woman and their children needing on-going physo social support.
Reflecting on the encouraging progress made to date in Rukum District, Joe Campbell says:
"CSDC appears to be managing the project very well and setting an example in the District of good development work
The Church is able to call on extra voluntary help for the woman. For example, when I was there the plastic from their greenhouse was carried away in a violent wind storm. New covering has been ordered and should now be in place, fitted by church members.
It will be several years before this project reaches its full potential.
While not many of the women are church members, the church in Musikot, and its sister congregation in Sama village, are serving the people in the name and Spirit of Christ with a love that has the potential to make a huge difference, both in peoples’ daily lives and also eternally."