Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Condom

Considering I’d never traveled to the developing world before, I adjusted to Ghorahi, Dang, rather quickly. Maybe it was the passage through Delhi and Kathmandu, but the chaotic streets, the mix of humans and animals, the ramshackle homes and scattered trash everywhere came to seem normal to me by my second day in the valley. I could see the parallels to the western world – Ghorahi seemed almost like a small Americans city minus the public services (police, building inspection, trash collection, etc.).

But Wednesday in the mountains was a different story altogether. And whatever appreciation of Aasmani’s programs I had Tuesday night would be dwarfed by my awe on Wednesday. This was when I learned why the people of Dang love her so much.

We drove Wednesday morning out of Ghorahi two hours on winding, narrow, steep, unpaved roads. Up into the mountains that surround Dang valley – and back down into the next little valley, and up again… For someone uncomfortable with heights, it was an edge-of-my-seat trip. All at about 10 mph.

Our destination was the first of two reproductive health-focused women’s meeting groups that existed under the umbrella of Aasmani’s RWDC. I understood going in what these groups would do: they would bring together women from a community to share knowledge about family planning, safe sex, and safe motherhood. They would do so through a combination of visits by UNFPA professionals and through the teachings of deputized local women (who were given basic training in reproductive health by UNFPA). That much wouldn’t surprise me.

What did surprise me, however, was the stunning context of the efforts I encountered that day. The groups met in huts or fields on the sides of mist-covered mountains, completely separated from the outside world. Women came to these meetings from across the mountainside, walking miles on dirt paths and up slopes to gain the knowledge these groups could provide. It was like your Sunday at church combined with a hike up the Appalachian trail. The homes they left had no running water; no sewage, no electricity. Few of these women had been taught to read. Their lives revolved around daily chores not meant to earn money or pay bills – but to produce the very food with which they would sustain themselves.

And yet, on this mountainside removed from the world as you and I know it, this place where everyone stared at me (as the only westerner they’d seen in years, perhaps), I heard the UNFPA nurse quizzing the teenage girls of the group:

Nurse: question in Nepali

Girl, front row: excited, with her hand held high, “Condom”

Nurse: second question in Nepali

Girl, middle row: “Pill”

That, I understood. No translation necessary. Here, against all odds, Aasmani has brought to the far-flung communities of Dang Valley a level of reproductive education that would make most U.S. middle schools blush.

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