Bimala Khatri joined WONDERWorks Nepal in June 2014 as their Project Manager, helping to set up and support their Small Business programme. She was recently promoted to Administrative Officer and works closely with exploited young girls and women who work in the entertainment sector of Kathmandu
Tell us about your background and your role at WONDERWorks Nepal?
I’ve been working with NGO’s since 2009, starting as an Outreach Worker and a Non Formal Education Teacher at both Change and Biswas Nepal. Currently, I work with WONDERWorks Nepal, also known as Shashakta Nari Nepal, as their Administrative Officer. The centre runs many different programmes, including skills training and therapy based activities. I oversee and manage each project, follow up with ladies who have been granted small businesses, manage day-to-day operations at the centre and most importantly, remain a primary point of contact for our girls in need.
What are some of your basic objectives as Administrative Officer?
The welfare of our girls is my main concern. We work tirelessly to ensure that each lady who comes to us is given a fair opportunity and the support she needs. Focusing predominantly on women who are trafficked and work within the entertainment sector, we run a series of life-changing workshops and skills training courses that equip our ladies with the tools they need to integrate back into society. With most NGO’s restricted to helping women under the age of eighteen, we focus on bridging that gap and work with girls and women of any age to improve their mental wellbeing and skill sets, regardless of age.
WONDERWorks has set up a number of life changing projects in an effort to support exploited and trafficked women in Nepal. Can you tell us more about these projects and how they are designed to help those in need? Which has been your most successful campaign?
From dance therapy to tailoring, we host a number of classes designed to help each girl acquire additional skills and gain the confidence she needs to further and provide for herself. Our business workshops run for six weeks, enabling those interested in setting up a small business to learn the basics behind doing so. They put together a proposal – which they will then pitch to the WONDERWorks Management Committee. We’ve currently set up over forty five businesses with non-refundable grants. If and when profits allow, business owners make a contribution of about fifteen percent over a two year period, which is then channeled back into the programme, allowing others on the waiting list to get started. Each business will be followed up monthly with phone calls and visits for at least twelve to eighteen months.
Aside from the small businesses, we also offer skills training, which can be designed to assist the ladies’ development. From barista courses to tailoring, if they come up with a great idea, we provide the training to support them. Everything we do here at WONDERWorks Nepal supports our women in ways most valuable to them. Our tailoring workshops have had a great response. Our women attend regular teacher-led ‘Basic and Advanced’ classes at our centre for six months. Upon completion they are given the chance to earn a dignified income by supporting our latest project, Project Dignity.
With many schoolgirls living in rural villages across Nepal, they can often be reluctant to attend school during their monthly periods because they have little to no access to modern sanitary pads. Missing out on weeks of schooling often means that girls drop out of education entirely; putting them at greater risk of being trafficked or early marriage. Our qualified tailors are able to help us make washable sanitary kits which not only enable girls to go to school with confidence, but also provide a fair wage to our ladies who make them.
Our programmes go hand in hand. They not only aid our ladies, but also encourage them to form closer bonds and friendships with one another.
What are some of the challenges you face in helping exploited women who work in the entertainment sector in Nepal? How do you hope to overcome these?
Trust is a huge factor. Girls in the entertainment sector are approached by countless organisations promising to help them. And although they may receive a small personal donation, many have had a hard time believing that they can be helped. Living as an outcast and surrounded by social stigma, they can understandably be quick to judge and not always want our help. We never force any of our girls to come to our centre but it remains a safe space.
We use the centre as somewhere for girls to also receive the emotional support they need. We offer school holiday programmes, mother and toddler groups, self-defense, English conversation and even cooking classes. The space has been designed to make everyone feel like they are at home – it’s a family environment where they can make friends, relax, and partake in colour and dance therapy sessions – without added pressure.
Is the trafficking of women still a major concern in Nepal? How can we, as a reader, play a part in ensuring the safety of women?
Yes. So many of these girls don’t even know that they are being trafficked. Internal trafficking is a major concern in Nepal and women of all ages are led to believe that they are being given an everyday job, but instead are constantly physically, sexually and mentally harassed by both their employer and customers. Unfortunately, they earn extremely low salaries and don’t know their human rights so are easily exploited. And sadly, many fall into the entertainment sector, either having been forced to out of necessity or by following the family ‘trade’. With girls as young as ten being trafficked, we’re hoping to break the cycle by providing mothers with an alternative – a small business they can then hand down through the family.
Awareness is key. The more that the issue is highlighted, the more scope there is make sure something is done about it. A tangible donation can go a long way. If a reader would like to donate, then making a contribution to one girl in particular, or a specific thing, for example, Project Dignity, they can then see for themselves the difference that it makes. Whether it be putting a girl through school, or food on a table.
Do you work with any other local or global organisations?
We work closely with our partner organisation, WONDERWorks Asia, as well as with several sister organisations such as Change Nepal and Biswas Nepal. We currently have no specific outreach programme ourselves, so are happy to support women and girls who are referred to us by NGO’s working in the same field as us. We are also on hand to provide temporary emergency shelter at our Safe House and offer help to any drop-in cases who have heard about us by word of mouth.
Has WONDERWorks been involved with any additional projects, which may not necessarily focus on aiding those forced into the entertainment sector?
Our ‘Last Hope’ programme has been designed to help what we would call ‘emergency cases’. With so many people in Nepal affected by the earthquake, ‘Last Hope’ has helped provide victims with shelter, money for food and restocking lost businesses. We have also helped to relocate women who are at risk of violence and to reintegrate them back to their villages. We never give money directly, but will provide support, refuge and the means for women to get back on their feet, regardless of how long that may take.
WONDERWorks opened a Support Centre in January 2016. In what ways does the centre offer support to those who need it and do you find that it helps play an important part in integrating women back into society?
Alongside learning valuable skills and re-building confidence, our girls form life-long friendships, which is just as important. Our programmes have been designed to form social bonds and mentally heal. The girls can get together in a safe environment, talk about themselves at their own pace, with no added pressure. They begin to integrate back into society in a comfortable and nurturing environment.
What do you see WONDERWorks being able to achieve in the future?
There is so much that I see WONDERWorks being able to achieve, however we are only limited by our budget and funding. I hope for us to be able to grow and help girls on a much larger scale instead of having to be selective and limiting our help to those who are in need of it the most.
I would love to focus on healthcare and outreach, provide an in-house counsellor and even a nurse. Unfortunately many of our women and their children have quite serious health problems but aren’t able to afford care. If funding were ever to permit, a weekly clinic would be a huge asset.
Before the earthquake, we actually had plans in place to set up a children’s drop in centre. With thousands of young children working in Tea Houses across Kathmandu in such dangerous working environments, amongst boiling water and facing abuse, we wanted to provide a safe space as well as ensure that these children were in the database. Sadly, after the events, we were unable to locate the group we were working with and the area we were hoping to set up in was badly affected.
Special Feature by Lexi Davey a contributor from Malaysia