There’s nothing I love more than finding a successful women’s organization with a vibrant, local female running the show.
Three years ago Devika Gurung founded the Nepali Yoga Women Project with Emma Despres, a woman from the UK. Devika grew up in Nepal and is fully aware of the harsh realities women face in the country. At the age of 15 she dropped out of school to help her family earn money. Her first job involved lugging heavy rocks around an airport construction site. Later jobs included working in an orchard, making carpets, and cleaning houses.
When you meet Devika it’s hard to imagine her childhood consisting of manual labor (even though it’s common for Nepali girls). Devika is beautifully poised and radiates positive energy. Her adult life hasn’t been free of challenges either, but along the way she learned English and began practicing yoga. Eventually, she opened her own yoga studio in Pokhara.
At this studio she connected with Emma. The two women decided to start a project to develop the unsuspected, inner skills of Nepali women and allow them to reassert themselves in society. They wanted to create a positive environment where Nepali women could learn how to heal and support themselves.
The role of Nepali women is mostly confined to their domestic obligations. These include cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the family. This lifestyle prevents them from maintaining a part-time job, contributing to the household income, and ultimately from living independent of male support. Many women still do not have access to education in Nepal, another factor that limits their options.
At the Nepali Yoga Women Project six women learn holistic therapies, self-healing techniques and handicraft skills. These activities provide them with a step towards inner-transformation and self-confidence. Currently, the women come to the center 6 days a week from 10:00 AM to 4:00PM to accommodate their children’s school schedule. They receive a monthly salary from fundraising and the sales of their handicrafts. They also receive free training in English, massage therapy, and yoga.
Over time Devika has seen the women become self-sufficient and less reliant on others. A regular income offers them economic independence. This allows them to participate in family decisions and allocate money for personal needs and their children’s education.
I personally found Devika’s outlook refreshing. When I was helping her design the organization’s website we had a long conversation about what information should be posted. Devika made it clear she didn’t want any stories about the hardships or abuse the women face. These incidents don’t define them. Plain and simple – life is hard in Nepal, especially for females. Her mission isn’t to tackle the harsh social conditions Nepali women face, but to provide these women with tools and resources to positively change their lives in that social context. Devika doesn’t want supporters of the project to focus on the negative aspects of the women’s lives. Positive energy creates change, and that’s the message she wants to send.