5am and we were making good time through the quiet roads of Kathmandu towards Banepa. Pleased that we’d decided to make an early start and optimistic that the monsoon rain would hold off, Chulie and Bimala sat back to enjoy the four hour journey to Jethal VDC, where we were due to distribute cloth sanitary pads to the girls of Nigale School. We’d chosen the school for two reasons – partly because, like many other schools in the region, it had been damaged during the earthquake last year and partly because, Sindupulchowk is a high risk area for human trafficking. Our hope is that the pads will make life easier for the school girls to participate in school activities, regardless of the time of month. Furthermore, with regular attendance, that they will be less likely to drop out and become vulnerable to traffickers or early marriage.
Before long we turned off onto the road leading to Sindupulchowk and, with ears popping, headed up the steep, winding road towards Mude. The monsoon rains had washed away large parts of the road on both sides, forcing us to either perch precariously on the open verge or pull in under the daunting rock face, as we gave way to oncoming traffic. Higher up, the weather suddenly changed and we found ourselves encircled in cold mist, with the odd drop of rain on the windscreen turning into a heavy stream. It seemed as though every other bend revealed areas where the roads had been cleared of landslides and at one point we had to drive over the mud and rubble of a recent slip. Our decision to take a chance on the weather suddenly seemed less sensible but there was little point in turning back by that stage and we eventually arrived at the school in one piece and ahead of time.
We received a friendly greeting from the staff who immediately, rounded up the girls into one of the classrooms – to the curiosity of the boys! A quick count of heads and we were pleased we’d thought to bring along a few extra sanitary kits as we had fifty-five, eleven to sixteen year olds looking back at us. One of the female teachers kindly joined us, in an effort to help the children feel more at ease. Bimala gave a brief talk about Project Dignity, explaining how the making of them had also helped to bring in an income for underprivileged women. After describing how to use and care for the sanitary pads, we handed out the bags. The girls listened carefully but were clearly feeling shy and uncomfortable. It took quite of a bit of persuading to get them to open the bags and take a look inside but we were rewarded with positive comments on our choice of colours – pink was clearly a winner! As this is our pilot project, we’ve left feedback forms with the teacher so that the girls can pass on comments and suggestions after a month or two, to make sure we’re on track with regards to design and sizing.
By the time we said goodbye the rain had stopped and we called in at Mude for a dhall bhat breakfast. The area is well known for growing delicious potatoes, so an hour later we were making our way down the road with a twelve kilo sack in the boot and a large amount of dried yak cheese slices!! With the rain gone, the journey home somehow seemed faster and less unnerving and by the time we reached the main road back to Kathmandu, the sun had come out and was gleaming off the huge statue of Lord Shiva on a distant hill. It had been a memorable and successful day and we felt we’d been truly blessed!