Warm Greetings for International Women's Day from Nepal!
We are excited to share with you the energy, hope and inspiration we found marching with about 300 women as part of the 10th anniversary celebration of Tewa, the Women's Fund of Nepal.
Women from every part of Nepal were marching with us - young girls with t-shirts and jeans, Muslim women with headscarves and banners calling for full equality, blind women walking in a loving chain of sisters, women with other physical disabilities keeping pace and waving to the passing drivers who stared at this brightly coloured collection of smiling faces and banners in Hindi, English, and Nepali. Men marched with us as well, the sons and sons-in-law of Tewa activists, sexual minority activists, and other fellow feminist male allies. Their presence gave us hope and drew interest from passers by. And, international activists threw our lot in with the Tewa march - women from the Czech Republic and South Africa, from the United States and Australia, from India and China. We were together marching for change, remembering our sisters around the globe and pledging to continue our struggle for justice and peace.
We began under the magnificent wooden windows of the ancient palaces in old Kathmandu and marched through the city until we assembled in an open park. Speeches by young lesbian activists were followed by slogans from peasant women's associations and international guests. I was up there on the podium, speaking in Hindi, which many Nepalis understand much better than English! Around us standing with brightly colored banners stood the many grantee groups of Tewa Nepal, who had braved 14-hour road journeys, barricades, strikes, and security challenges just in order to get to Kathmandu.
Despite all the amazing energy of the morning's activities, nothing could prepare us for the joy of arriving at Tewa's new site. The endowment that Tewa raised was invested in land and buildings to ensure its long-term continuity and sustainability. But, how could we have known how absolutely breathtaking and gorgeous the setting would be. Situated on a hill outside Kathmandu proper and surrounded by emerald and mustard terraced fields in the foreground and towering Himalayas in the background, TEWA's new surroundings are in total concert with its highest aspirations for a philanthropy of inclusivity, justice, and respect. Every detail shows love, from the Tewa motif on the curtains, to the rooms honoring special members of the Tewa family, to the earthenware rubbish bins and environmentally conscious materials used in the design of the space. The young architect who designed the buildings in the TEWA complex (there is a shopping arcade, a recreational facility, an open air auditorium, and an office building) has blended the most gracious aspects of traditional Nepali architecture with the clean lines of modern minimalism and created a gem that sits in its space as though it were always meant to be there. I only wish more buildings in the developing world could demonstrate such strong rootedness in their own traditions and less shallow mimicry of the worst that the West has to offer.
Yet, as one of the speakers at Tewa's celebration said wisely, "the buildings are nothing except a reflection of the way TEWA treats and values people". People are at the heart of Tewa as they always have been - the rural, often illiterate grantee reprentatives sitting in colorful traditional costumes side by side with Nepali businessmen who are proud donors to TEWA, the cheerful smiling volunteers of Tewa, housewives and mothers who cook, drive, do the books, clean up, run the store, and a myriad other tasks. All of them make Tewa what it is - a true model that enables us to see what a living culture of giving can look like even in one of the poorest conflict stricken countries in the world. Indeed, these beautiful buildings emerged even as Tewa volunteers staffed hospitals in Kathmandu serving the many innocent people who were injured in clashes during the protests for democracy.
Speaker after speaker also spoke to pay tribute to Rita Thapa, a Tewa founder, a true leader, and a living inspiration to us all. And, then there was music and dance - wonderful celebrations that engaged and involved us all. The multi colored balloons that we sent up into the air with Tewa prayer flags attached to them! The gifts made to honor all Tewa staff who have served for five years or more. The smiles on the faces of the construction workers as they received awards from Tewa. The laughter and shouts of the children from the local community all through the ceremony in delight as they tore around the playground. Rita's daughters and son with tears in their eyes as they listened to the tributes paid to her in public. Rita's two year old grand-daughter Amodini rushing onto the stage into her grandmother's waiting arms.
It was a great day to feel part of a movement for change. I send you all that energy and that strength and that resilience. Think of what our work has helped the women of Nepal to accomplish. Think of one of the poorest nations in the world that has built a space for women where they don't just hold up half the sky - they spread their wings and fly.
With love and all good wishes for International Women's Day.
Kavita Ramdas is the president and CEO of the Global Fund for Women.