4-10 March 2016 #798

Teaching the write way

Activist challenges notion that social service is solely for women
Michael Nishimura

DO-GOODER: Haushala Thapa Zimba with students at Life Vision Academy, a school her organisation, Children and Youth First set up to educate underpriviledged children in Bhaktapur.

Late one night six years ago, Haushala Thapa Zimba stormed into an orphanage in Baluwatar with a few friends and rescued 14 children who were ill-treated in the shelter. She created a home for the children and set up the charity, Children and Youth First (CYF).

Today, the organisation supports a school in Bhaktapur that now houses 50 underprivileged children called Life Vision Academy (LVA), and Haushala Creatives, a co-working space equipping women with skills so they can earn more.

“I saw their conditions and how they were being taken advantage of. People like us, who have the knowledge of social work and the passion to do it must take action against unjust situations,” says Thapa, who is pushing for gender equality through education while challenging the idea that social service is solely for women.

Thapa has a pedigree in social work; her father Khem was with Save the Children and her mother Rupa was a midwife.

“Every holiday or semester break, my father took me to his project areas and my mom took me to her village, where a lot of people still don’t go to school,” says Thapa. Her upbringing inspired her to work on a progressive curriculum at LVA that breeds creativity and inquisitiveness, encouraging students to ‘play and learn’.

“We take the kids out of the classroom to expose them to their environment,” says Thapa. “When you give them that sort of experience, when they go back to their books again, it’s much easier to relate to reality.”

Despite her commitment, Thapa often faces skepticism because of her age and gender. The 29-year-old director oversees a team of 19 staff members and frequently has to win over people doubting her capabilities. Some men question whether Haushala Creatives is actually a workplace, insinuating that it is a place for women to chitchat.

Challenging the idea of what constitutes ‘women’s work’ is yet another difficulty. “As a woman you’re classified and expected to serve the society,” says Thapa. “Men should serve their society, too.”

Thapa takes inspiration from strong women like her mother, who have overcome societal constraints to achieve their goals. She believes that in order to change patriarchal structures, instead of controlling girls on what not to do, we must transform the way we teach boys and men from day one.

“Once sons are aware of the issues that women and girls face and understand how to be emotionally supportive, everything will fall into place,” she contends.

Changemakers like Thapa are hopeful that gender equality is improving, even if some people refuse to see it. She says: “Women are changing things, expectations put on women are motivation to excel more, to set new standards and think about how we can do things better in the future.”



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