What if we told you there was a young woman in Nepal, leading a program that has already impacted 74,400 people by bringing water to villages and fighting for the rights of girls and women? That would be pretty impressive, right? Well, it's Roshani's story. Her dad wanted her to be a doctor - Roshani thought she was going to be an environmental scientist. But the 2015 Gorkha earthquake in Nepal changed her path forever.
I remember being so, so scared during the earthquake. I can’t explain it. On the first day, we rushed to my mother’s house. She had an open area outside where all the neighbors came to set up tents. The aftershocks kept coming every ten minutes. I thought it was the end of the world.
It rained in our tents and we didn’t sleep for days. Honestly, it shattered me. But, after a few days, the aftershocks came less frequently. I saw people walking around, going into their homes, taking a shower - picking up their lives. Suddenly I realized: the people in our neighborhood are fine. Our houses were still there. We are the lucky ones. I started listening to the news and saw people rescuing others - people still trapped under the rubble.
They wanted to live. They wanted to come out.
That’s when I realized: this is not the end. I needed to go and help people. The next day I was ready. We gathered a group of friends and started handing out water filters in the camps provided by the non-profit organization Wine To Water. People were sick. There were outbreaks of diarrhea. But we could give them a water filter and show them how to use it. That’s when I knew what I wanted to do.
It wasn’t until after I started this path that I discovered more about the correlation between women and water in my country.
When I was 4 or 5 years old, every morning my mom and I went out to fill up a jerrycan of water. My dad at the time was in the army in India, and my mother had to carry me and my brother both ways. Back then, I thought that was normal for everybody in the world. It was simply our job as women to go and carry water. Later I learned that around the world, girls and women spend an average of 200 million hours every day collecting water. This keeps a lot of girls from going to school, or women from working.
And it’s not just water. In Nepal, many girls either drop out of school or are absent during their periods, because most schools lack adequate sanitation facilities. There are no pads, no bins - this directly affects their education. Wine To Water’s WASH Program (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, GI) empowers girls and women to end this cycle. We help schools by providing items for girls when they have their period.
There is still a lot of work to do when it comes to women empowerment in Nepal. Here, everybody wishes to have at least one son. He will carry your legacy. And me, as a woman, going into these villages to talk about water and telling some of the men what to do - it requires a careful approach. But I have respect for our culture and their knowledge. I never say I know everything. It’s frustrating sometimes that it feels like they don’t see me. Or don’t hear me. But this is how they were raised. They never saw their mothers speak up.
The time will come. One woman came up to me in a government office one day and told me how happy it made her to see me - a woman - in a leading position, working towards women empowerment with WASH solutions. She thanked me for being a role model for many girls and women. It brought tears to my eyes. Because I’m doing this for women. For their rights.
In that light, I’m so proud of my own mother. While my father was in India, she moved us to a bigger city so I, too, could go to school. She struggled, providing for us all by herself, but she wanted a better life for her children.
My parents always told me I was like a son to them. They are very supportive and proud of what I do. When I was little, my father had this dream of me becoming a doctor. I started living that dream but never made it into medical school.
I once expressed my frustration about that, and my dad said: but you are a doctor. You are a doctor of society. You are making people and communities better.
Wine To Water's initial earthquake relief team in Nepal, consisting of Nepali locals, eventually grew into Wine To Water Nepal. These days, the team focuses on a sustainable approach to water, hygiene, and sanitation development in the country. Recently, Wine To Water has implemented the first phase of a three-phase process in the Chitwan District of southern Nepal. The three phases address:
1) Water access
2) Water filtration
3) Sustainability of the solution
This initial phase in Chitwan has consisted of a focus on water access, as well as sanitation and hygiene education for local communities. To alleviate the taxing search for clean water in this first phase, the Wine To Water Nepal team uses such technology as borehole wells, solar pumps, and tap stands - which we connect to every home. In the upcoming phases of our Nepal projects, we look forward to ensuring the communities of Dahakhani and Madi (in Chitwan) are equipped to maintain filters, have a source of community income, and are trained to perform necessary hygiene and sanitation practices.
With 310 water projects under her belt, Roshani continues to empower women and whole communities with Wine To Water.