When SCWO and Star Shelter received an invitation from the Garden of Hope Foundation, to participate in the Asian Network of Women Shelters (ANWS) Workshop and Study Visit in Nepal, 5-6 May, my initial thoughts went back to the devastating earthquake that happened a year ago in April 2015. The disaster killed over 8,000 people and injured more than 21,000. Hundreds of thousands of people were made homeless in the urban and rural areas of Kathmandu valley. Nepal received a tremendous outpouring of rescue and relief efforts, including financial aid, from international agencies and governments across the world.
At that time, I could only do my bit by donating a small sum through my church. I admired those who were courageous in joining the relief effort. This time, I thought perhaps I could do a little more.
When the board confirmed the trip for our General Manager, Selina Gan and I to attend the workshop, which was partially subsidized by the organizer and SCWO, Star Shelter’s Chairperson, Wee Wan Joo and SCWO’s 3rd VP, Ho Shiong Yee also decided to join the workshop at their own expense.
When we started to plan for the trip, I was glad to find out that the four of us had an unspoken desire to want to make this trip even more meaningful by bringing essential items from Singapore to give to the women and children in the shelter we were visiting.
We had often heard heart-warming stories about the Nepali people from our board member Sara Mei Woo. She fell in love with Nepal while watching the sun rise over the Himalayan mountain range 27 years ago. Since then, Nepal has been her second home and the Nepali people, her family. Nowadays, she goes there about twice a year to help with various NGO projects.
We sought Sara’s advice on what daily essentials they need and started drawing up an extensive list of items including toiletry bags, hair brushes, stationery, note books, non-perishable food items, pre-loved clothes and winter clothes for women and children, many of which were donated by our board members. Our colleagues also made the effort, despite their busy schedules, to help us pack the many items. Everyone wanted to play a part to give. We packed as much as the four of us could carry, which was quite substantial.
We arrived and checked-in to The Tewa Centre, a modern resort with conference facilities, which supports projects to promote and advance women’s rights. It was a peaceful oasis within Lalitpur district, just 30 minutes from the airport.
After an intensive workshop on the first day, our delegation made a study visit to the Saathi Women Shelter, an NGO and non-profit organization, providing a residential facility and care for women and children who are survivors of violence. They provide a range of services for their clients including accommodation and food, medical care, education, legal support, vocational training, job placement, financial assistance, counseling and other therapeutic programmes.
At the time of our visit, the shelter was housing 23 women and teenage girls and 7 babies. The youngest survivor was only 12 years old and the oldest 33 years old. Majority of the survivors had experienced sexual assault and physical violence. Among the residents were a burn survivor and teenagers who had been victims of rape, of which two were pregnant as a result of these rapes.
Many of us had tears in our eyes as we listened to the cases shared by the President of the shelter, Uma Shah. After the presentation, we were brought on a tour of the shelter.
We were treated to dance performance by five teenagers who had taken dance lessons from a volunteer dance teacher. Dance can be very empowering and emancipating for survivors of violence.
At the end of the visit, Star Shelter’s Chairperson, Wan Joo, presented each resident and staff, with the gifts that we had brought for them from Singapore. Seeing their broad smiles as they received their gifts showed how appreciative they were. Little did they know, how equally appreciative we were to be given this opportunity to give.
As in giving, the receiver is not the only one who receives, the giver receives too. The giver benefits at many levels, including at the most basic level, which is simply the warm happy feeling when one brings joy to another person. This type of happiness usually lasts a long time. Even now as I write this and remember their smiles, I am able to re-live the beautiful experience of that day in Nepal, which will have a special place in my heart for a long time. That was Nepal’s gift to me.
By: Lorraine Lim, Manager – Star Shelter