Feminine Hygiene Training in Nepal
by Rachel Skoog
Christmastime 2017, I sat on the couch, drinking a large mug of steaming chai tea, chatting with my friend Hannah. Hannah is from Nepal and grew up in a hostel where she and hundreds of other young girls received education, food, and the hope of the Gospel. Hannah and the other girls were brought to the hostel because of their vulnerability to being trafficked, sexually abused, or enlisted as child soldiers. Hannah is the first woman from her people group, the Badi, to finish high school. Her smile fills any room she enters—she is one of my heroes.
Hannah began to share about the feminine hygiene problems she and the other girls in the hostels faced. In Nepali culture, they don’t speak about feminine health—it is taboo. It never occurred to me to think about the feminine hygiene issues the girls face as a result of sexual assault and abuse. As I asked more questions, she answered. Tears formed in both of our eyes, and I knew God was up to something.
I work for a nonprofit organization called Venture (venture.org).* Based here in Minnesota, we do tough things for people in tough places around the world. We log miles—hiking, biking, and running—as an active way to raise money in response to the Gospel. In 2018, we raised over $4.5 million for the least reached and the least resourced. I knew Venture could make a difference in Nepal, so we began a new initiative to share feminine hygiene training and kits with over 100 girls who live in a hostel in Kathmandu.
As we researched for the trip, we learned about Chhaupadi, a centuries-old custom in which women are considered “impure” during menstruation. They are sequestered for the extent of their periods. Women are barred from entering kitchens and eating certain foods. Women are not even allowed to look at male family members, as they believe it will shorten the men’s lives or bring illness. Although it was banned by the Nepalese government in 2017, Chhaupadi continues to be practiced.
On February 5, 2019, our team boarded an airplane and headed to Nepal, determined to come alongside Nepali sisters to help shed light on the issues of basic feminine hygiene, the deception of Chhaupadi, and the beauty of the female body. We were up against strong social and spiritual stigmas that only God could break, releasing our sisters in Kathmandu to live in the freedom provided through Christ.
When we arrived at the hostel, over 100 girls were seated in plastic chairs, singing away. We could feel the tension and excitement in the room. For the next four or five hours, Dawn Ahlm, our nurse, and Sangita, our translator and a hostel mother, taught about feminine hygiene. We shared how their bodies were created, what was normal, when to seek medical help, and how to use the feminine hygiene kits. Most importantly, we told them they were not alone, but surrounded by other women who loved them and by a God who saw them. The girls’ faces went from wide-eyed confusion to utter joy.
Days after the training, my friend Hannah told us that the girls were opening up, sharing about their bodies, and even asking to be taken to the doctor. Little did we know that by learning about their physical bodies, their hearts would begin to open too. Girls were feeling free to voice the horrible trauma and abuse they experienced before arriving at the hostel. Many girls have requested trauma counseling. The hostel mothers even requested to bring the feminine hygiene training and kits to the villages. God is up to something. He is opening doors and pouring out upon His women in Nepal. Hannah said, “This is unprecedented!”
You may be asking, “This is such a huge issue. How can I help? What can I do? Who am I?” Welcome to the club! The team who went to Nepal in February was a group of ordinary women—moms, wives, friends, daughters—all using their strengths and working together, watching God put the pieces together.
If He can use us, He can use anyone.
What can you do?