It had been ten years since her last visit, and Mary Elizabeth Miller, SCN, was looking forward to seeing how the ministries in Nepal were growing.
Landing in Kathmandu in February 2009, while transportation workers in the city were striking, the first few hours got off to an adventurous start as she found herself travelling by rickshaw in order to make her way to SCN ministries.
As she visited SCNs across the country, she was struck by one thought over and over, “Mother Catherine would be smiling at your work. She would be so proud. SCNs are truly reaching out to people in need, empowering women, helping the poor, teaching the children …”
While in Kathmandu, Sister Mary Elizabeth visited the Navjyoti Centre. “To see the smiles and accomplishments of many of the disabled students and clients is truly inspiring,” says Sister Mary Elizabeth.
In Surkhet, Sister Mary Elizabeth witnessed the success of a women’s empowerment group. Coordinators reach out to women in remote villages and work to instill in them a sense of confidence and self respect. One of the women in the program shared, “we used to be fighting each other, now we work together.” And how they have worked together to clean up the village, learn skills, and to protect one another when family members become violent. Sister Mary Elizabeth says the women in the village are so proud of all they have accomplished, that they designed matching pink and black saris. Now when the women are seen together, they command respect. It’s as if others in the village “sit up straight, take notice,” says Sister Mary Elizabeth.
The need to empower women and children is great. Describing how women in one village were so shy and lacked confidence says Sister Mary Elizabeth, they would sometimes cry when addressed or even asked their names. These same women now have confidence, and are willing to stand up for themselves, and advocate for others. In empowerment programs, women also learn a trade, basic English and writing, hygiene, first aid, and other life skills. They are asked to return to their villages and empower others.
As Sister Mary Elizabeth travelled from ministry to ministry, she says she couldn’t help but be in awe of the Sisters working tirelessly to educate children and parents, care for the disabled, and those providing much needed health care. Upon visiting a SCN mobile medical clinic, she spoke to one woman who walked seven hours to receive care. The woman was one of more than 240 patients waiting to see a doctor that day. Most had travelled great distances and were willing to stand patiently in long lines. All were grateful to receive medical care. No matter what ministry or areas Sister Mary Elizabeth visited, she said she was constantly struck that the “people were so happy to see us, so excited and pleased we were coming to the village.”
Also visiting Nepal in 2009 was Bridget Kappalumakal, SCN, who found herself arriving in Kathmandu during a strike. That meant nothing on wheels would move- not even a bicycle, says Sister Bridget, nothing except the “two legs.” Sister Bridget recounts, “I did not know what I was going to do but then a boy appeared with a placard with my name on it and said the Sisters sent him to meet me … I asked him, ‘how we were going to go’ and he said casually, ‘walking …’ We saw no cars, motorcycles, rickshaws or bicycles along the way … The boy walked ahead of us pulling the bag through the ups and downs of the road, mud, rock, water and everything else and finally, we reached home at the end of about 2 1⁄2 hours.”
Sister Bridget welcomed the strike as an opportunity that allowed her to experience the unpredictability of events that the people of Nepal and the Sisters must embrace. “One has to learn to take things as they come and make the needed adjustments,” shares Sister Bridget.
Sister Bridget’s visit in June to Kathmandu was just one week after the church bombing at Assumption Catholic Church that killed three people and injured more than a dozen. SCNs, stunned and saddened by the attack, knew some of the victims. The shock was still very fresh in everyone’s mind says Sister Bridget. The day after she reached Kathmandu, another victim, who had suffered burns, died. Sister Bridget went to the victims’ funeral. “I had the opportunity to be present for her funeral in the same church which was bombed a week earlier … It was a very moving and heart wrenching experience as the father of the little girl and his other two younger children were holding on to each other and sobbing. They were inconsolable and all in the church were in tears. The effects of the bombing were still seen on the high ceiling of the church where the bomb blasted and went up.”
From Kathmandu, Sister Bridget made her first visit to Surkhet to visit a women’s center, school, and the convent. “Surkhet is a beautiful place and Sister Rosita Kavilpurayidathil, our pioneer woman there, has done wonders with the people especially women and children.”
Sister Bridget witnessed firsthand what she describes as the “empowered women of Sister Rosita.” It happened on World Environment Day in the village of Gadi, about two hours drive from the Center. Sister Bridget and others were about half way to Gadi, when their van was stopped by a road blocked due to a dispute. The Sisters had no choice but to start out on foot for a 2-hour walk, mostly uphill. After walking some distance, the Sisters stopped briefly for a break and a cup of tea. Women dressed in pink and black saris came along who had heard about the roadblock. “They told us they will go and bring the vehicle … and bring they did,” says Sister Bridget. “About 15 of them marched down the hill … and came back with the vehicle. What we were not able to do they did with group bargaining power. These same women, some years ago, could not even stand up and say even one word in the class let alone in front of others, have now been transformed into powerful forces in the society, able to demand their rights.”
Sister Bridget’s last stop in Nepal was Dharan, where she had yet another adventure. “When I reached the airport at Birathnagar, I found no Sisters there to receive me as we had planned … I found out that there was a strike in one area and our Sisters were stuck … So, they called one of their friends, a shopkeeper, and told him to meet me and take me to the place where the Sisters were waiting. I asked the man how we were going and he said on the motorcycle.” I responded, “On the bike? With my luggage?” He said, “Don’t worry. We’ll manage. So, I sat on the bike and kept my heavy bag in my lap and away we went.”
Sister Bridget returned to India with many memories and a renewed respect for all in ministry in Nepal and all who live in that country. “This is the everyday experience of our Sisters in Nepal. They do not know what will happen from hour to hour, from day to day. But they continue their ministries in joy and enthusiasm and dedication, believing in the promise of Jesus that ‘I will be with you always.’”