Nepal, a land of diverse cultures and traditions, is home to a rich tapestry of communities, each contributing to the wealth of Nepalese society. Kapilvastu, a district in the southwest of Nepal, stands out as a shining example of regional diversity. Amidst picturesque landscapes, closer to the plains of India than the peaks of Nepal, time seems to follow a different rhythm. In this rural setting, tradition plays a crucial role in organizing daily life, and prevailing patriarchal norms continue to influence societal dynamics. Expectations tied to traditional gender roles limit opportunities and define the rules of what is deemed acceptable for women within the community.

Sakira Khatun works for Karuna-Shechen in this region. Her journey and dedication are a source of inspiration for the community. Her narrative is one of empowerment, transformation, and the affirmation of the boundless potential of the human spirit. As a woman, she exemplifies that drive and determination can overcome the limits imposed by society.

The Need for Change

Sakira Khatun lives in the village of Chandrauta, in the municipality of Kapilvastu. She is actively engaged in health promotion and health education for Karuna-Shechen.

“We are currently a family of four—my husband, my two daughters, and myself,” Sakira shares. “I joined Karuna-Shechen when one of my former supervisors informed me of a job opportunity. I applied online and secured the position of health promoter. I was determined to contribute to this sector.”

Her commitment  to continue her education, despite the prejudices of her community, reflects her unwavering resilience.

Being unconventional comes at a cost, but I always knew that what I wanted to achieve in the long run was both just and necessary. To bring about change, one must be a catalyst for change.” she emphasizes. Her belief in education as a means of empowerment and her desire to improve the health sector led her to pursue training as a Community Medical Assistant (CMA): “In my region, I recognized that significant change could be achieved by improving the health sector. So, I dedicated myself to this training.”

Challenging and Inspiring

Sakira thrives in the development sector: “The most rewarding aspect is witnessing positive transformations in the lives of those we assist,” she says. Her interactions with local authorities result in true support.She receives these affirmations, despite being a woman from the minority Muslim community in the region. The reactions of those in power are a source of motivation to persevere despite obstacles.”

In her journey, Sakira faces numerous challenges, negative comments, and at times, discouragement. She states, “As a professional and a woman, I encounter attempts to downplay my efforts. Nevertheless, my intentions remain positive, and the unwavering support of my family reinforces my resolve. Those trying to discourage me have witnessed the impact of my work and relentless determination. They are now eager to learn more.

‘A significant part of my work involves interactions with women from different communities, and it can be an eye-opener for them to encounter a working woman in Kapilvastu.

While some feel encouraged, others may be hesitant. Regardless, each day is a source of learning and inspiration. When connecting with new people and motivating them, it is exciting to witness the gradual, yet undeniable, changes taking place.

‘One of the moments I am most proud of was the day I met a group of women from my neighborhood. They approached me, and I endeavored to inspire them by constantly repeating the mantra: If I can, why not you? Seeing this same group of women now working as voluntary community health workers fills me with immense pride and justifies all my struggles.

‘As a student in the health field, I find that my values align perfectly with those of Karuna-Shechen. We share the same commitment to improving the health conditions of the villagers. One of the most positive impacts of the program on women is the increase in childbirth deliveries at health posts. I am also delighted with the impact of the Better Future Council (BFC) trainings. The trainees immediately initiated the construction of toilets and committed to create change by disseminating information regarding health and hygiene.”

She declares, “While highlighting these achievements, it is essential to also acknowledge the challenges. Due to the high rate of illiteracy in our region, community members are often reluctant to embrace change. This requires numerous community meetings and multiple home visits to convince and educate people about the benefits of good health and hygiene practices.

Despite persistent difficulties, Sakira remains determined to raise awareness in her community by educating them about good health, hygiene practices, and education. She views these challenges as an opportunity for personal growth. “Paradoxically, I perceive these challenges as motivation for personal development. I am grateful for the opportunity to grow as an individual and to help my community grow as well. The organization’s commitment to working to improve the community’s welfare inspires me greatly. I am thankful for the opportunity provided by Karuna and the unconditional support of my family.”

Initiator of Change

Sunita Sharma, Director of Karuna-Shechen in Nepal, applauds Sakira’s unwavering dedication and passion. “She transcends societal norms and is passionate about building her own identity. Although she hails from a minority and is a woman, Sakira’s actions speak louder than words. Her eagerness to learn, attention to detail, and tireless efforts make her a community role model and heroine. The story of Sakira Khatun deserves celebration and broader recognition. Her journey attests to the power of determination and passion in the face of adversity. She is a health promoter and a catalyst for change, a role model, and a source of hope for women in Kapilvastu and beyond. Her story reminds us that with the right mindset and unwavering dedication, anyone can overcome obstacles and have a lasting impact on their community.”

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