[Global Youth Camp for SSE]: 3 Sisters Adventure trekking & empowering women of Nepal

ESS Organisations
Urban & Rural Regeneration / Community
Youth / Education
Environment / Food
Social Service / Employment

3 Sisters Adventure Trekking is a social enterprise based in Nepal, empowering women in the local communities through various initiatives and promoting sustainable tourism. 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking programmes are enabling trekkers not only experience the beautiful scenery of Nepal but also allowing them to engage in the culture of indigenous people and women in remote areas for a deeper understanding of local culture. 3 Sisters Adventure launched in 1994 when trekker harassment by male guides and potters in remote areas prevalent while women in local neighbourhoods had limited access to education and employment.

As a response to that, three sisters established a social enterprise which was the first company to employ female guides and porters in Nepal. Through profits from their trekking guide business and donations from international sponsors, three sisters established an NGO called Empowering Women of Nepal. They provided various education programmes for underprivileged women in Nepal. One of them called STEM which has provided basic educations for women and skills to be trekking guides after that they can work as guides in 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking or elsewhere. Empowering Women of Nepal has trained over 2,000 women, and 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking now has over 150 staffs.

For trekkers, they can experience the genuine Nepal culture by travelling with 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking while promoting local economy as many trekking routes are designed carefully by considering its impacts making on local communities in Nepal. For example, a trekking route called ‘a cultural journey to Solu’ is a newly developed route by women employees of 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking company which come from the Solu region. The route explores particularly the lower region of Solu which is isolated and least developed and even worse, heavily damaged by the 2015 earthquakes. 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking developed this new route to promote and support rural farming communities of Solu while trekkers can be exposed to untouched exotic part of Nepal. For more information, visit their website. (http://www.3sistersadventuretrek.com/sisters/ewnhttps://empoweringwomenofnepal.wordpress.com/)


<Trekking route of Solu, photo from 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking homepage>


Archana Chhetri (chhetri_archana@hotmail.com), A representative Founders of 3 Sisters Adventure

trekking company and EWN participated in the GSEF’s first global youth camp for SSE last August, Korea and kindly shared their stories for wider audiences.

Below is the interview of Archana Chhetri, Empowering Women of Nepal conducted by Su-yeon Lee from (UNRISD)

Interview with Archana Chhetri, Empowering Women of Nepal

Q: Could you tell us a little bit about your organizations, or what you do?

A: Today I am wearing two hats, representing Three Sisters Adventure Trekking and Empowering Women of Nepal (EWN). So, it’s a social enterprise. When the business was started, even there was no concept like it. We didn’t know that it is a social enterprise, so as we are working on, we began to realize that it is called social enterprise. So what we do is, we have different programs, mainly we are focusing on young girls, coming from disadvantaged families, mostly migrants within Nepal and also farmers’ children. So we have programs to support these direct beneficiaries. So what we do is, our business site is travel and trekking company in Nepal. And this is owned by women and for women. As you know, Nepal is a mountainous country, so lots of solo women travellers are coming. If you look up the statistics, the number is going higher and higher. So they come to Nepal to see the mountains, they want to experience the culture.

Q: Like trekkers?

A: Not like high mountains, walking through the villages and also high passes, So we have that business. Whatever money is generated, because it’s a business, we make profits, part of the contributions also goes into the support program of EWN. 

At the EWN, we have several programs; one is the GOAL program, we offer life skill program. It’s a nine-month program. During the nine months, girls are going through different modules. The first module called “be yourself.” We start with what is communication, how we communicate, what it means to be a girl or a boy, gender roles, leadership, conflict management, like these are under “be yourself.” And then “be empowered.” We talk about child rights, violence, trafficking, etc. because, in our community, many girls and women face violence, but we don’t know how to address it. We don’t recognize if this is violence.

So how we do recognize violence, and when you experience it, what you would do. How do you remain safe, of if you know someone suffering from that, how would you address it? Don’t do it aggressively, but go through the right channel making sure that you’re safe. So there are different courses: be yourself, be empowered, be healthy. At the “be healthy” session… we talk about body image. Girls, as you are growing up, I think it’s also the same in Korea, we do not feel comfortable with our bodies. Ourselves. Our self-esteem is very low. And how do you work with young girls? Especially young girls from disadvantaged families. And at the end, we have “be money safe.” We teach girls how to do savings, how to make budgets, how do you go forward, like goal-setting. So it’s a nine-month program,

So with this, we offer sports. Because in Nepal, there is no physical education class. For students going to government schools, and our beneficiaries are all coming from government schools- because poor children are going to public schools. Boys, no matter what, there is a PE class at school or not, they are out in the field, running around, but not girls. Because girls have less chance to play. So they normally go to school, come back to the house, and work in the kitchen, take care of animals, and some girls go to work with their parents on the street. So they don’t have many opportunities. Our program, GOAL is a combination of life skill and sports for nine months.

Q: What is the ultimate goal of EWN?

A: the mission of EWN is to empower, to educate, and to create employment opportunities for disadvantaged girls and women. We want girls to have economic power, but economic power comes step by step. At first, girls of our community, coming to our program, they have no self-confidence, they have no self-esteem, they think they are nobody. Because nobody listens to them, nobody hears their stories; they cannot, you know, poverty is the biggest thing. When there is no food in your stomach, a lot of complication comes. So we want them to be strong. First of all, we want them to know that there is somebody to hear them support them in their journey.  

Q. So you want them to be mentally empowered as well.

A. yes. When they’re mentally empowered, rest can be much easier if you feel that you have strong, feelings that you can make a change to yourself and in your community.

Q. How long has been this program?

A. this program started in 2013, so this is the fourth year.

Q. So this is coming as you wanted?

A. Yes. It is coming. I cannot say it’s 100%, but the outcome is long term. And what we are also doing after this program, we have a course, “all girls against aggression.” so in the course, we only talk about violence for both boys and girls. How to remain safe. Girls came to our program and learned how to do community mapping. They identify where are the aliens, where most girls experience violence. So you will be surprised, many happen at home, at schools, (from teachers and friends), or in public transportations. So they recognize which area is more than others. Our goal is not to talk too much, and got to hear from them. Because we have to know what they experience. They are experts on this. So we are just facilitating, giving them some directions and support, so they identify the problem. They come up with a solution,

Q: How long is this program?

A: this is for six days. Intensive.

Q: How many people engage in one program?

A: it depends on funding. So it depends. This is all free of course. For training, we receive donations. Mostly foundation donations from Europe. For GOAL program, we have an organization from Switzerland; they have been supporting us for the last four years. We have until now 103 students in one local school in Pokhara. Before we only offer this program for girls. GOAL is a girl’s leadership program. But when we are working in the field, we realized that boys also need this kind of program. Because we have girls here, and boys there, and there is no interaction between them.

Our culture is also very conservative, traditional. Therefore there is so much separation. And these boys coming to public schools, they are coming from poor families as well. And they have seen a lot of violence. Whatever you see, you do the same thing. When a boy is growing up, they try to do the same thing. Then how to teach these boys, how we can bring them into the program not forgetting that our primary goal is young girls. So we took a small number of boys. It is very important to incorporate boys.

After this, we have another program called STEM program, so girls get STEM skills. In Nepal, primary school, you have a science class. After secondary school, girl’s interest in science drops tremendously because of lack of interest. Very difficult. They think girls are not smart, but it is not the case. So we have developed the program, the STEM program as in other countries. I think it is very popular. With the help of this curriculum, we have worked with 140 girls in three public schools, so every week, our team go to a school, and the school teachers are teaching science, math, and computer, but not the traditional way of teaching. It’s very hands-on, you do practice — loads of experiments. We want to see young girls going to science classes; we want to see more engineers.

Then, we work with mountain women; this is more for economic employment. So women from all over Nepal for this one-month training, in rural areas of Nepal, there are a lot of problems for women. They are uneducated, lack of skills, knowledge, they have very poor self-esteem because of the discrimination in the family. In the rural villages, parents are thinking more traditionally. The girls go to school, but the schools in the villages are also not good. So they feel like they do not have anything to contribute. They feel worthless. They feel like nobody. I cannot do anything. This is my life — everything I will accept as it is. I cannot go beyond this. This is the feeling that she has.

So with our one-month training, it is mainly teaching girls how to become a trekking guide to take people in the mountains. So they learn English, basic communication like how are you, where are you from. This kind of conversation and cultures and religion, flora, fauna, to talk about Buddhism. During the trekking, there are lots of places where people like to visit and learn about flowers, plants, trees, birds. In this training we are also talking about women’s right, women’s health, leadership, teambuilding, so many subjects are there. After the training, they will go with the senior guide along the route in the mountains, and they learn on the field what it has to be a trekking guide, how to work in a team when you’re leading a group of Koreans, Americans, people from all over the world.

Q. Are there many cooperatives, or social economy organizations in Nepal? Do they know what they are doing is SSE?

A. Yes. But SSE is not very popular, and cooperatives are very different from places. Our cooperatives are more like small women’s coop, they collect money and use it for household consumption, not like iCOOP. It is mainly for subsidizing food and other necessary items in life. So it’s a very different level. The concept of social enterprise is coming; it is growing slowly now.

Q. What is the most critical social issue that youth in Nepal is facing?

A. It is so complex, but the root cause of these social problems is poverty. Young people now are in a very big problem. Through the internet, mobile, and TV, you have so much information. It’s too much for them. They come from poor family and do not have any directions. So they are engaged in many harmful practices, there are peer pressures, alcoholism, drugs, a little bit of crime as well, teenage pregnancy for girls, running away from homes, and unemployment.

Q. How about education levels, do they voluntarily go to school?

A. Yes, it’s compulsory to go to school. It’s mandatory to go to primary and secondary school. However, it doesn’t apply everywhere. If your family is a little bit aware that you need to send your children to school, then it’s okay. But many of family members are working so hard, and they don’t give much time for children. Because the parents have never been to schools, they do not recognize the importance of education. Also, I would put the quality of education although you went to school and learned for 10 to 20 years, after that you are not getting a job. Then what is the use? I believe that the government should put more focus on vocational education. Not everybody is going to be a scientist of a doctor. Maybe some carpentry, cooking, some people might like to do this. Not everyone needs to be academic.

Q. What is the most rewarding and satisfactory thing for you to do the job?

A: It is very satisfying. There are many challenges. It’s difficult to work sometimes with groups that you want to see them grow. What makes me happy is that when I see even one person doing so well changing from that circumstances, really taking charge of their lives and moving ahead. That makes me very happy. When I see young girls taking force in their fields, laughing and playing, feeling a part of the team that makes me happy.  We have a very nice team at work, we get along really well, and our organization has very loose, and equal right to speak. You can say, and she can say their opinion. So we have a mutual understanding within team members as well as on the ground when you work with people. They are so energetic, and they want to be changed. Their spirit keeps me alive.

Q. Last question. What is the most difficult thing in your work?

A: I don’t have too many challenges, because girls are there and want to change themselves. Otherwise why they waste their time? But once in a while, you do get some… not challenges, I would say opportunities, difficult people to manage, like young teenagers. They told their parents that they are coming for our program, and never went home. So I have to go to their school, and her teacher asks me many questions like where is the girl, like this. This is difficult.

Q. Do you need any support from the government?

A. yes, sometimes when support is needed, we are going to seek.  We are a very active organization in our community, so the local government is ready to support us — unfortunately no financial support but a lot of moral support. I think they appreciate the kind of work we are doing.

Q. What kind of support do you get from the government then?

A. we are part of a network. So if the government do some awareness campaign, they invite like-minded organizations, consultation, planning events together. For example, there is a global campaign called '1 billion rising', right? So it’s in February, on Valentine’s Day, we go on the street, sing and dance. That is only one tool. We sing and dance and share the message about how to end violence against girls and women. Government organize it, and we are part of the team. Our organization’s work is small, but if you work with other organizations, especially government, the impact can be much greater.

Q. What did you learn or earn from this camp?

A: I am already involved in SSE. But what I am earning here is that meeting different people here and getting ideas from them. I have my dreams and aspirations. I like to work with girls who are in the dance bars, in prison someday, and thinking about how I can make that kind of project. And I am always very afraid to take that first step. But while listening to many other people’s story, I see that they are young like me, and also have fears, reason and challenges, and whatever, but they have tried. Getting that strength and support, I am very inspired. Look at last night, the cultural night. It has reminded us that we are all in the same boat. We all want to do something for our community for everyone.

Our community means the global community. The biggest thing we do is we all want to be happy. And it was shown very clearly yesterday. I felt that the very positive energy because all people are gathering there, they are all social change makers. Students, activists, they are all coming together, sharing that knowledge, experience, so It gives me more inspiration and more motivation, and it puts me into more pressure that I need to something.