Working for women empowerment in the Himalayas

by Vishwa Maheshwari, intern

I have always had three main interests – traveling, environmental conservation and social service. With things finally settling down after COVID19, I took to Google to find an internship that would cover all my interests.I knew it was a long shot, but I hit jackpot when I came across Himalayan Ecotourism. It had very beautifully woven together my interests into a social enterprise which works closely with the rural people focusing on sustainable development and tourism. It was like a dream come true.This internship has given me an incredible opportunity to meet people and experience things which I would not have done otherwise. There is something so raw about life in the Himalayas. It is not only fun living here but it also changes how you perceive your life even when you’ve left. 

The biggest lesson I got was from the women here. A major part of my work was to train women from Pekhri village to become the teaching staff for our education program and also facilitate their training of becoming trek guides. These women come from families where gender equality is taboo. Women are mainly expected to stay at home, look after the kids and family and help in the farms. 

But these women know what they want from life, they have high goals for themselves and are willing to work as hard as it takes to reach those goals. It is not easy, because they face criticism from the villagers, which is obviously expected whenever someone breaks the norm. But they don’t let it deter them. Such single mindedness towards their aim truly motivated me. During my stay there, we went on a trek with the women guides under training. It was amazing to see them do everything right from handling equipment, setting up tents and carrying luggage. It was proof that they are extremely capable and are in no way any less as compared to their male counterparts. 

Women empowerment on trek, for conservation and for education of kids !

I also interviewed Jagita Thakur, one of the guides on the trek. We discussed in detail her life and ambitions. She is an extremely driven person. She is one of the few lucky ones whose family supports her career. She explained to me her motivation behind her actions; she believes that only when the young girls of her village have someone to look up to, will they believe that they can also achieve all that they want in life and they will understand that there is a whole world outside their homes, that they are yet to conquer. 

The other aspect of my work was with the children in the village Pekhri. This involved me working closely with them, getting them comfortable enough with me talking to them to understand their perspective on things. We have set up a room with computers and a white board there, and our main focus is to help in improving English, using technology for learning and personality growth. We aim to help them become better citizens of tomorrow by creating awareness and sensitising them to global issues. For the kids there, exposure from the outer world is very minimal. So it is important to show them all the possibilities of what life could be for them with the right direction. 

Playing with the kids of Pekhri village in the new classroom

It was an absolute pleasure to work with Himalayan Ecotourism and Stephan. The entire family was more than welcoming, and not for a moment did I ever feel like I was away from home. The internship widened my point of view about rural India and gave me a chance to appreciate the simplicity and beauty of life here. 

More than that, it was the work ethic that I learnt. Stephan creates this perfect combination of casual and professional work environment. He will listen to your opinion on the topic and brainstorm issues together, small and big. At the same time, punctuality and discipline in work was an important aspect of the internship. I understood that to generate results, work has to be thorough and dedicated efforts are required. I am grateful for the whole experience and have taken home a lot.

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