Siân Edwards, Trustee of Carers Worldwide, recently accompanied our Executive Director, Anil Patil on a trip to Nepal to witness first hand our work in partnership with LEADS. Whilst there, Siân took part in the first ever Carers Day celebrations to take place in Nepal and has written of her experiences. Read Siân’s experiences below:
Where have all these people come from?!
In April, I was given the privilege, as trustee responsible for keeping an eye on our programmes, to accompany Anil to Nepal. We were going to visit LEADS, the Carers Worldwide local partner that works in two districts in Western Nepal to review the work that they have done during the second year of implementing a project for carers of people with mental illness and epilepsy. This is our first programme to be funded by the UK Government’s Department for International Development and therefore a huge responsibility is on us to ensure that we maximise the impact of this funding on the communities that LEADS supports.
LEADS had been working with BasicNeeds, another UK NGO, on a programme for people with mental health problems and had agreed to do this programme, making a shift to supporting family carers. From the moment we arrived, LEADS staff were keen to emphasise how enthusiastic they were about this. Equally, every carer that we talked to wanted to tell us how no-one had ever taken an interest in their problems before this programme.
Carers Worldwide has already had a big impact. The main emphasis of the programme is to support poor rural families with inputs to help them improve their income (for example, a goat or chickens which they can breed from, or support with inputs for local craft-making or manufacturing) and we visited families in remote villages that were already benefitting hugely from increased incomes that they were investing in their children’s education, improving their homes, buying medication for the person affected by mental illness or epilepsy, or more often reinvesting in their farms. However, there has been another, more seismic impact of the Carers Worldwide programme which I had not anticipated.
Family carers are an unrecognised group in Nepalese society, often isolated in their homes, restricted by their caring responsibilities. Carers Worldwide and LEADS had encouraged carers from throughout each of the two districts where they work to set up a Carers Association which could speak up for their rights and encourage others to listen to their needs. After almost a week trekking in the back of a jeep up and down the mountainsides from one village to another, I was rather sceptical about how this would work. For most, the journey to the main district town would be many hours – even days – walk. The individual carers we met might be the only carer in their village or in local contact with only a handful of other carers. The sheer scale of distances and the extreme logistical challenges presented by being in the Himalayan Mountains is hard to convey. This was not my first trip to Nepal but I was in awe of just how self-sufficient communities need to be to survive. For many, it simply is not possible to get a road to reach them, even if they had the money to build one!
So, I was not optimistic about the plans of the newly formed Carers Association to hold a procession and a rally to raise awareness of their rights. A day was set aside and we turned up at the district capital, Baglung, early in the morning. The already assembled crowd from around the town and local villages was modest but ready with their banners and printed signs. Before long though, we were joined by others as coaches arrived from further away and to my surprise and amazement the line of protesters grew and grew. A snake of several hundred metres cheerfully marched through the centre of the town and congregated at a large hall for the rally. The hall was packed, and I was not the only one to be surprised by the sheer numbers – almost 500 people came, and 350 were carers. Many of the carers I spoke to were as amazed as I was. “I never knew that there were so many people like us,” said Dilu, chairperson of a group of 15 carers from Myagdi, “and it has really encouraged me to show what we can do if we are supported.” There was a tangible sense of liberation in the room, as if for the first time, carers were able to heave a sigh of relief – we are not alone and together we CAN have a voice. It felt a privilege to witness the birth of this movement and I can’t wait to see what they do next – they will be a force to be reckoned with, I am sure!