Rachana grew up in Gulmi, Nepal, where she attended primary school. Unlike most students her age, school wasn’t a place for learning, fun and friends. It was a place of fear and pain. Rachana was sexually abused by her teacher at the age of eight. Her teacher would tell her this was her punishment for misbehaving in class. Back then, Rachana did not really understand what was happening to her. She just knew it felt horrible but she couldn’t get herself to tell anyone about it. That feeling stayed with her through her adolescent years. It was only after she moved to Kathmandu as an adult that she started questioning what had happened. She started thinking about what eight year old Rachana could have done differently.
This year, Rachana felt a renewed urgency when the Nepal, like many countries, went into a COVID-19 lockdown and reports of sexual abuse and violence grew alarmingly. She realized that she’s up against cultural and institutional barriers that stigmatize victims and discourage reporting sexual violence to the authorities.
Only the most severe cases, often involving rape or serious physical and life-threatening injuries, are reported to the authorities, according to reports. Even when the police and hospitals are involved, families and victims often prefer to drop charges or conceal what has happened to avoid shame and stigma.
Rachana realized that there are many others who shared her experience but were never able to share their stories. She wanted to start a project to spread awareness and create a safe space for others to share their experience, so she signed up to the Peace First digital platform and submitted an application for a mini grant. Peace First provided Rachana with a $250 grant to start her project, one on one coaching to help her plan and execute it and a community of global changemakers to connect her with tools and resources to support her journey.
Rachana was then able to partner with local youth organizations to launch Worthy Us, a virtual series of workshops to build community awareness and provide a safe space for victims to share their stories and learn about their legal rights. Worthy Us has hosted a total of five workshops since its inception and will now expand its outreach to schools and universities.
When we asked Rachana about the feedback she received, she said: “Participants felt like they have a safe space, free of shame or stigma, to share and understand their experiences.” But perhaps the biggest impact was that “participants understood that they are worthy, that their story matters and that we believe them,” Rachana said.