A tale of three women
A tale of three women

By: Lyn Jackson
From the outside, it looks like a very ordinary house. Bougainvillea drapes in purple folds from the first-floor landing, and bright yellow chrysanthemums splash colour in the tiny front garden. A small group of women waits patiently on the veranda.

It isn’t until they stand that you realise these aren’t ordinary women. Short in stature, each walks with the curious gait of their disability. Dipkala Rai uses crutches to negotiate the narrow hallway; Kumari Limbu’s twisted spine makes her steps slow and deliberate; Dil Kumari Rai’s artificial leg clicks into place as she sits.
These three women are extraordinary. In spite of their personal tragedies – illness, injury and untreated infection – together they are reaching out not just to women like themselves, but to other families in their community. They have worked hard, grasping opportunities wherever possible, overcoming prejudice and ignorance, looking for meaning in selfless service.

Dipkala Rai was just five years old when polio stole her childhood and her mobility. In her remote village, there was no possibility of education for a child who could only crawl, spider-like. For 14 years, she lived isolated by geography and disability, until a brother in Kathmandu invited her to the capital, where after numerous operations and nearly two years of physiotherapy, Dipkala could stand upright.
But she wanted more! She longed to learn, but it wasn’t easy, starting school so old, and disabled as well. Now, Dipkala has passed her School Leaving Certificate (SLC) and, at 31, is studying Economics and Political Science. But her heart is with Nepal Chelibeti Disabled Women Society (NCDWS), with the women who, like her, have had to struggle against the odds. She’s the Treasurer of this small savings group, smiling encouragingly as village women bring their crumpled rupees, writing receipts neatly in the thick ledger.

In Kumari Limbu’s rural community, everyone had to do their share of the work. But when nine-year-old Kumari lifted that heavy bale of hay, she didn’t realise that she’d broken her back and damaged her spinal column. All she knew was that she couldn’t move. With no-one to take her to hospital, she lay immobile on her mat for three years.

When she eventually received medical attention, Kumari’s spine was fixed in a deep curve. An operation in Calcutta could have helped more, but was impossible for this poor farming family. So Kumari returned to her village, studied hard and passed her SLC. Now she’s the Secretary of NCDWS, devoted to serving disabled people.

Dil Kumari Rai was born disfigured by medication her mother took during pregnancy. Shunned by everyone, she was alone in her family’s hut when a shard of glass cut her foot badly. Her leg became infected and, left untreated, was soon useless. When treatment finally became available 15 years later, amputation was the only solution.
Like Dipkala and Kumari, she grasped the chance to get an education, survived the teasing and cruelty of school, and is still working towards her SLC pass. She believes passionately in the work of NCDWS. Once, her family was ashamed of her – now she holds her head up proudly in her community.

Three extraordinary women – courageous and compassionate. What a privilege it is for UMN to work with women like these, helping them develop the skills they need to build their organisations, to serve their communities, to fulfill their dreams.

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