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In January I travelled to Nepal with a group of amazing women (and one amazing man) to see the work of Baptist World Aid and their partner NGO, United Mission to Nepal (UMN). We travelled for 8 days through rural Nepal and visited some inspiring women and children who are flourishing in business, education and community. It was an incredible experience that I hope has changed me forever.

It was our second last day out in rural Nepal visiting community groups who were being assisted by Baptist World Aid through their in-country partner, United Mission to Nepal. My heart was full of hope and joy for all the ways I had seen women and children flourishing as they took part in the projects we had visited in the previous days.

All of the programs in schools and community were incredible, but the one that impacted me most was our visit to a group of women high in the hills who were part of a Self-Reliance Group. None of these women had gone to school, but with the help of UMN staff, they had learned how to set up and run a loaning institute, enabling them to loan money to the women of the community to establish themselves in business. The women came in from their homes all over the hills to meet and talk with us. We sat together and asked them many questions about their businesses, and what life was like before and after they had established their cooperative.

One lady told us that she had loaned 3,000 NPR (about $40AU) five years prior. With that, she bought a goat and a pig and this meant she no longer had to ferment and sell alcohol. Two years later after lots of hard work and greater loans, she has three poultry farms and her children are now in school.

This woman told us that when she was a girl, she would follow her brother to school. Every day for a year. She desperately wanted to go but she could not because she was a girl.

These ladies shone with confidence and laughed with ease. They told us how happy their husbands are that they are part of this group. They spoke of their goals for the community; to increase their income, to protect the rights of their children, to defend the rights of women, to support pregnant women, to make their community beautiful, safe and clean. The women meet at 12noon sharp, once a month. They have a uniform and a president and secretary. They get docked 65 cents (AU) if they arrive late or out of uniform. These women are strong, determined and resolute. My heart just sang with joy and love for what they were doing and the way they were doing it.

The beauty of UMN and Baptist World Aid is that they help the local people get started. They use local leaders, equipping them with the equipment, skills and leadership training they need to become self-reliant. The plan is always to build them up to a point where they can do it for themselves. Right from the start, this is their plan; to lovingly walk alongside them until they are ready to flourish on their own.

And these women are flourishing. They decided to build a road into their community. They determined it would cost 70 000 NRP to do it (about $900AU). At one monthly meeting, they took a vote and agreed that they would all pay $38 each. THE NEXT MONTH everyone brought their money and they contacted contractors. It took 5 days to build the road had driven in on.

When they told this story it took a lot of self-control not to jump out of my seat and high five every one of those ladies. “You built a road!” You built a road!” “You build a road!!”

The second last day of our visit was all fist pumps and women’s empowerment.

The last day would be far more sobering…