The Highworth book that's made a difference on the other side of the world

Swindon Advertiser: Women involved in the micro finance project near Kathmandu, where funds have helped them launch agricultural projects Women involved in the micro finance project near Kathmandu, where funds have helped them launch agricultural projects

EXCITED shrieks and hollers rise above the din of crashing glacial streams as a flotilla of rafts cascade through craggy mountain gorges into the swelling icy pools of scenic valleys.

White water rafting has possibly never seemed more exciting or, if participants have time to look up and admire the snowy-capped mountain-tops around them, more spectacular.

For the Himalayan Adventure Girls, a group of young women who are breaking the mould in the mountains of Nepal, it is another day at the office.

But what has this got to do with an initiative launched approximately 4,600 miles away in the hilltop town of Highworth in the Borough of Swindon?

The rafting, kayaking and trekking project – which enables young women to claw away from the traditional entrapment of motherhood and domestic chores into determining their own futures – is being partially funded by a singular book.

Highworth-based author and historian Rosa Matheson, well known for her books on Swindon’s Great Western Railway works, asked 100 women to write about themselves.

Two years after its publication, A Day in the Life of 100 Women in Britain has raised around £4,000 to boost a string of ground-breaking schemes – including the adventure girls – that are helping women in Nepal create independent lives for themselves.

Rosa and husband Ian, a retired GP, have for more than four years been raising funds for Angels Orphanage in Kathmandu after coming across a “family” of desperate children trapped in a cycle of poverty and hopelessness during a visit to Nepal in 2009.

While they continue to generate money to meet the constant financial demands of running an orphanage it also became apparent to the couple that there were other areas of hardship in which they could help make a difference.

Rosa said: “The book came about because we wanted to do something to help the women in Nepal. “Going back as often as we do to visit the orphanage you cannot help but see that while life is hard for all in Nepal it is a lot harder for women, especially widows – women marry young and can be widowed young too.

“Nepalese men do not marry widows; women are not ‘educated’ to do anything other than be a wife and mother and assist in the gruelling task of keeping the family fed.

“The idea of the book project was simple: to ask women here to help women there to help themselves – simply by writing a small piece about their lives.

Mother-of-four Rosa went on: “We produced a book written by 100 women. After covering the costs of production all the profits support initiatives to educate, empower and enable Nepalese women to earn their own income.”

Rosa was thrilled at the response from women, aged 18 to 95, who submitted details about their lives. “It is a very human snapshot of women’s lives as lived in Britain today. “These women do all sorts of things – make jewellery, chocolate, honey; work as an accountant, nurse, teachers, hairdresser, actress, vicar; they teach yoga, African drumming and how to write.

“They are carers for their husbands, mothers or children; they write books and poetry and so much more.

“Writing honestly and bravely about all aspects of a woman’s life, the book is feisty, funny, sometimes chokingly sad and truly inspirational. This book is unique as it does things other books do not do.

“It gives life to women and their families. It keeps them together. It puts food on their table. It puts a roof over their heads. It stops widows having to give away their children because they have no means to look after them.

“It stops women having to leave their homes and country to work as servants or sex workers in other lands. We believe that it is a ‘must have’ for every woman – and every man.”

She said the initiative was already making a big difference to the lives of hundreds of needy Nepalese people.

One of the schemes is a ‘micro-finance’ enterprise involving several rural communities strung around the village of Rainaskot in a mountainous region near Kathmandu.

Cash has so far been loaned to 35 women to grow potatoes, buy goats and build a goat pen to keep the herd safe from leopards. The aim is that funds will be repaid back into the kitty from profits.

Rosa said: “It is hoped that this project will establish a ‘model’ to roll out over even more villages.

As part of the scheme the women receive health education, help with managing their money and advice about animal husbandry and selling their products.”

Another scheme – “again a first all-female project” – has seen 168 women from four villages in the far-flung wilderness of the Upper Arun Valley in northeastern Nepal given seeds and trained to grow medicinal-herbs.

The book has also helped a young female doctor whose house calls often involved a mountainous trek of up to two hours and whose accommodation is a 45 minute walk from the medical centre.

“Not great when there is a life-and-death situation or a woman is having a problematic delivery of a baby,” said Rosa.

So they bought her a scooter that has greatly improved her capacity to visit and treat more patients.

Further funds have supported a project which protects Nepalese women and girls from sex trafficking and prostitution.

Meanwhile, the aforementioned radical, all-female water tourism company, the Himalayan Adventure Girls are now up and rafting.

They deliver kayaking, trekking and white-water rafting packages and also teach other young Nepalese girls to become trained instructors.

The book financed their set-up charges as well as pay for salaries and storage/office space. The aim is for the adventure girls to be fully independent within three years.

Said Rosa: “Setting up a business in the UK is relatively simple but in Nepal it is very complicated – especially if you want to be legal and if you are a woman.

“Our girls are the first female legal company. It is a ground breaking project – a real role-model for other young Nepalese women. These young women were the initial inspiration for the book.”

  • Having covered the £4,000 costs of producing the book a similar amount has so far spent on projects in Nepal.

However, further schemes vital to improving the lives of Nepalese women and their families are awaiting funds.

Rosa said: “To do this we need help. And people can help just by buying the book.”

Reflecting on this novel idea she added: “I find it somehow unreal that we have achieved all this just from a book.

“These are not 'hit-and-run' projects. They are a long-term sustainable initiatives that are truly life-changing for women, their families and their villages.

“We must sell more books.”

Copies are available at £9.99 by contacting Rosa: the100womenbookproject@hotmail.co.uk Tel: 01793 764979. The project website is: www.the100womenbookproject.com

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