New hope and a chance to heal
In Nepal, an MCC partner offers an oasis and tangible help to women struggling with mental health.
It’s a hot day. The sun hangs above a concrete courtyard where several women sit reclined under an awning. Even the birds are quiet. The air is heavy, humid, holding its monsoon rains for a little while longer.
The women, clothed in bright reds, pinks and greens, are relaxing, talking quietly among themselves, enjoying the slow call of the afternoon. They are vibrant against the gray concrete and the gray skies. They are vibrant too because of their journeys.
These women are gathered in the courtyard outside of a short-term residential home of MCC partner KOSHISH (National Mental Health Self-Help Organization) in Lalitpur, Nepal. They have come because of acute struggles with mental health, because there was a time when they were not able to care for themselves. There was a time when a quiet afternoon, relaxing with others after a hot meal, was unthinkable.
I’m greeted by Kamala Poudel, welcoming me with her warm smile. We walk through the courtyard and up the stairs. She introduces me to one of their psychologists, Sangita Laudari, who tells me about clinical interventions and assessments. We connect more generally about the challenges and gifts of clinical counseling work. I could stay longer, but Poudel has more to show me, more for me to learn.
There are rooms upstairs filled with beds, a small room for art therapy, a space for dancing and community time. In a new transit home currently under construction, there will be outside areas where women can learn animal husbandry and other agricultural techniques. For women who mostly come from agrarian backgrounds, getting hands into the dirt can be therapeutic and builds skills to support women as they reintegrate into their home societies.
We make our way into the dining room and sit for a cup of tea. Poudel tells me story after story of women whose lives have been changed by KOSHISH, which receives financial and technical support from MCC. One woman who survived horrific domestic violence resulting in a late-term miscarriage found meaning and healing in working alongside the kitchen staff at KOSHISH. Another young woman after a suicide attempt was able to successfully regain her sense of hope and purpose and return to her family with increased capacity and support.
As we sip our tea and I hear these accounts of impact, change and hope, it is the story of Poudel herself which lands with the most resonance for me on this day. This woman before me, sharing tea and laughter, is the embodiment of KOSHISH’s mission and vision to promote mental health and psychosocial well-being in Nepal. Always working to de-stigmatize mental health issues, many of the staff themselves are survivors of systems set up to destroy them.
Poudel, broad smiling and quick witted, was sold by her stepfather to child traffickers in India. At 5 years old she lost her innocence, her citizenship, her family and her future. She escaped and eventually returned to Nepal but was undocumented as her traffickers had stolen her identification. She landed on the streets, struggling with her mental health.
With a chuckle of self-awareness, she tells me of her initial skepticism when she was brought to KOSHISH. She was angry. She was wounded and unwilling to receive care. But the skilled clinical and nursing staff at KOSHISH slowly won her trust.
Their careful attention; a schedule allowing for art therapy, rest and play; medical and clinical supports including medication and individual and group therapy — coupled with safety — for the first time in her life allowed Poudel to heal.
She is now an integral part of the team at KOSHISH. She tells her story without shame or hubris, naming her hurts and resilience with a confidence that inspires. She is a disability advocate and project officer. She wins over everyone who meets her — myself included.
KOSHISH’s impact on individual women is undeniable but the vision is larger.
KOSHISH wants the government of Nepal to see these care services and replicate them. They hope their advocacy can push the government to more fully step into a role of caring for those who are most marginalized in society. The KOSHISH model is both micro and macro, holding the importance of individual work and the larger perspective of pushing for social change.
This possibility of days ahead is in itself a gift — a candle inside each woman, a cautious hope that these days beyond will be lighter than the ones they leave behind."
Our teacups are empty, and we sit a little longer. This place, a haven in Nepal and the only one of its kind, pulses with a sort of energy and hope — of the women past, present and future and of the staff who support them. Of a community holding its own and pushing for change.
It is with gratitude for this shared time that I stand to leave. As raindrops begin to fall and the women move to come inside, I can feel them moving toward the next thing, toward the day ahead of this one, and the one beyond that, and even the one beyond that. This possibility of days ahead is in itself a gift — a candle inside each woman, a cautious hope that these days beyond will be lighter than the ones they leave behind.
Top photo caption: Through MCC partner KOSHISH in Lalitpur, Nepal, a woman (name withheld for confidentiality) participates in art therapy, learning traditional beading techniques.
Kaitlyn Jantzi, who lives in Kathmandu, Nepal, serves as a mental health resource person for MCC’s international programs. Her husband Luke is representative for MCC’s work in Nepal.