Visiting Kathmandu is an experience – the crazy traffic, the dust, the crowds, earthquake rubble, smiling faces, the welcome……. Working in Kathmandu is a whole different ball game. Walking to work along the same roads feels different somehow. Now I’m part of the day to day. Now I’m closer to what it means to be Nepali and in particular, what it means to be a Nepali woman.
We went to run a coach training programme, courtesy of The Academy of Executive Coaching, so that there could finally be coaches who can work in Nepalese. The whole process began when Claire Naylor – co-Founder
of Women LEAD Nepal – fell over my feet at a Ted Conference in London. I’d been standing chatting for what seemed like hours, so I found a quiet space and stretched out – just for a moment you understand. It was the best bit of networking I did all day! Profuse apologies ensued on both sides and we got talking. As I heard about the work of Women LEAD and the lack of Nepali coaches, my juices started flowing.
“I just happen to know a coach trainer who’s always up for an adventure. I’m sure if I told him about your situation, he’d be on the next plane!”
Do you fancy running a training in Kathmandu?
I was right – John didn’t hesitate. And since this is the start of our ‘giving back’ years, it seemed like the ideal first event. Not to mention that the three x two days programme left space for us to have other adventures – like returning to Bhutan and finally seeing the Taj Mahal – but that’s another story.
I was all set to assist on the programme until John’s colleague, Anita Rolls, kindly donated her time too which left me free to offer coaching to the Alumni. And that was the beginning of a very special experience for me.
I was amazed
Mostly in their mid twenties, these well educated women were so driven and determined. Planning their
post grads, building businesses, working to help other women, supporting the community by developing craft businesses, educating through the arts – the list went on. And all really eager to learn more about themselves. It was a coach’s dream!
I used learning from all the different elements of my life – psychotherapist, executive coach and facilitator, not to mention Mother. We ranged from presenting a business case through to managing marriage and in-laws – and all points in between. And I loved every minute!
These women taught me so much
I’ve coached people from many different cultures over the years, but I realise it’s been mostly men – such is the nature of business, sadly. Now here I was working with young women at the forefront of a fast changing culture. Nepal is growing, catching up with the western world, whilst holding on to its own unique culture – especially for women.
I kept wondering….
How would I have fared moving in with my in-laws after we married and becoming the main carer? And could I have managed to keep working at the same time as all that cleaning and cooking?
My family is unusual in the UK, with one daughter living opposite and the other just two roads away – not many families settle that close. In Nepal, we’re unusual for the opposite reason – why so far away? There extended family live in the same house and work as one. Having ‘cousin-sisters’ and ‘cousin-brothers’ is a real plus for only children. It sounds great – but would I manage with so many people around me all the time?
And what would happen to us – as parents of two daughters? Off they’d go to live with their husband’s families, but keeping an eye on us, I guess. I never did work that one out.
I’m sure we’d have encouraged them to find a love match. But what if they reached the ‘normal’ age for marriage with no one on the horizon – would we have held out for them or given in to cultural norms and arranged a marriage?
It’s hard to go against the prevailing culture. We can say we’d do things differently, but as older folk, brought up in the old ways and under pressure to conform, I guess the chances are slim. For change to really take place, it requires the young to be active and I see Women LEAD and their Alumni at the forefront of the charge.
The power of crisis
Inevitably it got me thinking about young women in the West. Are they as zealous? What challenges do they face as they journey from childhood to the reality of adult life? Their experience will of course be very different, but still it’s worth asking: are we supporting them enough? Where is our equivalent of Women LEAD?
Life in Nepal is demanding. Just moving around the city of Kathmandu is a challenge. Unmade roads,
potholes, cows, ducks, endless dogs, scooters galore, taxis, carts, loaded bicycles – no journey is quick. Now I’m back in the UK, I can see just how ordered life is – it all looks a bit too tidy to my adapted eye. I’m sure I’ll re-acclimatise and go back to complaining about the poor quality of roads, but right now, I realise we don’t know we’re born.
And that’s the crux of the matter. Our lives are comfortable ‘enough’, which means there’s less urgency for change. Mind you, we’re blessed with Brexit which has many young people speaking out about politics for the first time. A lot of young women too.
Still on all other fronts, we have a good life. It isn’t a struggle to cross town. We have the freedom to travel and work as we wish. There are few rules for how we live our adult lives. So there’s less pressure to really accept and focus on the problems we need to address – families in poverty, a depleted health service, underfunded education – to mention just a few.
We can learn from each other
The women in Nepal believed they could learn a lot from me and my experience. They didn’t think how much they could teach me. They gave me so much food for thought – maybe it’s time to explore how well we care for family; how the young might take more risks with their work; how we can all be more socially conscious. Not to mention how people like me could get out there and share the wisdom we’ve developed in service of others
The coaching course ended really well with cake and celebrations of success. Once the final stages of the assessment are completed, I’m quite sure the new Nepalese coaches will add real value and I’m delighted to have been part of that.
And now that I’m back home, the questions are still coming. So what will I do now? First, I’ll stay in touch with the Nepalese clients who want to – I never like opening up issues without being available to follow through if needed. Second, I need to think about the support I might offer here in the UK. There must be numerous young women facing their own version of the life changes experienced in Nepal, but without access to help. Time to start exploring what’s out there.
Take a look at Women LEAD Nepal and enjoy reading about these fascinating young women who are out there making a real difference.
Then let me know if you know of a ‘Women LEAD’ style organisation in the UK.
Or if you are also looking for ways to help young people take their place in the world, get in touch – we can explore together.
I can guarantee it will be a great learning on both sides.