A short flight followed by a Jeep ride brought us to the Dang Deukhuri District of Nepal, a lowland region close to the border with India. Dang is home to over half a million people, the majority of whom are ethnically Tharu. We came to Nepal to work specifically with this marginalized indigenous group who have a survival advantage in malaria endemic regions due to the high prevalence of the sickle cell gene in their population.
On our first day in Dang, we bumped along the dirt and gravel roads on our packed tuk-tuks to the Unako House. The landscape here consists of an eclectic mix of brightly coloured homes, straw and mud huts, animals, and a sea of farmland surrounded by mountains. We felt a sense of tranquility as we rumbled past schoolchildren in their uniforms, and an abundance of sheep, goats, and buffalo (but most of all, dust!!!). Despite the heat (40 degrees!), we were all so excited to begin our work.
When we arrived at the bright yellow Unako House, we were warmly welcomed by the staff of Creating Possibilities (CP). Unako House, which means “a place for her”, serves as a community space for educational and entrepreneurship programs to empower mothers’ groups, young girls, and previously bonded women. As we walked in, we each received a tika on our foreheads and a colourful flower garland to wear, and all of us promptly managed to either smudge or sweat it off. Tika, a red-coloured powder, is given as a blessing during celebrations or processions.
We spent the majority of the day prepping for the educational modules by hand-making posters to illustrate the complexities of sickle cell disease. While most of us grew up accustomed to arts and crafts, we had to learn on the fly to write Nepali characters and use tape to manually laminate posters – this turned into a highly frustrating yet somehow rewarding process!
The incredible CP team put together a last minute celebration for Iulia’s 23rd birthday that consisted of cake, chura (bangles) for the girls, and tie-dyed Nike bandanas for the boys. While Iulia was pleasantly surprised by this warm gesture, she was even more shocked (and amused) when she realized that the local customs required everyone to feed her cake and promptly smear her face with the dessert. Our team was very enthusiastic to join in on this fun tradition!
It was so great spending the whole day at the Unako House, and we already feel like part of the family!
– Nepal Sickle Cell Team 2019