After losing his leg in a road accident, Sandip was fitted with an artificial limb by Humanity & Inclusion and its partners.
In Nepal, road accidents are the second most common cause of injury. When he was 14, the truck Sandip was riding in was involved in a traffic crash in Chitwan. He was seriously injured.
“Doctors had to amputate his leg above the knee immediately to prevent further infection,” his mother Sukumaya explains.
Trials of isolation
The accident caused Sandip to have limited mobility. A sixth grader, he ultimately dropped out of school.
“Having lost my leg, I was ashamed to go out or to school,” Sandip says. “I did not see myself going anywhere as I could not walk. As a result, I started staying home, playing games on my phone, and cutting myself off from the outside world.”
Fortunately, Sandip’s family heard about an upcoming health screening camp in their community, providing different services for children with disabilities. These services were implemented by Humanity & Inclusion and its local partners, including Autism Care Chitwan Society, as part of the UK-funded Inclusive Futures Program.
The power of rehabilitation
After the health screening camp, Sandip was referred to the National Disabled Fund, Humanity & Inclusion’s partner, which provides rehabilitation services. The teenager was fitted with an artificial limb, but he didn’t believe he would ever walk again.
“Initially when we met Sandip, he wasn’t convinced by the idea of having rehabilitation care,” says Ramesh Baral, an inclusion officer working with Humanity & Inclusion. “He didn’t trust anyone. He didn’t even believe that an artificial limb and exercises would help him walk.”
“During counseling, we showed him some videos of people with disabilities who have achieved milestones in their lives through rehabilitation care, like walking, going to school, working and dreaming big,” Baral adds.
The counseling helped Sandip understand the power of rehabilitation and realize his own potential. Sandip is determined and making massive improvements. After just four days with his new artificial limb, he found it easy to walk by himself with the parallel bar. Through a 15-day process, Sandip learned how to use his artificial limb through. He completed gait training and learned to balance, stand, shift weight, sit and stand from a chair, and go up and down stairs.
“Training to walk with my new limb is hard work and sometimes painful, but I am confident that when it is over, it will be okay,” he told us.
Sandip’s parents now see a positive future for him. They have seen a change in their son’s attitude, and now Sandip smiles and shares his ambitions and his love of learning.
“Now, I want to read and get help to improve my mobility,” Sandip explains. “Education is my new ambition! I need to study hard so I can get a job and become independent. I have to turn my dreams into reality. I plan to open a mobile repair shop or start working after I complete my education.”
On International Mother Tongue Day (February 21, 2022), let's recognize Nepali Sign Language as the mother tongue for thousands of Deaf people who mainly communicate through Sign language.
Many deaf and hard-of-hearing people use Sign language to communicate. There are many different Sign languages depending on the country, and they are the native languages of the Deaf community. Studies also indicate when a child who is deaf or hard of hearing learns sign language, their ability to learn their native spoken language also improves.
Nepali Sign Language is a medium of communication for Nepal’s deaf community. It is a beautiful combination of facial, hand and body language.
According to the National Federation of the Deaf Nepal, there is a population of more than 300,000 people who are deaf or have hearing difficulties. In Nepal, 15,000 Deaf students attend either 22 specialized schools or 174 resource classrooms that meet their specific needs at inclusive schools.
The Reading for All program promotes an enabling environment to support Deaf students, their families, teachers and other people learn Nepali Sign Language. The project, funded by USAID, provides Deaf people a prospect to interact with people who do not sign. To enhance basic Nepali Sign Language skills, the project has developed a learning application called “Mero Sanket.” The free app is available for download on Android devices at the Google Play Store. This is the result of collaboration through the program, which is implemented by Humanity & Inclusion in partnership with World Education, the National Federation of Deaf Nepal, and the Government of Nepal.
Mero Sanket app promotes communication
Twelve-year-old Abhishek (pictured above) acquired hearing loss when he was 6. He only recently enrolled in a resource class in the western district of Dang in 2021, but his learning was interrupted due to Covid-19 lockdowns.
Initially, Abhishek didn’t seem interested, but Mero Sanket helped to fill a learning gap for him. With the facilitation and motivation of learning facilitator, he agreed to start learning. The project’s learning facilitator introduced the app to the children, helping them interact and continue with their learning during the school's closure. Later, Abhishek found the graphics and video with signs interesting.
“My son used to dress himself up, and wait for the learning facilitator,” Abhishek’s father said recently. “We are now so happy to see the interest and progress of our son in learning."
Since the launch of the app, facilitators have been instrumental in providing remedial support to Deaf and hard-of-hearing children.
“This app is very useful for those who even don’t know or partly knows Nepali Sign Language, especially teachers,” says Sapana Pokhrel, a learning facilitator from Surkhet, in Nepal’s Karnali Province. “They can communicate with the Deaf children. The self-evaluation session in this app is very useful. This is also practical, as it enables discussions on daily-use activities such as greetings, food, hygiene, and sanitation.”
“This app puts Nepali Sign Language into the hands of anyone with an interest in learning it. We wish to take more initiatives to promote inclusive education by developing an additional learning material together and to lay the groundwork for more expanded education opportunities for deaf children," a statement of the National Federation of the Deaf Nepal explains.
"Voice is not only the sound, but also a way of expressing emotions," says Sujata Rai, Project Officer in Dhankuta, a district in Nepal’s Province-1. She wonders how isolated one can feel if they cannot express their feelings as others in their mother tongue.
Reading for All works with children with a variety of disabilities, including children who are Deaf. “Mero Sanket” helps to enhance the learning skills of children, leaning on a Nepali Sign Language learning method with animated features. The objective is to bridge any learning loss children experience during Covid-19, and optimize their learning skills.
The project has already provided 302 digital learning tablets with the “Mero Sanket” app to children and teachers of resource classes. In addition, a 10-day basic Nepali Sign Language training for resource class teachers enhanced the communication in deaf resource classes.
The project is also supporting children with hearing difficulties to connect with their families, friends and teachers through Nepali Sign Language.
Laxman from Dhankuta, had dropped out of school. Despite his family’s best efforts, he refused to return. After receiving support from a learning facilitator, he changed his mind, and re-enrolled at school. "Mero Sanket" has made him interested in studying, and serves as an important learning tool for improved communications with teachers and fellow students.
Parents are also benefiting from "Mero Sanket." Rishi Ram Poudel from Kaski is the father of Manjil, who was born with limited hearing.
“Sign language plays the vital role in our communication within family members," the father explains. He had been struggling to communicate with his son before. With the "Mero Sanket" app, and the help of a learning facilitator who explained how it works, Manjil and his father can communicate more easily.
Prabin, 5, lives in southeastern Nepal with his parents. He was born without the lower part of his right leg.
“Because of the disability of our child we were worried about his future,” says Sunita, Prabin’s mother.
A community mobilizer from Community Based Rehabilitation-Biratnagar (CBRB), a local partner organization of Humanity & Inclusion, met Prabin and referred the family to seek services at a rehabilitation center.
At first, Prabin was hesitant to be fitted with an artificial limb. Specialists worked with the boy and his parents to better understand how the device would work, and how it would help him. A month later, he was eager to have a new leg.
“This was a wonderful change for our little boy, as he quickly accepted the prosthesis and began playing, running, and even jumping like any other child of his age,” Sunita explains.
Prabin attends school and loves to play with his toys.
Ambika Sharma, a specialist in artificial limbs and orthopedic braces at CBRB, worked with the family.
“Initially, it was challenging to fit Prabin with an artificial limb because he was not accepting,” Sharma says. “But his parents made it possible with their supervision and guidance. It was an amazing experience for us to see him happy with prosthesis.”
As Prabin gets older, he will need to be fitted with new devices.
“Growth is an important aspect of a child's life,” Sharma continues. “As their bodies change, prostheses have to be adapted or changed in the similar manner to accommodate them. Just as they outgrow shirts, pants, and shoes, they will outgrow their prostheses."
These rehabilitation services are supported by USAID.
Humanity & Inclusion recently organized a consortium project review and planning for the USAID-funded “Reading for All-R4A” Program in Nepal with its colleagues from USAID Nepal, World Education and 10 other partners.
The consortium celebrated the outstanding performance of the inclusive education project, and discussed the challenges faced by the project participants, partners, and key stakeholders to better plan for the future: centering solutions to strengthen the government education system that support children with disabilities inside and outside the classrooms. The partners also developed a comprehensive implementation plan for the next six months of the project.
- 5,071 head teachers and database focal persons from 3,094 schools trained on Early Screening and Integrated Educational Management Information System (EMIS).
- 103,268 children from early child development (ECD) to grade three completed early screening interventions at schools that identifies functional challenges of screened children and makes them available via a central EMIS sub-system managed by Center for Education and Human Resource Development.
- 86 learning facilitators trained to help children with disabilities through remedial and outreach learning support.
- 360 students received support by learning facilitators.
- 186 digital learning tablets and 892 hygiene kits distributed to children with disabilities.
- 8,544 sets of supplementary teaching-learning materials provided to 257 schools from four core municipalities, and to 46 resource classes in 10 districts.
- 9 Inclusive Education training packages designed and tested to ensure long-term intervention for children with disabilities.
“Happy to see all the progress made and great teamwork over the past few months- you all should be proud of your achievement,” said USAID Nepal’s Laura Parrott in her reflection note during the event. “We must continue the spirit and focus on the quality of interventions, working together to bring the change in children’s reading outcome.”
“As we have completed our strategic interventions, which often took longer time to coordinate with the authorities than we had anticipated, and entered at the full swing with field intervention in the schools and communities, we will achieve all target and objectives on time,” said Khindra Adhikari of HUSADEC, a local partner of Humanity & Inclusion for implementing the program in the district of Dhankuta.
“The leveling interventions of past six months helped the project to clear a huge backlog of the past few years. Now, we are in a comfortable position to plan our targets for next six months,” summarized Govind Phulara, Project Coordinator, at DEC-Nepal, Banke.
“The program has reached this milestone due to every single effort made by the members of the R4A consortium,” acknowledged Shaurabh Sharma, Chief of Party for the program. “For example, 94% of planned financial resources used, 48% of total revised project target of screening children performed using an early screening tool for the review period because of the excellent planning and execution.”
Through an inclusive education project in Nepal, Rabina finally has the chance to learn alongside other students.
Rabina, 19, was born with cerebral palsy. As a girl with disabilities from a low-income family, she was unable to go to school. Her parents were unaware children with disabilities could access education. Disability is stigmatized in communities like hers, where there are no inclusive schools. As a result, Rabina lacked both mobility and education for years.
That’s changing since she met a community officer working with the Empowering a New Generation of Adolescent Girls with Education (ENGAGE) project, managed by Humanity & Inclusion and Voluntary Service Overseas along with local partners in Nepal. The project seeks to empower more than 2,000 girls who are not enrolled in school—including those with disabilities—through education across three districts in Nepal’s Terai region. It is supported by UK Aid’s Girls Education Challenge Fund.
“I think that many people with disabilities in our community are still deprived of their rights and the support they need to gain their independence,” Rabina explains. “They need to be involved in projects like ENGAGE, which can be life-changing for them.”
Rabina’s opportunity to learn
In a medical camp organized by the ENGAGE, teams assessed Rabina’s needs and provided her with a wheelchair and toilet chair along with training in how to use them correctly. Soon, she will receive another, custom-made wheelchair that will help her move around even more easily.
A community officer also paid regular visits to her home to meet with her family. After a series of discussions and counseling, Rabina’s parents agreed to let Rabina join an intermediate class to prepare her to attend school. ENGAGE supplied her with the necessary learning materials.
“Thanks for supporting me with a wheelchair and a toilet chair; they really made a difference to my life,” Rabina says. “Thank you for providing counseling to my parents. They started to see me as their daughter with a future and have helped me learn.”
Rabina has completed her intermediate class, learning basic literacy skills and developing a strong interest in drawing and art. She is gaining self-confidence and wants to go to school to take her learning a step further. She will soon join a classroom where children with and without disabilities learn and play together.
“Rabina’s life has changed a lot since she joined the ENGAGE project,” explains Suman Buda, a community officer who works with Rabina. “She had never been to school and was totally illiterate. Now I feel very happy for her because she can read her lessons and write.”
Rabina’s parents are pleased with the progress she has made in her studies, and they are participating in a training program to learn how to better support their daughter. Now, they see her as a woman with ambitious plans for the future. Rabina’s neighbors are more welcoming, too, inviting her to social activities and rituals. This means Rabina is more involved in her local community, and she feels more confident than ever.
A new Nepali sign language learning app will support Deaf children develop pre-literacy, reading and basic sign language skills. The free app launched on Sept. 23, in recognition of International Day of Sign Languages.
Called Mero Sanket, the app is the first of its kind for Nepal, can also help teachers, parents, and caregivers to learn basic Nepali sign language, and will be available as an offline platform.
The app was developed as part of the USAID-supported Reading for All program, which is implemented by Humanity & Inclusion in partnership with World Education, the National Federation of the Deaf Nepal (NDFN), the Center for Education and Human Resource Development (CEHRD) and other local partners. In Nepal, children with disabilities face unique challenges in accessing meaningful and inclusive education. They experience a lack of proper learning infrastructure and accessible instruction materials adapted to their needs. In Nepal, 15,000 Deaf students attend 24 specialized schools with 174 resource classrooms. Nepali sign language was developed in 1998 and has rapidly progressed, helping students who are deaf excel in their education and communication. However, Nepali sign language is not accessible in all parts of the country, which has resulted in disproportionate high school dropout rates for Deaf students.
“Inclusion is at the heart of Humanity & Inclusion’s core values and accessibility in communication is our mandate," explains Reiza Dejito, director of Humanity & Inclusion's activities in Nepal, India and Sri Lanka. "When children’s access to education is curtailed due to Covid-19 containment measures, and when children are confined to their homes, this ingenious app helps Deaf children to continue learning. The starting point was creating a tailor-made mobile app for learning Nepali sign language, and making it fun and on demand to anyone, anytime, anywhere."
In a statement, the National Federation of the Deaf Nepal wrote, “This app puts Nepali Sign Language into the hands of anyone with an interest in learning it. In creating this mobile app, we appreciate the support provided by the Government of Nepal, USAID, Humanity & Inclusion, World Education, and all technical teams involved. In the days to come, we wish to take more initiatives to promote inclusive education by developing an additional learning material together with everyone involved in such activities and to lay the groundwork for the education of Deaf children.”
The free app is already available for download on Android devices in the Google Play Store. It includes six lessons on vowels, consonants, words, punctuation marks and other exercises in Nepali sign language. The app can be accessed offline once it is installed on a device.
“It has been a pleasure sharing that the Mero Sanket application has been developed, targeting students who are deaf or hard of hearing from grades one to three," says Dr. Divya Dawadi, Director of Inclusive Education at CEHRD. "The mobile application does not only support pre-literacy, reading and basic sign language skills, but this also helps teachers, parents, caregivers and other stakeholders learn basic sign language. The government of Nepal is committed to providing access to education for children, including those with disabilities. Together with the partners, we have developed lessons in sign language to catch up from the learning loss resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic."
Studies on educational outcomes in Nepal point to high drop-out rates and comparatively low achievement rates for children with disabilities, particularly in rural areas. USAID’s Reading for All program aims to improve reading outcomes for students with disabilities, through improving data quality on students with disabilities, early screening, building technical capacity, and testing disability inclusive education instructional models. The project will screen an estimated 277,418 children from grades 1-3 for any disabilities. Early screening helps teachers and schools to adapt students’ individualized education plans and the learning environment. Likewise, Reading for All will train more than 9,400 primary school teachers and 46 educators in resource classrooms to use inclusive teaching instruction to adapt to different needs of students.
"USAID is committed to ensuring all children have access to learning, especially children who are most marginalized," says Shannon Taylor, USAID/Nepal’s Education Office Director. "This is even more pressing during the Covid-19 pandemic where so many children are out of school and children with disabilities are disproportionately affected. We hope that this will be one more tool parents and teachers can use to support children who are deaf or hard of hearing in learning to read."
Covid-19 has presented numerous challenges, changing the way Humanity & Inclusion teams around the world work with the communities we serve. One of those challenges was figuring out how to safely continue providing rehabilitation to people with disabilities. The answer in many places? Telehealth.
For instance, take Priti, a 3-year-old girl living with cerebral palsy in Nepal. Doctors suggest she do regular physical therapy sessions to improve her condition, but her parents find it difficult to afford treatment on top of other living expenses.
A community member and former patient referred Priti to Community Based Rehabilitation Biratnagar (CBRB), a local partner organization of Humanity & Inclusion, for physical therapy and assistive devices.
Priti completed three physical therapy sessions at the center and received a specialized chair that helps stabilize her body and maintain upright sitting posture. She can also use the chair during daily activities like playing and eating.
Then, as the second wave of Covid -19 swept through Nepal reinstating travel restrictions, Priti completed four telerehabilitation sessions by video. Physical therapists gave Priti’s family advice on continuing home exercise to help Priti grow stronger and checked on the condition of her chair.
“It was difficult for me to continue regular exercises on my own during this pandemic as I could not remember techniques taught by the physical therapist,” says Priti’s mother. “With regular video calls, I am satisfied and happy with the services that helped me to continue exercises."
After three months of regular rehabilitation services, specialists have noticed that Priti’s neck is growing stronger and that her arms and legs are more flexible.
Many people living with disabilities, like Priti, lack access to regular follow-up services that they need because of Covid-19 safety measures and travel restrictions.
“Through the provision of telerehabilitation, another easy way of reaching out to the individuals who need such services, we tried better at our level,” explains Rinki Adhikari, CBRB physical therapist. She added that telerehabilitation can be an alternative way of making rehabilitation services accessible for people in the future.
Humanity & Inclusion’s Covid-19 response in Nepal
These physical rehabilitation activities are supported by USAID and managed by Humanity & Inclusion. The program supports the establishment of a sustainable, integrated, public-private rehabilitation system in order to improve the mobility and functional independence of victims of conflict as well as other adults and children in need of rehabilitation services in Nepal.
With Covid-19, the program has adapted to offer telehealth services and distribute information to prevent the spread of coronavirus. So far:
- 922 audio messages have been broadcast in four different languages on the radio
- 257 accessible video messages have been broadcast in four different languages on television
- 10,726 posters and leaflets have been delivered to government and rehabilitation stakeholders
- Health workers have received 275 sets of personal protective equipment; 16,750 pairs of gloves; 32,500 masks; 62 gallons of disinfectant; and 19 gallons of hand sanitizer
- 7,067 physical therapy sessions have been conducted, including 3,390 telerehabilitation sessions
- 483 assistive devices have been provided to people with disabilities or injuries
- 678 people received essential medical items
- Specialists have offered guidance to government officials related to inclusive health and rehabilitation and to rehabilitation care for people with Covid-19
Header images: Priti sits in her special chair to help her posture while eating and playing. At center, her mother helps her with exercises during a telerehabilitation session. Inline image: A CBRB Prosthetist and Orthotist teaches a woman to re-learn to walk, gain balance, strength and mobility with their new prosthetic device in a parallel bar at the rehabilitation center. Copyright: CBRB/HI
Resources are proving insufficient as Nepal faces a surge in Covid-19 outbreaks. Humanity & Inclusion teams in the country are responding with vital supplies and accessible risk education.
A second wave of Covid-19 continues to overpower Nepal’s population and resources. Hospitals are ill-equipped and understaffed, with insufficient space and materials to meet the heightened demand for care.
Providing the essentials
In an urgent response, Humanity & Inclusion’s team in Nepal is preparing to support government hospitals with the most vital supplies at this time, such as personal protective equipment, oxygen monitors, and masks among other medical items. Staff will continue the Covid-19 intervention projects that have been in place since the initial 2020 wave, including the distribution of hygiene kits, promotion of sanitary practices and assisting partner organizations with food aid for people with limited access. These initiatives have already benefited nearly 90,000 people in Nepal.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the country has reported more than 566,000 confirmed cases and over 7,000 Covid-related deaths since January 2020. Strict government restrictions are in place to curb the most recent wave. After an alarming peak a few short weeks ago saw more than 1,200 deaths in a single week, the number of Covid-19 positive cases is finally starting to fall. However, experts stress that the situation remains dire, as the infection rate hovers above 34%.
“People with disabilities and elderly people are more likely to be affected,” says Reiza Dejito, Humanity & Inclusion’s director for Nepal. “They are often the first to be isolated when Covid restrictions are in place, and therefore don’t have access to essential goods or care.”
Making information accessible
While rates may be decreasing in Nepal's urban areas, this is not the case in rural regions, where the number of infections is likely even higher than reports indicate. Lack of access to information and the stigma associated with Covid-19 has deterred people in these areas from being tested, and often people hide their symptoms or deny them. This leads many to seek hospital care only once symptoms become severe, in part causing an increased need for medical oxygen despite a decrease in infections.
In an effort to raise awareness and increase information accessibility, Humanity & Inclusion is implementing risk education initiatives. Along with a partner organization, Humanity & Inclusion has developed Covid-19 prevention messages to reach people with disabilities. One such message is a video broadcast to 75% of Nepal’s population, explaining virus prevention protocol and care in both the local language and sign language.
Continuing our mission
Amidst the health crisis, Humanity & Inclusion specialists continue to provide vital rehabilitation care for people with disabilities in physical therapy units and alongside local partners. This is increasingly important, as overworked medical facilities and government restrictions limit access to other care services. Teams are also providing mental health and psychosocial support to assist frontline healthcare workers, people with disabilities, vulnerable people and their families.
Humanity & Inclusion teams around the world have been responding to the Covid-19 pandemic since March 2020. Donors helped launch more than 170 Covid-19 projects in dozens of countries to protect and care for the people that others overlook. Between March and August 2020, staff have reached 2.2 million people with care and aid to keep Covid-19 at bay.
Image: A young boy and his mother attend a rehabilitation session in Nepal in November 2020. Copyright: HI
The Covid-19 pandemic has plunged Nepal into a public health disaster. One of the poorest nations in Asia, it does not have the resources to cope. Humanity & Inclusion is ready to assist the most vulnerable people.
As the international community focuses its attention on India, a similar crisis is unfolding in neighboring Nepal. Public hospitals are overwhelmed. In Nepal's capital of Kathmandu, the best private hospitals are turning away patients for lack of beds, supplies, and equipment. Patients are dying at home and outside hospitals as they await admission. In rural areas, where there are no hospitals, people are dying at home without ever being diagnosed or treated.
Nearly 50% of Covid-19 tests are coming back positive as cases continue to rise above 455,000, with more than 5,000 Covid-19-related deaths reported. Experts predict 40,000 deaths by the beginning of July, a projected per-capital toll worse than any other country in South or Southeast Asia. Only 1.27% of the country's nearly 30 million residents are fully vaccinated.
The surge of patients coming to health facilities has increased the demand for medical oxygen, ventilators, test kits, and personal protective equipment (PPE) for front line workers, with most facilities facing a critical shortage of supplies, as well as sickness and deaths of medical staff and patients.
Vulnerable people more at risk
“Imagine what this sort of crisis means for older people and people with disabilities, who are more likely to get infected and suffer more severe symptoms and complications from Covid-19," says Reiza Dejito, Humanity & Inclusion's director for Nepal. “It impacts them in two ways because they find it difficult to move or find help. Strict lockdown measures also very often result in a loss of income and limited access to health and social welfare services. Vulnerable people are therefore more at risk.”
Need for accessible information
As the pandemic worsens, needs are growing. The lack of accessible and accurate information for families means people are unaware of Covid-19 risks and the need to protect themselves, get tested and vaccinated. People living in rural areas and urban slums do not have access to clean water, soap or masks. Mental health risks are also very high. The crisis, illness, death and isolation have increased the vulnerability of the population as a whole.
During the first wave of Covid-19 in 2020, Humanity & Inclusion provided more than 15,000 families—or nearly 90,000 people—in Nepal with support. In response to this latest wave, Humanity & Inclusion again plans to improve access to communication by developing and sharing information on Covid-19 risks, prevention and response. This will include information in accessible formats such as Braille, and the use of local languages.
Teams also plan to distribute hygiene kits and promote hygiene practices to new isolation and quarantine facilities, isolated communities, and vulnerable individuals. Humanity & Inclusion plans to distribute food and provide care to older people, people suffering chronic diseases, pregnant people, people with disabilities, and others. Teams are also expected to provide mental health and psychosocial support to assist frontline healthcare workers, people with disabilities, vulnerable people and their families. Humanity & Inclusion is referring at-risk people to services provided by government agencies and partners, and may help them get to and from health facilities for testing, treatment and vaccinations.
Humanity & Inclusion's Covid-19 response
Humanity & Inclusion teams around the world have been responding to the Covid-19 pandemic since March 2020. Donors helped launch more than 170 Covid-19 projects in dozens of countries to protect and care for the people that others overlook. Between March and August 2020, staff have reached 2.2 million people with care and aid to keep Covid-19 at bay.
Image: Rajina, a physical therapist for Humanity & Inclusion, provides instructions on different exercises to a rehabilitation patient in Nepal in June 2020. Copyright: HI Archives
To mark International Women's Day on March 8, we talked to Reiza Dejito, a strong woman who is deeply committed to both her family and her role at Humanity & Inclusion. Currently serving as the Program Director for Nepal, India and Sri Lanka, Reiza has worked in numerous countries affected by humanitarian crises for two decades.
Why did you decide to join Humanity & Inclusion?
I graduated in science and physical therapy, and I earned diplomas in teaching and then management. I also completed several volunteer missions in the Philippines (my home country) and Ethiopia. And then, three months after leaving Ethiopia, I joined Humanity & Inclusion as a victim assistance project manager in Bor, South Sudan. Since then, I have worked in Kenya, Bangladesh, the Philippines and now Nepal.
Is there one experience that really stands out?
Working with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. They’ve suffered so much. One woman told me how she watched helpless as her husband was murdered and her house was burned down. A 9-year-old child, who was injured in the arm by a bullet after being caught in the crossfire, told me he’d forgiven the attacker for hitting the wrong target. Men, women and children walked for days and days to cross the border with little food and water. Awful.
As a director in the Philippines, I joined the emergency team to help the victims of Super Typhoon Goni. I was extremely impressed by the resilience and generosity of Filipinos. And the commitment of my team and partner organizations to provide assistance to those who needed it most.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
As Program Director, I’m responsible for the security and protection of my teams and ensuring they are safe and sound, and in good health, especially during emergencies, crises and conflicts. In 2016, I had to manage the evacuation of Humanity & Inclusion’s teams in South Sudan following a series of deadly clashes between armed groups. It was the most trying experience of my career.
What's really important when it comes to working with your team?
Trust. Transparency. Empathy. And being able to laugh together.
Humanitarian and mother: how do you strike the right balance?
For many women, achieving this balance is a huge challenge and often prevents them from taking on more responsible positions. I’m extremely fortunate to have a supportive family and a husband who takes care of our child when I’m working. Thanks to their support, I can do the job I do. My family is my biggest incentive. They really inspire me to do better every day.
Is gender equity a challenge in the humanitarian sector?
I’ve been personally fortunate to work with male colleagues and team leaders who are advocates for women's leadership. But while many women work in the humanitarian sector, there are still too few in senior positions. Many organizations have made a lot of progress, but not enough. There is a great deal of work to do before we achieve greater equity. It’s not an easy task, because these inequalities run deep. They’ve been entrenched in cultural, social, financial and political life for generations. It’s not simply a question of empowering women and advancing their rights, but of changing corporate cultures. Men also have a role to play here. I want to see women access positions of responsibility just like men. I think we'll get there...slowly but surely.
Header image: A Filipino woman named Reiza (wearing the blue visor) and another woman carry a tub of supplies after Typhoon Goni in the Philippines. Copyright: HI
Inline image: Reiza squats down to talk with a girl who has an artificial leg at a refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, in 2015. Copyright: Xavier Bourgois/HI