Field Report by Aryashree Aryal

“Don’t let mental blocks control you. Set yourself free. Confront your fear and turn the mental blocks into building blocks.”- Roopleen, Words to inspire the winner in YOU

In Nepal, we often fail to address the needs of children. As the youngest ones in the family, their voices are rarely heard, much less taken seriously. Because of this weak familial bond, children living in villages may grow up to become at-risk. In order to improve the quality of life for rural youth, the communication gap within the family needs to be bridged.

Motivated by the need to provide children with a voice, especially after the distress caused by the earthquake, Rukmini Foundation held a three-day long counseling session for children to share their problems. Ms. Sabina Rai facilitated the program and served as the main counselor, and was assisted by Rukmini staff members and volunteers- these included Mr. Niroj, Mr. Rojin, Ms. Pramila, Sushmita, Pooja, Usha and Sandhya. The event spanned the 2nd through 4th days of August 2015 in five different partner schools. All in all, 314 students in grades 7 through 9 attended the workshop and contributed to the discussion.

This session was held in front of Pharping School.

Ms. Sabina ( in the middle) sits with the students outside the school to create an comfortable environment for sharing

Ms. Sabina focused on two types of children’s behavioral issues: conduct problems and personality problems. Conduct problems can range from aggressiveness, temper tantrums, restlessness, negativity, dislike for school, anti-social behavior, jealousy and cruelty. However, Ms. Sabina also emphasized the detriment of personality problems, including lack of self-confidence, poor concentration, over-dependence, and hypersensitivity, and discussed techniques to handle pressure from work and school.

The students were engaged in a wide variety of events during the event. Ms. Sabina interviewed students about their experiences and asked them to share their feelings in the matters at hand. Of course, the children also got the chance to relax and play games. Instead of turning this into yet another lecture, the organizer’s of this counseling session wanted the students to realize how important it is to share their problems in order to release emotional distress.

The girls were encouraged to speak amongst themselves as well as with Ms. Sabina

The girls start opening up and start sharing their thoughts and feelings regarding the recent earthquake and their life in general

In South Asian culture, which de-emphasizes the importance of mental and spiritual wellness over somatic health, it is especially noteworthy that Ms. Sabina did not shy away from the somewhat taboo topic of mental disease. In the wake of the Nepal earthquake, stressing the importance of mental wellbeing is of utmost necessity. The World Health Organization suggests that up to 5-10% of people who suffer through a natural disaster or humanitarian crisis ultimately develop a mental disorder, and children in their formative years are especially susceptible to the effects of large and devastating change. Emotional trauma due to the earthquake can arise not just from witnessing the destruction of homes, schools, and businesses in Nepal, but also from survivor guilt. It is already difficult for adults to comprehend death, especially if it occurs violently, so it is essential to have conversations with children who survived the quake in order to recognize any signs of mental trauma.

All too often, we forget that ensuring our children score good grades is not our only duty. We need to raise kids who are able to have conversations about their worries, fears, and dreams, so they can learn to trust in others and cope with all the pressures of their lives. It is even more important that educators hear their students’ stories. Evidently, the students agree, as they thoroughly enjoyed the program and took an initiative to apply their theoretical knowledge into practice.

About Shruthi Shankar

Shruthi is a junior neuroscience major at the University of Pittsburgh, and is pursuing certificates in Global Health and the Conceptual Foundations of Medicine. She is excited to be a part of Rukmini because she is interested in the intersection between women’s health, rights, and education. Throughout the next several years, Shruthi will be supporting Rukmini’s various community events, as well as raising awareness of South Asian women’s issues within the Pitt campus by coordinating the foundation of a Pitt Rukmini club. Shruthi hopes that her work here helps pave the way so that a girl’s education is no longer seen as a privilege, but as a right.
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