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RAUTAHAT — After dozens of people were displaced and many houses were waterlogged when floodwaters started gushing into settlements on the night of 12 August, Priyanka Singh and her eight friends immediately began discussing what they could do for their fellow villagers.

Most of the girls were among the displaced in Rautahat district, southern Nepal, and were living either at other villagers’ houses or at temporary camps on higher land.

“Even though we ourselves were among the victims, we realized that we were  physically stronger than the pregnant women, new mothers and their children, not to mention the women with disabilities and the elderly affected by the floods,” says Priyanka. Aged 20, she leads a girls’ group in her village, Basantapatti. In normal times, the group are active in advocating against child marriage, but in this crisis they were desperate to do something, however small, to help those who had special needs.

“We thought that our support could help families cope with and recover from the floods,” says Gayatri Sah (18). “Eight of us had three meetings, one while being caught in pouring rain without umbrellas or raincoats, to discuss what we can do.”

The band of eight girls reached a conclusion that they would coordinate with the Women and Children Office and UNFPA to provide Dignity Kits to flood-displaced women and girls. “Many of the women who received the Dignity Kits told us that we were of great help to them. The girls who fight against child marriage can also play a critical role before, during and after flooding,” says Priyanka.

A peer educator, Priyanka is a leader one of 30 girls’ groups in the district – a total of around 900 girls — supported by government’s Women and Children Office (WCO) and UNFPA. She had received a special training as part of the life skills education programme, called Rupantaran (Transformation), rolled out in the district by WCO and UNFPA. She facilitates weekly sessions for girls to learn about a wide range of life skills, from health and hygiene, to gender equality, human rights and sexual and reproductive health, to basic accounting and entrepreneurship, and much more. “Chapter 10 in Rupantaran has helped us understand more about disaster risks, climate change, and related topics” she says.  

Priyanka and her friends also helped government authorities collect details of the flood-affected families in their villages and alerted flood-affected women and girls of their village to the possibility of violence they might experience in a post-disaster setting. “We met around 85 women and girls and shared information with them about available services and support. Equipped with information, women and girls are less vulnerable,” says Aasha Kumari Pandit (19), who also belongs to Priyanka’s group.

—   Santosh