Teaching Self-Defense in Keragari, Nepal

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Teaching Self-Defense in Keragari, Nepal

Words by Mahila co-founder Julie Morrill

I was very excited for the opportunity to teach self-defense in Nepal. I’ve taught all over the US and in Haiti, which was a fun experience, as I got to teach in French! (And, whoa, that was outside my comfort zone! But considering self-defense techniques are usually outside the comfort zones of the women I teach, that seemed fair!)

As we were making the 1½-hour drive to the rural village of Keragari, Arun (Eco-Organic Nepal’s Marketing and Media coordinator) turned to me and said, “So, what is your plan with this group? Rural women may not be very open to the idea of physical self-defense training.” Uh-oh.

Angela, Theresa, and I decided to spend more time than usual talking with the women about their day-to-day lives to make them more comfortable around us. I was grateful to have the assistance of Aaiesha, a young woman of 15 who lives in the village. She’s learning English in school and helped translate our conversation with the women. We spent about an hour speaking with the village women about their daily lives and the challenges they face. The community in Keragari is unique. It is a safe haven for women and children. Many of the women who reside there have either fled abusive husbands or lost their husbands during the earthquake. They’ve come together to support one another, as well as care of children orphaned during the earthquake.

Aaiesha translating for the Mahila team

Aaiesha translating for the Mahila team

With translation help from Aaiesha and from Sabita (our local partner and head of Eco-Organic Nepal), I talked about how the women could use their voice and posture to deter attacks. Then, we demonstrated some basic techniques they could use to defend themselves. When it was their turn to try them, many of the women were shy. But, one-by-one each woman practiced punching, kicking, kneeing, and elbowing. By the end, they were laughing, cheering each other on, and wailing on my training pads with impressive force!

The village women sharing their personal experiences. 

The village women sharing their personal experiences. 

To take a break from the techniques, we transitioned the conversation to the topic of personal safety. I was shocked at how open the women were about speaking of experiences of rape and sexual assault. As one older woman spoke about her experience, she said that she wished she’d known how to fend off an attack that occurred in her youth. At the time, she just thought that was what women endured. She looked the young women in the eyes and said, “Now you know how to fight back!”

She looked the young women in the eyes and said, “Now you know how to fight back!”