Here’s my own contribution to the series of blogs, related to the Himalaya Challenge project.
Good timing, as yesterday we had the first official kick off of the project in Utrecht – NL. Ben McCullough explained the trek and the program around it. Many schools and communities to visit, which is great as I prefer to be as close as possible to the projects we are funding and supporting; it gives me the opportunity to add a face and a name to the project.
I have the luxury that I have been able to not only visit Nepal before, but also various other countries, not seldom developing countries. I use deliberately the word visiting as that’s what it is. I realize very much I only scratch the surface while I’m there. Nevertheless, it’s fatal to prejudice and narrow mindedness and I learn a lot during these trips. Different cultures, different environment, different political systems, different freedom, different beauty, different experience of time… I say goodbye to my comfort zone and I love it! Well.. most of the time…
If I don’t live to my fifties, sixties or seventies, I can safely say that I have no regrets.
Some culture shocks have positively affect me, as well it brought things in perspective. In a way it helped me to understand myself and others around me.
I am not raving about the Netherlands, never did never will, but it took me a while to understand that respect for an individual’s freedom to live life as he or she chooses and the fact that church and state are separate are not everywhere existing values. NL is a kind of ‘living apart together’ in many ways. I was raised with a strong sense of equality. My mom participated in MVM (“man woman society”), an anti-hierarchical Dutch feminist action group -see picture- and I have great examples of strong, well educated, successful women (and men) in my family. A family who have earned their stripes in education.
Traveling helped me appreciate more these values and examples. When you haven’t got this inspiration, this broadened perspective, simply because you’re born and raised in a different environment and situation, life and future may look different.
While diving into this project (without testing the water) I have had already many great conversations regarding this topic. Also in the Netherlands we had up until 1956 no married women working in Dutch civil service positions. In fact, women automatically lost their job as soon as they took their marriage vows. The liberal attitudes and position of the government in the sixties supported the free choice of the individual. Being raised in the seventies and eighties, equal rights and equal opportunities for men and women were simply just normal for me. Nowadays gender equality is embedded in Dutch law. Most familiar is the General Equal Treatment Act (Algemene Wet op Gelijke Behandeling) of 1994 (indeed, this is not so long ago..). Among other things, this act makes it illegal for employers to favor people on the basis of personal characteristics such as gender or sexual preference. However, even today these laws are not always a precise reflection of our society. Working within recruitment and HR, I can say by heart that there are areas to improve. Nevertheless, compared to other countries, I think we earn high marks for gender equality. Every country will develop at its own pace, the only thing I can do is to share some values when I’m there, and participate in projects such as the Sisters for Sisters project.
I would like to thank my mom for her strong believe in gender equality, as well for her believe in me. I think I challenged (I probably should even write this verb in present tense) her quite often but she always gives me the room to develop and to experience.
She had her education, I had mine.
I would like to thank Nadine for informing me about this great (Himalaya Challenge) project. Without her message I probably wouldn’t had known about it, let alone being involved.
And if course I would like to thank my friends, relatives, colleagues and acquaintances who support me – and therefore the girls in Nepal – in creating equal opportunities with a focus on education. We are by far not yet there, but I am sure we will get there.
“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt