As young girls, we have all come across situations where we have so much going on in our heads that we really want to let it out in front of someone. I was no different. I also wanted to share my emotions, thoughts, and stories but the only person I could trust enough to share them with was my mother. Unfortunately, it was not always possible. Due to her long working hours and responsibilities at home, she was often unavailable.
Slowly the internet led to the birth of platforms like Facebook and others to share our thoughts and opinions. However, it felt a bit unsafe to share personal stories there. As a result, like me, many young girls of my generation and I am sure the previous generations as well also were forced to keep our stories and struggles within ourselves. This motivated me to help others like me find a space to talk and grow.
The Need for a “Safe Space” to share
I strongly believe that a safe space to share personal stories is beneficial as it provides an opportunity to express oneself and can be therapeutic. It helps us gain a deeper understanding of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. One feels less isolated as it allows one to listen to and connect with others with similar experiences. It helps us feel heard, supported, and empowered leading to personal growth and well-being. Sometimes, the feelings of not being enough can stem from societal expectations and negative experiences around appearance, and behavior leads to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. Safe spaces can provide a supportive environment where girls can express themselves freely without fear of judgment. By sharing their stories they are more connected to others and they build a sense of community. This helps reduce feelings of not being enough and isolation and build confidence.
The Birth of Strength TogetHER
A need for a safe and supportive space for girls became more glaringly visible while we were working with Lokopakar, a youth development organization. It inspired us to launch Strength TogetHER. Through this platform, we wanted to create a space for young girls to help them feel safe to discuss their personal stories, struggles, and challenges that they would barely be able to share with anyone else. Having an access to a space like this would help them connect with other girls sharing the same situations and build deeper bonds.
To begin our journey of Strength TogetHER, we reached out to our friends, relatives, and close ones to spread the idea of this space. With a joint effort, we were able to collect 30 girls in our very first Zoom session given we had started out during COVID-19.
In the meeting, we were thrilled to see our screen full of smiles and joy among the girls just sharing about themselves. At the end of the session, we realized that one hour would not be enough for the deep conversations and connections that were formed. Hence, we decided to schedule another meeting and embark on this journey together for the next ten weeks.
Covid brought a great deal of stress and uncertainty, which made it important for girls to have a supportive space. For many girls, Strength TogetHER was a respite from the mounts of stress they had to go through. It was a safe and welcoming community where they could connect with others, share their concerns, and find support and encouragement. Although Covid brought many challenges, it also highlighted the importance of community and the ways in which we can support each other. By providing a safe and supportive space for women, Strength TogetHER helped to build a strong community.
Growing the Community
Aastha, an enterprising young girl, expressed an interest to expand the “Strength TogetHER” sessions to her city and start a new chapter. This was a phenomenal response. We were thrilled to help her with the new chapter. The positive feedback from the participants in that group left us feeling amazed and happy.
The idea was turning into reality. Initially, we were uncertain about how it would evolve, but it gradually gained momentum as we grew slowly. There was organic growth and we could see the community building and thriving. The session covered a variety of topics that were meaningful to the group of girls, ranging from lighthearted and simple topics like challenges in school to more complex and big topics like child marriage, concerns regarding body image etc. We were astounded by the deep interactions among the groups. While expanding I realized that most girls face the feeling of “I am not Enough”. The feeling was common among girls from all parts of the country and we saw this growing community was able to cater to these issues.
Soon, we were able to reach different nooks and corners of Nepal including the likes of Jumla and some major communities like the Awadhi community in terai with the assistance of the Zonta Club of Kathmandu, and British Council. We were also able to raise funds to expand our program in 7 public schools in Kathmandu with the help of NIRI. These three institutions played an instrumental role in expanding our reach which otherwise would have taken a long time.
Strength TogetHER beyond Nepal
As we were expanding we got the opportunity to expand in Nigeria. We are physically distant but through the session, we realized we shared similar experiences. Even coming from different backgrounds we came together and found common ground. The bonds formed between Nepal and Nigeria will likely have a lasting impact and hopefully lead to expansion in other nations in the future.
To see my childhood idea expand beyond borders and help people form meaningful bonds is an incredibly fulfilling and rewarding experience. The idea has helped people form deep bonds which is incredibly gratifying to see. Moreover, it’s not just about the impact the program has had on others, but it’s also about the personal growth and fulfillment that I have experienced through this journey.
The success of Strength TogetHER is a result of the combined efforts and support of everyone involved in the journey. The continuous hard work, motivation, and dedication have been crucial in driving us forward and allowing us to make a positive impact on the lives of girls and communities across Nepal.
As the program continues to grow, we want to expand its reach and impact by establishing new cohorts in other areas. Collaboration with organizations or initiatives that share similar goals and values. can allow for a greater exchange of ideas and resources, as well as an increased impact on the community. By remaining committed to its core values and continuing to listen to the needs of young girls, Strength TogetHER will continue to make a powerful impact on the girls and community.
Strength TogetHER is evidence that coming together with a shared purpose can create a greater impact and make a difference. We have been working on it for the past 3 years, and we welcome you to be part of this journey.
Written by Ms. Barsha Tamang, Co-founder, Lokopakar.