It all began with a workshop on good and bad touch that made Mandira realise how the touch of her neighbour was not appropriate. “The message from the workshop hit hard but I could not go and blame that man as we had recently shifted to another address,” recalls Mandira Shrestha, a young health activist.
Mandira didn’t want other young girls to go through the same and started passing on the message she learnt at the age of 10. “I collaborated with a NGO and started becoming part of the workshops,” she adds.
The 19 year old from Ramechhap is keen to complete her education in nursing and become independent as early as possible. “I had always wanted to do something challenging and interesting in my career that would make a difference in people’s daily lives. And nursing is all about this where we deal with many aspects of patient care, and I enjoy the variety in the routine,” she shares. Interested in gynaecology, Mandira is involved with several organisations conducting health camps in remote areas and she says the experience has been adventurous. “There are times we walk hours to reach the remote areas. Further, convincing females for reproductive system checkup is another challenge. In many of the cases, we have noticed the worst reproductive health conditions among young girls due to early childbirth,” she informs.
During the lockdown, Mandira worked as team leader of Child-led report on UPR 2020 and came up with disturbing findings. She says that the mental health of children has been affected immensely during this period. “The parents who lost their jobs or who had no money to buy a drink often took out their frustration on kids. And this happens often,” states Mandira.
Working for children in the emergency during the pandemic, she has been hearing stories of children and consulting them over hour long conversations. She is also working actively against child marriage. Mandira says there has been increase in child marriage during the lockdown. “Today parents know that child marriage is not acceptable but teenagers tend to run away and get married,” she says. Mandira is working with CWIN to bring change in policies and alert teens against child marriage. She is also actively involved as a member of the Integrated National Adolescent Girls Forum.
When asked how she manages time for all these multiple engagements, Mandira says, “Many of the times I am working throughout the day with different organisations and I utilise the rest of the hours to complete my academic work”. She adds, “Life’s hectic but that’s the way it should be”.
To share her academic knowledge, she is working to develop and deploy courses on nursing with Nepal Online School so that basic nursing education is accessible to everyone. She has also worked as a national child representative as well as a national adolescent representative in collaboration with some related organisations to advocate and work for equal rights for all.
In a recent achievement, Mandira has been honoured with the WaiWai Glocal Teen Hero Award 2020 at a virtual Award Gala organised by Glocal. “I read about Glocal Teen Hero on Facebook and quickly registered for it,” she tells us. This award recognises and honours the exceptional teen whose work is sustainable and who can think out of the box addressing issues and creating an impact in society.
Further, she is also a core member of Girls in Education, facilitator of Tri-Padma Child Club, a community volunteer, and trainer in the SRHR field working with target group of children, adolescents, youths, women and LGBTIQ++. She has already worked as a Community volunteer of Women for Women foundation (WFWF), Netherlands, Co-Trainer at Rural Health and Education Service Trust (RHEST), Facilitator of Tri Padma Child Club, Member of Girls-out loud, Member of The Generation Green and Fellow at Bagmati River Basin Youth Program.
“I wouldn’t have been able to raise my voice if I wasn’t supported by my parents. I am glad that they are proud of what I do,” Mandira shares talking about her parents. She is aiming to work with a health related INGO after completing her education. She says she will continue advocating in the field of sexual health and reproduction, gender equality and sexual minority.