Save the Children
Occupation: Humanitarian aid worker.
Occupation: Humanitarian aid worker.
Rachana Chaudhary was only 19 when she got the opportunity to go to Saptari for her research assignment. A young intern at the time, Rachana was to live with the Musahar community (a Dalit community in Nepal who consists of the most marginalized and deprived) during her assignment. It was the onset of monsoon season in the country, and the community was dreading the anticipated rain and the devastation it would bring.
She vividly remembers the night she stayed awake along with the community members. She shares, “It did not rain that night, but two days later the entire settlement was wiped out in the massive flood that followed.”
Fortunately, Rachana’s research had a lot of insight on the community and contributed significantly in their resettlement. She said, “It was then that I realized my work could save lives and I knew exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.” This inspired her to choose a profession where she could contribute to saving the lives of the most vulnerable populations around the world.
Rachana now 40, has been working as a humanitarian aid worker in some of the most remote areas of Nepal for almost a decade now. She has worked for several emergency responses and recoveries such as forest fires, seasonal floods and earthquakes. Her vast experience has made her feel ready for any challenges that may come her way.
Working since 2010, being a woman humanitarian worker has been inspiring as well as challenging. She would often be the only female representative in various emergency response meetings, and it was utterly difficult to share her opinion. As a woman she did not have a voice in those meetings, and many times people would ask her unnecessary questions. She said,
“When I would go to attend the meetings, men would often disregard my opinion and would instead ask me questions like was I married or where I lived.”
Her biggest challenge was her own safety and security while traveling to the remote areas during an emergency. “I would have to walk for days to reach a certain village, it was physically draining. Upon reaching the community we would have to ask for shelter in homes of people we have never met,” said Rachana.
She remembers one incident vividly when she particularly feared for her life. She had to take some distribution materials to a remote village. The office vehicle was unavailable, so she had to take a local truck. On their way to the village, the affected population blocked their road and demanded to take all the materials. The driver wanted to run away, however, she quickly called the Chief District Officer and demanded for protection and an escort. Moments later, police officials came to her rescue. She said, “I was so scared because the driver simply wanted to run away, and I was the only person left – that too a woman. I was relieved to have made it through the mob and back to the village.”
Rachana mentions how the circumstances during an emergency response are not welcoming and that one must be mentally strong to be able to help others. She says, “It can be emotionally stressful and physically draining, therefore, one has to be mentally prepared for almost anything.” Once deployed to work for the relief of flood victims, Rachana came across a group of adolescent girls who were on the verge of committing suicide as they felt unsafe and humiliated to live in camps with very unfavorable situations.
‘It took a toll on me mentally, and I realized the responsibility I had as a humanitarian worker. You learn better every day’.
Early in an emergency response, the situation is often chaotic, and people do not know what to do with the available resources or how to respond. ‘There are chances of conflict, and during such times, you have to take charge of the situation and provide direction to people which can be extremely challenging when you are a woman.’ Rachana believes it’s her strength as a woman to be able to identify and empathize with the most vulnerable populations whose specific needs might be overlooked during a time of crisis – pregnant women, single women and the children.
Being a woman at the forefront often requires one to move beyond their comfort zones and make difficult choices. For her, one of the most difficult choices was leaving behind her husband and a young adolescent daughter. While being deployed during emergencies she would often be in areas with no mobile reception, she would not be able to talk to her family or inform them about her whereabouts for days. She would not be able to go home for weeks and take care of her husband or her daughter who needed her the most during the time.
Despite all the difficult terrain she had to walk, the fear of losing her life or having to leave her family behind, Rachana still strongly believes in the work she does. Born and raised in Lahan, a small town in the eastern plains of Nepal, Rachana has been a compassionate but strong girl since she was young. When asked what inspires her to work tirelessly to alleviate suffering of others while putting herself at risk, an earnest smile appears on her face, ‘I get to save lives as part of my job, and it’s a precious feeling that keeps me going’.