[COVID Warriors] How non-profit Live to Love and Kung Fu Nuns are battling the pandemic in the Himalayas
The Himalayan region encompassing Ladakh, Lahaul-Spiti, and parts of Nepal may be one of the most beautiful places on Earth, but the area is riddled with challenges like lack of connectivity, poor infrastructure, and negligible health services
These along with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has only added to the vulnerability of the communities living in this region.
Non-profit Live to Love, along with Kung Fu Nuns and other local partners, are on the frontlines, providing essential support to marginalised communities, indigenous groups, and women who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
The Kung Fu Nuns of the Drukpa lineage have been championing the cause of gender inequality, bringing a turnaround in the attitude of girls by not only teaching them martial art but also self-confidence and how to defend themselves.
This was an ideal partnership to reach the remotest of places, especially sourcing and delivering aid to underserved far-fling villages in Ladakh.
Tackling COVID-19 in the Himalayas
Speaking to HerStory, Simran Thapliyal, Programs and Communications Officer and Smridhi Marwah, Vice President of Communications and Advocacy at Live to Love discuss the initiatives taken during the pandemic and why sustainable solutions form the future of the region.
“As one of the most active organisations working in the Himalayan region, we understand well the challenges faced by the region — lack of connectivity. Once a lockdown was announced, the supply chain was disrupted and people had to rely on the Army for basic things such as food and other essentials,” says Simran.
When tourism took a major hit, impacting the livelihoods of thousands, women who were stuck at home faced domestic violence and incidents of human trafficking began to rise.
“Our immediate focus was to provide ration, food and medical resources. We supplied 18,000 masks in Ladakh, and provided food to 3,000 families during the first week and this has increased to 4,000 families currently across Lahaul-Spiti, Nepal, and Ladakh,” adds Smridhi.
Live to Love, with its on-ground partner Young Drukpa Association Garsha, has already supplied steamers, gargles, and medicine to 2,000 families and sanitised 171 villages across Lahaul-Spiti in its first phase of relief work, and is preparing to carry out a new wave of aid in the crucial weeks ahead.
With migrants returning, another immediate need was to create networks and channels for the youth to find employment. Live to Love set up incubation centres and meetings with investors to provide the youth with mentorship and resources to sustain their social entrepreneurship ventures.
The lack of awareness about the virus was another challenge. “Only a city like Leh has basic equipment and the necessary medical devices. There are many remote villages around where people don’t know what the virus is or how to use a face mask,” says Simran.
Live to Love volunteers targeted these areas and empowered women by creating small units for them to stitch masks, also giving them a source of income. Around 18,000 masks were distributed over this period.
“The government also sought our support to transport oxygen cylinders, concentrators, and other important medical equipment to areas that needed them. In the last three months, we have provided Ladakh with one high-flow nasal cannula. Along with this, we have developed informational videos and banners to educate the audience on COVID-19,” says Smridhi.
The Nuns are targeting the people of the Himalayan region, while their families, friends, volunteers, and fans reach areas inaccessible by road, ensuring that these people are also informed about these measures that we're supposed to take.
Kung Fu Nuns to the rescue
The Kung Fu Nuns have changed the way the world looks at Himalayan women. While they began learning Kung Fu to build strength and confidence, they now use their skills to serve others. They teach self-defence to other women, run free health clinics, are first responders for emergency animal rescue, and have removed thousands of pounds of plastic litter from Himalayan land.
In partnership with other organisations, they have also been advocating green solutions for menstrual hygiene by distributing biodegradable, reusable sanitary pads, and educating communities about better menstrual health practices, alongside self-defence training.
Jigme Konchok, a senior Kung Fu Nun, tells HerStory, “The pandemic taught us many things. It taught us that gender inequality leads to more suffering — and even higher rates of death — for women. It taught us that as women, we have to take charge of our own health and safety. And if we are to survive, we all have to take care of one another.”
She believes that every woman and every girl should know that “nobody gives you power – you already have that power, you just have to realise it”.
The Kung Fu Nuns while carrying out the food distribution and medical drives noticed that women were key when it came to taking care of their families.
“We noticed that they take care of food and hygiene of the family, and insist on regular handwashing, etc. This enabled us to make them community leaders who ensured that the spread of COVID-19 was reduced. They also ensured that food was distributed equitably,” elaborates Simran.
While a number of Nuns are stuck in Nepal owing to the lockdown in the country, they are ensuring that their families in Ladakh and Lahaul-Spiti are stepping in to help communities through different initiatives.
“Being in regular touch with the locals helps them to identify on-ground partners and ensure medical attention, food, and other essentials reach where they are needed the most,” she adds.
Yeshe Lhamo, a Kung Fu nun who handles Live to Love activities in Nepal, puts it succinctly, “Feminism isn’t about making women strong. Women are already strong. It’s about changing the way the world sees and treats women.”
Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta