For over 10 years, Didi Bahini has partnered with local government and community members to support the Lubhu Development Learning Resource Center (DLRC) in Mahalaxmi Municipality, Bagmati Province. Adapted from Didi Bahini’s pioneering women's political empowerment and education programs conducted across Nepal since 1992, the center has quickly grown into a beacon of women-led mutual support and aid to the community.
The Lubhu DLRC is open six days a week and offers a variety of free programs and services to the community. At the heart of it's work are it's educational programs, working to engage youth to transform social norms and break cycles of poverty and marginalization. Local children come daily after school for three hours of additional educational instruction and developmental support, including homework help, arts and crafts, storybook reading, and math practice. “We are supporting children to complete their homework, which was not happening before our program as most of their parents are uneducated. Now, their school performance is improving,” reports DLRC President Ms. Devi Shrestha. Providing children a safe, educational after school environment also helps relieve the burden of childcare on working mothers who might otherwise not be able to earn a living while caring for their children.
In addition, the DLRC regularly holds trainings to educate local women and girls on their basic rights, including property rights, reproductive rights, rights against child marriage, domestic violence, dignified menstruation, and more. Youth, including boys, are engaged in these sessions to harness their potential as cultural multipliers and build bridges to older generations. Leveraging close knowledge of and partnerships with local and national government, program staff also support women to apply for and secure critical legal documents, such as birth and death certificates, property licenses, and other legal registrations. These processes are often inherently complex and opaque, particularly for women with low educational backgrounds or without supportive male family members. Other DLRC offerings include skills and agricultural enterprise training to promote women’s economic independence and resilience.
The leadership of the local Women’s Forum is at the heart of the DLRC’s success. The Forum currently comprises 15 female members who each hold important leadership positions in the community as mothers, teachers, frontline health workers, and elected local government representatives. Each month the group meets to plan programming and pool joint savings, about 100 rupees per member, which helps support the DLRC’s ongoing work.
Complementing her role as President of the Lubhu DLRC and Women’s Forum, Ms.Shrestha also serves as head of the local women’s savings cooperative, Kalyankari Savings and Credit Co-operative, which claims to be one of the largest female-led savings associations in South Asia. Her multiple roles help ensure synergy and efficiency in community resource planning and programming. Many years before joining Didi Bahini, she was a housewife with a low level of education, and was unable to read or write. After attending a Didi Bahini-led political empowerment training at her local government office, she was inspired to leverage her newfound knowledge and awareness to become a leader advocating for marginalized women and girls. She began by successfully petitioning local government to uphold policies protecting women and children's basic rights, including those allowing citizenship to be passed from single mothers to children instead of only fathers, and government allowances for single women. Her efforts snowballed, at first gaining attention and support from friends and neighbors, and eventually recognition from local government representatives and respected community leaders. Out of this grassroots activism, her formal partnership with Didi Bahini was born and the Women's Forum and its related bodies were established.
Many disasters have affected Nepal in recent years, during which time the Center has been a vital source of services and support for the community. During the 2015 earthquake that devestated the Kathmandu Valley, many local families were displaced from their homes and forced to stay in tents and other informal housing with no access to cook food. Women leaders from the Women’s Forum and DLRC worked with local government to cook and serve meals to over 40 families daily, provide building materials for temporary shelters, and distribute other essential supplies such as sanitary pads. Didi Bahini also provided seed money and skills training in shoemaking and other artisan crafts for local women to start their own income-generation enterprises during the crisis, many earning income for the first time in their lives. Several women who participated in these trainings went on to train other local women in their new skills, creating spillover impact and buidling economic resilience.
The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020-2021 again affected the work of the DLRC. During the pandemic and nearly three month lockdown in Nepal in 2020, almost all local families faced severe financial difficulties and unemployment. Women’s basic rights and resilience were again threatened by increased domestic violence at home, increased care burdens, and decreased financial independence and mobility. To ensure positive trends were not reversed completely, Didi Bahini and the DLRC connected families to services provided by the government, NGOs, and job placement organizations, and provided digital skills training to enable self-employment even during lockdown. They also implemented the FAITH (Food Available in the Home) Project for the first time, supporting women with materials and training to open agricultural businesses on unused farm land identified by the government as beneficial for ecological purposes. As the community gradually recovers, the DLRC is training women and their families in financial literacy and savings to help them become more resilient for future crises.