Dr Garima Shrestha, founder of She Nepal, a volunteer organization working for women’s health and empowerment, always knew her life would be different to the lives of most of her friends.
The 26-year-old, who has been fascinated by the human body ever since she was a child, spent many of her childhood days wondering how the human brain worked. Yet there was also a part of her that yearned to help other people.
“Whenever someone would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always said a doctor and social activist,” she says. “I didn’t know how, but I had to do both the things.”
As an introverted kid, she naturally focused on her studies to make her childhood dreams come true, inside her own little world filled with dedication. Years later, she found herself studying MBBS at Manipal College of Medical Studies in Pokhara.
She interned at the same hospital and got the chance to meet people from villages around the city who came there seeking treatment. She used to listen to their stories up close. It was there that she met a 16-year-old girl who was in labor with her second child. The girl shared her period stories from back home and how she was a victim of chhaupadi (“menstrual huts”).
Shrestha had now come face to face with the hard issues she had until then only read in textbooks. “I was heartbroken just listening to her,” she shares. “And, as a doctor, I came to realize that I needed to do a lot more than just treat my patients. I also needed to work on preventing suffering.”
After completing her MBBS, Shrestha returned home to Kathmandu to start an organization that would work to raise awareness about women and their reproductive health. Shrestha, with the support of her parents, started ‘She Nepal’. They started organizing campaigns in rural parts of the valley such as Panauti, Kavre, Jhor where the practice of chhaupadi persists.
Dedicated to fighting taboos around menstruation and women’s health, She Nepal also decided to provide them income-generating opportunities. They trained women on making reusable sanitary pads, and distributed the final product among women and menstruating individuals.
Shrestha then spread her work to Upper Dolpa, Accham, Pyuthan, and Taplejung. “We were trying to reach as many people as we could,” she says. Many women, after being introduced to reusable sanitary pads, even started making and selling pads on their own.
Moreover, She Nepal’s presence grew on social media and people started supporting the cause. With their help, around 10,000 reusable sanitary pads were distributed among quarantined menstruating individuals after the start of the covid pandemic.
After working with donors and sponsors in the beginning, She Nepal now works independently as it empowers women to make and sell bags and masks.
Shrestha is also currently doing her MD Residency at Army Hospital, Maharajgunj. She aims to become a medical microbiologist and then to continue working in both fields of her interest.
“Every day, the people I meet and the stories I hear help me create a vision of what I want to accomplish, and I want to keep working to give more to the people,” she shares. To achieve her awareness goals, she is planning to write a booklet on menstrual health awareness for children, hoping to make it a part of school curricula.
She also wants to open a diagnostic center of her own. With this income coupled with revenues generated via She Nepal, Shrestha will then help women with sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
“My goal is to normalize the conversation around menstruation and reproductive health and to make sanitary pads easily accessible, especially in rural Nepal,” she shares.