Rekha, 23 is one of many youth volunteers who are sharing information among their communities to encourage people to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
“I had to rush to my village the day after the government announced the prohibitory order. I was happy as I was back home,” says Rekha, remembering the first COVID-19 lockdown in Nepal.
Rekha, 23, is an active youth volunteer for Plan International Nepal. She was just 13 years old when she joined a child club formed by Plan International Nepal in her community.
Rekha lives with her parents in a beautiful village which is 2 hours away from Sindhuli. She says, “My parents wanted a son, but again a daughter was born as their seventh child. Even though they preferred a son before, it no longer bothers them because their concept of having a son over a daughter has changed.”
She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in business studies in Sindhuli district. When she is in her village, she usually spends her day helping her mother with household chores and grazing the animals.
Anti-child marriage campaigner
“Not forced marriage, but self-initiated marriage takes place frequently,” says Rekha. “I am vice-president of the Sunkeshari Adolescent Girls Club in my village. It was established by Plan International Nepal. Now, we work in coordination with the local authorities,” adds Rekha.
“This community is occupied by upper caste people. People are aware of the legal provision for child marriage. But it is difficult for us to make young people aware of the consequences of early marriage.
“We stopped 5 child marriage cases in my village. We convinced many young girls and boys about the negative aspects of child marriage. In the process, we faced many criticisms, warnings and threats. But no one could restrain us from achieving our mission to prevent child marriage,” she says.
Rekha’s mother is proud of her. “Many times, I am accused by so-called community leaders who questioned the members of Sunkeshari Adolescent Girls Club including my daughter for raising awareness against child marriage,” says Rekha’s mom
Rekha completed the final examination of her post graduate studies when the nationwide lockdown was announced. “I enjoyed staying close with my parents. All my elder sisters are married and they were not able to visit us. I helped my parents with farming,” she says.
When learning transitioned to being online, the local authorities immediately provided internet access to every household so all children could attend online schooling.
“I, fortunately, joined Girls Out Loud Nepal private Facebook group moderated by Plan International Nepal. I attended various informative sessions related to COVID-19. One of the interesting topics was on managing menstruation during the pandemic. I participated in a session where I learned how to make homemade sanitary pads,” shares Rekha. “Later we trained more than 40 young women in my village to make homemade sanitary pads,” she says.
COVID-19 vaccination volunteer
Rekha has volunteered to support the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination as part of a programme run by Plan International Nepal in partnership with HANDS Nepal which has mobilised 400 young people in Sindhuli, Sunsari, Baridya, and Kalikot.
“I applied for a youth volunteering opportunity and learned technical information on the COVID-19 vaccination which helped me to clear my doubts,” adds Rekha.
“Since my mother a is frontline health worker she is the first in my family who received the COVID-19 vaccination. I am really worried when she took it as I had heard the vaccine might not be effective and it affects old people,” shares Rekha. “However, I was able to put all my doubt during the youth mobilisation training.
“In my community, old people were afraid to inoculate themselves with the COVID-19 vaccine. Most of them had false beliefs that the vaccines are mixed with poisonous chemicals which will kill. They believed this is the strategy of the government to reduce the financial burden of paying the old-age allowance.
“This is misinformation. I did not know how to convince them. During the orientation, I learned facts about the vaccine with evidence-based data and information to debunk such myths. I am very proud that I succeeded in explaining and encouraging them to get the vaccine,” shares Rekha.
Supporting the vaccine rollout
Rekha and 3 other girls have supported their nearest COVID-19 vaccine centre. Their role is to manage the crowds in the centre and support health facility staff to record data about the people coming for their vaccination.
“The weather is hot here. Community members only visit the centre after completing their household chores. I ensure the centre has drinking water and they are not dehydrated while waiting,” says Rekha. “I am not sure about the exact number of people whom I convinced but I helped them to make an informed decision.”
Rekha is well respected by the health staff and community members for her excellent contribution to the vaccination centre.
“I am vaccinated too,” she says. “I believe the COVID-19 vaccine reduces any kind of further COVID infection risks. I imagine a world where all young girls are fully vaccinated. Schools are opening. The girls need to get back to the school. I request that everyone get their COVID-19 vaccination and reduce the risks.”