Laura Alysse Bowman is currently serving in Kathmandu, Nepal with MCC as the Mental Health Transit Home Activities Coordinator. She grew up in Archbold, Ohio, where she attended Zion Mennonite Church. In 2014, she graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Eastern Mennonite University. There she was involved with activities concerning women’s rights, mental well-being, and the environment. Laura likes to spend her time in nature, dancing, enjoying good food, and connecting with friends and family.
I sat in the sunlight, sipping a cup of Nepali tea. Overwhelmed with the day’s work, I appreciated this moment to sit and take it all in. I watched a woman, whose son was tugging on my coat, wander around the yard of the Transit Home, crying to herself. She had been in living in psychosis for a few weeks now, and no one had been able to talk to her without her repeating the same sentence over and over again. Months of living on the street, struggling to keep herself and her son alive, had made her confused and angry.
This sort of behavior is common in the work I do in Nepal. I volunteer with Koshish, an organization that rescues women with mental illness who are often abandoned on the streets or locked up in their homes. The women who are rescued spend some time at the Transit Home where they receive treatment and care and are then reintegrated back with their families or communities. I often see cases that make me want to close my eyes, bury my head, and forget that the horrible stories I hear actually happen.
But one day, after being absent from the Transit Home for a couple weeks, I was reminded in the most simple way that there is always a reason to have hope. I returned to the Transit Home and the very woman who I described above greeted me saying, “Namaste Laura sister! It’s been so long since we’ve seen you. Please, come in and sit down next to me.”
Stunned, I looked into her eyes. She was there! A woman I knew existed within her had finally broken through her mental illness and was talking with me! Tears welled up in my eyes. All I could do at that beautiful moment was hug her and tell her how happy I was to see her. We stood there for a moment smiling at each other, she beaming with resilience and I overwhelmed with her transformation. It is with women such as this that I am honored to work everyday. I am quite convinced that the women of Nepal are some of the toughest human beings on the planet. Not only are they constantly working, doing all the cooking, cleaning, farming, and child-rearing, but they also carry the weight of the entire family’s spiritual purity. This makes them incredibly strong. I see their thick hands, their calloused feet, the resilience in their eyes, and honestly, it seems like they could move mountains. I am in absolute awe of these women. And that is why I am so distressed that these superwomen of humanity carry such a low status in Nepal.
I’ve heard story after story from the women I work with about the pain and abuse they’ve suffered because of this status. Women constantly bear the pressure to live up to the female expectations that are pre-set for them at birth. In this traditional society, women only truly gain respectable status when they get married and bear their husband a son. For various reasons, boys are preferred over girls, and that preference is reflected in the rest of their lives, both in society, but more disturbingly, in the minds and confidence of the women themselves.
I recently led a discussion in the Transit Home about self-esteem. It broke my heart when many of them told me they would rather go back to their abusive husbands than live ashamed as a single woman. One woman even said she hoped to marry her rapist so her and her son would be legitimate. What incredible expectations are put on these women that they have to sacrifice their emotional, spiritual, and physical health to be respected!
If only they knew how incredible they are! If their environment had nurtured their potential, would the silence and shame that fractured their minds ever have happened in the first place? I see so clearly in front of me what inhibiting a persons beautiful soul can do. So, that’s why I am here with these women in Nepal. For this short time, I can encourage their beautiful souls. I can love, and I can tell them that I am glad they are here and that I like them just as they are. It’s simple, but I think these are important things to say to everyone, whether that be here or back home, because everyone deserves to feel fully alive.
Possible pictures to use of women with mental illness at the Transit Home (note that the eyes of the clients are blurred out or covered for confidentiality purposes).