When a massive earthquake struck Nepal on April 25, 2015, Shrijana and her family were working near her home, which was heavily damaged. The family lost most of their food, clothing, and household items.
She learned about Plan International’s masonry training through her community and asked that she be included. Shrijana was the youngest female mason to join the program in her village.
“At first, the community members told me I was too young, and not qualified, but I didn’t mind,” Shrijana said. “There are eight other female masons in the program, but I am the youngest. The other women call me their daughter and supported me during the training. The other men in the training teased me if I didn’t know something or if I was unable to carry heavy things. Despite the teasing, I was still determined to learn from them.”
At first glance, you would never expect that 21-year-old Shrijana from Nepal bears the financial and emotional weight of her entire family. Her attitude, vibrancy, and demeanour does not reveal any of her childhood struggles or the realities she is facing.
“I have gained such confidence, because I know I can do good things as a girl,” she said. “Even though I face barriers, the mason training made me feel like a better person. I understood that women were able to do what men could do.”
Having lost her mother at a young age and her brother last year, Shrijana has had to assume the role of the mother and financial caretaker within the family.
She left school early and at the age of 18 moved to Kathmandu to live with her uncle and got a job in a shop selling MoMos, the famous Nepali dumplings. Even then, she would send a large portion of her earnings back to her family.
Shrijana’s other two siblings - also girls - are only 7 years old and 7 months old. It was only after her brother passed away in early 2015 that she decided to return back to her community.
“I feel proud to be her father. Even though I am not able to support her in her studies, she is like the son who bears the responsibility for the whole family,” her father explained. “With my daughter’s support, I am able to look after my other daughters.
“Previously, I would do the daily wage labor and manage our farm and livestock [the family’s main income source]. But as I am getting older, day-by-day, I am not able to do labor work. I am very happy with my daughter’s profession. She is a role model for the entire community. I want to help her make her dreams come true.”
Since the earthquake, Plan has provided emergency shelter materials, including rope and plastic sheeting, to more than 52,767 households.
Plan has also trained 479 masons and carpenters on earthquake-resistant construction techniques, supporting 11,142 households to build transitional and semi-permanent homes.
With her new building skills she learned from Plan’s program, Shrijana is currently building a transitional home for 76-year-old Krishna and her husband, who is ill and unable to rebuild. The elderly couple lost their home in the earthquake. They have seven children who now live in Kathmandu but visit their parents in Dolakha.
“I am proud of her,” said Krishna. “She is doing well and proving that she is equal to a man. She is doing hard labor. I have never seen a lady mason.
“When I was her age, there was no tradition of a woman being a mason. Women and girls were not allowed to go outside. She can move forward and lead like a man and teach others. Women should move ahead in their life. They can learn skills, knowledge, and experiences. They are now more educated, so they have the chance to learn more and share with others.”
With materials from Plan, Shrijana built her own family a temporary shelter.
“My daughter taught me how to build,” added Shrijana’s father. “Together, we built a cattle shed and an outdoor kitchen made out of bamboo and tarpaulin.”
With enough money, Shrijana hopes to rebuild a permanent home. As the sole provider, however, she is still using the majority of the money to support her family’s livelihood.
“I am proud of myself,” she said. “I now know I can be a better person. All these new skills will help me. I will replicate everything I have learn to rebuild my own home and other houses in my community.”
Working in a group of three, Shrijana and two other male masons will rebuild 21 homes over the next five to six months.