Graduation

A story of how women can.

Everyone is late. The ceremony starts in 30 minutes and the food to be cooked is only just arriving. The women fly from room to room of the Center grabbing at pots and pans, combing hair, dressing in Sarees, cutting potatos. A woman is yelling in the next room, angry at some offense. Another is laughing as she tries on shoes much too big. A massive vat of masu (meat) stews in the corner next to the sewing machines, stirred occasionally by a passerby in high heels and a cooking apron.

From outside, the building sounds alive — it’s chaos and it’s also graduation day.

For the passed year, a group of 20 women have shown up every day to a dark, dank basement room to sit behind massive looms and learn a centeries old craft. Every day they came, despite flooding and landslides, angry husbands and sick children, relentless relatives and hospital visits. They came from shacks and tiny bedroom apartments. They came without food on their tables or clothes for their kids. And yet, they came.

Today, they graduate from the Center as qualified weavers, ready to create shawls and fabrics and a better life.

The tent outside is dirty and tatted and orange and purple and blue and yellow. The carpet is green. The graduates are red and gold and sweaty and beautiful. They sit in awe of this marvelous event created just for them.

And then something happens: I watch a woman hear her name called aloud in front of a crowd for the very first time. I watch her stand, bashful and shy and delighted as the others clap and cheer. I watch her walk to the front of the room and collect a certificate that has an official stamp and official signature. I watch her beam with pride as she traces her name on the bright, clean paper, even after the ceremony ends.

Something is happening in this shabby tent — something bigger than these women and the Center. Something is changing here and I can feel it in the hot air. Hope is seeping in and surrounding us. Nepali women have unbelievable courage and strength. Foreign women have opportunity and confidence and the audacity to demand better things. And now, under this tent, those two worlds meet.

The women move with a new swagger — they are here, they are skilled, they are ready. They have survived abuse and deaths and divorces. They have been the victim and the downtrodden. But not today. Today they have a certificate with their name on it. Today they dance.

First the bravest and boldest women among us start to swirl and twirl infront of the crowd to Nepali tunes. They are soon joined by the others —together, they dance away the afternoon, stopping only briefly to scold someone about a bad song choice. The heat doesn’t matter. Neighbors staring at the spectacle don’t matter. The fact that we had to return the tent an hour ago doesn’t matter. They dance.

The truth is, not all of these women will succeed. Some will fall back into their lives as if this year never happened. Some will try earnestly, but will fail nonetheless. Some will not try at all.

But there is something in this room today that cannot be ignored: women can, women will.

I am proud to be here and to be a small part of their story. I wish them luck and success. I wish them courage and strength and hope and confidence and audacity. I wish that their lives will change and that their story will inspire the little girls who peek their heads in from under the drapes.

For indeed, they have inspired me.

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