Hannah, Blair, and I are seniors at Christchurch School. For our integrated senior project, we are working to give back to people who have become like family – the rural Himalayan community of Agora. We want to bring light to the lives of the women in the village. The three of us will be headed there in early March – Hannah for her third visit and Blair and me for our second. We will be interviewing and photographing women in Agora and creating a book documenting their lives. We also plan to create a women’s community center in Agora that will be a place to showcase the books and provide resources for empowering and supporting the women. As many of you know from personal experience, or as dedicated ccsglobaled.com blog followers, Agora is a small Indian farming village in the Himalayas comprised of 400 people. Hannah, along with many of the CCS travelers, has a deep appreciation for the women of Agora. She wrote in her 2017 blog post, “A thank you to Angeli for giving me a best friend halfway around the world. A thank you to Madhu for being the didi I never had. A thank you to Chandra for showing me how strong women are capable of being. A thank you to all the women of Agora”.
Looking forward to March, our overarching goal is to illustrate a community that is at a moment of change and to provide the parents, students, faculty, and most importantly, the women in Agora with the books that capture the spirit of the women who are facing the challenges of the changing world. As all three of us have been to Agora before, we have witnessed the daily challenges that the women face and the joy that they find in their lives in the village. Culturally, women are expected to tend the gardens, scale cliffs to collect grasses, cook meals, care for the family, dress far more conservatively than the men, etc. Across the history of the nation but most apparent in the last generation, women in both cities or in small villages have either limited or no access to education. Such traditions have created a standard of never leaving the family and providing in the house on a daily basis. The pictures and stories compiled in our book will show both the good and challenging aspects of life that women face in Agora today and the changing landscape that influences the future paths of the girls and young women. As Evan Pausic (Class of 2017) remarked after spending a week interviewing many people in Agora, “Many of the interviews connected to place, and this led to family. Listening to Suman’s family was impactful. Sitting with Ms. Showalter, Mrs. Smiley, and Ms. Sinnenberg and listening to Suman’s mother speak, her words translated by her son for us—this was truly heartwarming. It was a meeting of the mothers. It was a privilege and a joy.”
The book will follow a shortened narrative to allow the reader to make observations and connections of their own. These images will include a plethora of activities and stories from interviews to keep a guiding theme throughout. Many of you know Suman Panwar, our friend from Agora very well. He is a remarkable young man, a farmer, mountaineer, and global citizen. He has become our friend and generously shared himself with the Christchurch community. But perhaps the greatest gifts he has shared with us are his sister, Madhu, his mother, Chandra, and his grandmother. These women and their stories will clearly illustrate the strength of traditions, the beauty of wisdom and challenges of new opportunities in our book.
The women’s community center will serve as a place where the women can gather and discuss issues in the village and have a space designated solely for that purpose. While the building is not in use for meetings, we will also include a desktop computer, recipe books, cleaning supplies, etc. All of which the women can use on a daily basis. In addition to the benefits that the women will gain from using this center, trekkers stopping by the village will have a place where they can learn more about the village and their culture through artwork and our book.
With your help through donations or simply purchasing a book, our group will provide several books to the women and funds to create a women’s center in the village. Books will be available for a cost of $50 for a hardcover and $30 for a softcover. If you would like to donate or purchase the Women of Agora please contact either firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or my email, firstname.lastname@example.org. Our hopes are to donate five books to be viewed throughout the village as well as to create and maintain a women’s center in Agora. Any donation would be greatly appreciated. Detailed donation instructions, which can be made directly to Christchurch School as a non-profit are available by email. Please inquire for more details or with any questions.
MacLean Thomas, Hannah Duke, and Blair Pausic