My name is Haruto, and I am from Japan. In the University of Stuttgart, I am a 4th semester student of Master of Science, Air Quality Control, Solid Waste and Wastewater Process Engineering (M.Sc.WASTE), specializing water treatment and solid waste treatment. I am actually in Nepal right now on a leave of absence from the university because I got a slight promotion from a volunteer to become an intern member of the Menstruation Project team at the NGO called NIDISI where I have been working since August 2022. Volunteering while you study in the university is an amazing experience, and I would 100% recommend it. Here are some of the reasons why, after eight months of volunteering experience.
“Humanity can do better”, is the slogan that caught my attention when I first time opened NIDISI's website. We, NIDISI, believe that most solutions to the global challenges for humanity and our planet already exist. Living generations understand how to change the world and make it a better place. It is a choice to apply those solutions. It is a mindset. NIDISI was founded to promote these existing solutions and to bring them into reality for people around the world.
NIDISI's story began with a bond of friendship. It originated from the connection between two Nepali brothers and a French-German volunteer who met in Nepal in 2015. Their friendship deepened in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake that occurred in April of that year. Motivated by compassion, they rallied together with other volunteers to raise funds and provide essential supplies like food and tents to the areas most affected by the disaster. Currently, there are four ongoing projects in Nepal: The Revalue Project, the Water Project, the Education Project, and the Mensuration Project, of which I am a member.
Why did I join?
In the summer of 2018 and summer of 2019, I decided to go backpacking through some low-income countries, including Nepal. It was the one of the best experience in my life; I met amazing open-minded people from all over the world, and together with them, we had unforgettable activities, spicy but insanely delicious food, and so on and so on.
However, while I had an amazing experience, I also witnessed a lot of poverty and pollution which I had never seen in Japan; even though it was before the COVID epidemic, people were wearing masks because the exhaust gas from cars was black, which is still the case in Nepal right now; there were a lot of kids who came to me and begged money; strong odour in the middle of big cities etc. I was somewhat aware of these issues through the media in Japan, but this trip made me realize that it is the real issue.
From what I saw while travelling and what I learned upon returning, I started questioning myself: What can I do to solve these environmental situations? Is there any way I can help these people? That was the time I decided to switch my major from Mechanical Engineering to Environmental Engineering to know more about climate change and its impact. At the same time, my future goal became to help people who are suffering from environmental issues.
Then I first enrolled on the M.Sc.WASTE where I learned about a lot of environmental problems happening all over the world as well as the technology which might be able to solve these issues. My decision of future goal did not change at all, it has become more of a conviction. It was then that I came across NIDISI and did not hesitate to send them an e-mail because it perfectly matched what I wanted to do.
Menstruation Project and my role in NIDISI
In Nepal, girls and women face challenges in managing their menstruation in a hygienic and dignified manner. In certain regions, such as the Far Eastern and Midwestern parts of the country, menstruating women are considered impure and are treated as untouchable, leading to isolation and having to sleep in cow sheds. Although the restrictions are less severe in other parts of the country, discrimination against women during their periods is still prevalent. Many women are prohibited from entering the kitchen or touching food. The combination of negative stigmatization and limited availability of menstrual products results in a degrading and undignified experience for countless Nepalese women. In remote areas, women often resort to using unsanitary alternatives like dirty rags. Furthermore, there is a lack of comprehensive information about menstruation in the school curriculum, making it difficult for adolescent girls to access reliable knowledge.
To address these issues, NIDISI has established a social business in Nepal called Sparśa, which plans to utilize local resources such as banana fibre to produce biodegradable menstrual pads and distribute them throughout the country.
My role on the team is primarily to compost the biodegradable waste from the pad-making process in our factory and use it to grow bananas. Currently, farmers in the area buy and use chemical fertilizers from India. They also do not collect the grain after harvest and leave it rotten in the field. In the future, we would like to collect the waste from after the harvesting of crops such as banana, corn and wheat grown by farmers in the area, make compost out of them and sell it to nearby farmers at a low price, thereby reducing the use of chemical fertilizers by farmers as much as possible.
What was challenging?
Without a doubt, the hardest part of volunteering has been balancing the volunteering work with my studies, research and having fun at the same time. I started volunteering right around the beginning of the third semester when I was doing the Student Research Project while also working part-time and taking regular classes which had a team project. It was the busiest time for me during my study at the University of Stuttgart.
I also felt very responsible for my role at NIDISI and at times it was stressful. Composting was the only way to dispose of the waste from our fibre factory and none of my team members had any practical experience or knowledge of composting except my predecessor. Additionally, as composting was not the main project for us, the budget is quite limited, and I only could estimate the cost of materials I would need because the project is in Nepal. I also had some compost-related content in my master's coursework, but I had never done any practical composting or designed a facility for composting. Fortunately, I have a master's degree in environmental engineering and knew several of my professors were familiar with composting, so I visited their offices or sent emails to ask for their helpy.
If there is chance of doing volunteering, do it!
Since you are applying for a volunteer position doing something you want to do, the people who are already doing that volunteer or working for that company are all of a similar mindset! I am currently in Nepal, and the time I spend with them is very meaningful and enjoyable.
Also, organizations engaged in similar activities and people/professors interested in such activities always loved to help us/me, so We/I could make such a valuable connection as well..
My main work usually comes from an engineering background. However, if I want to be involved in it, I can comment or be involved in marketing, legal, funding, and project management as well. Also, because of the transparency of information, there is a lot to learn about what other teams are doing and how they are doing it.
You can really learn a lot
To be honest, I knew almost nothing about menstruation before I joined the Menstruation Team at NIDISI. We usually don’t talk about it in Japan. When I applied to NIDISI, I sent an email asking them to let me do whatever they want me to do because I really wanted to get involved. But now I know a lot about menstruation and related issues, so I talk about it with my female friends and learn a lot from them as well.
Also, as our team are still young, we also had a coach who specialized in marketing and team organization, so I learned a lot from that. Even if you start volunteering in your area of interest and get involved in a specific topic, I am sure the same thing will happen to you.
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