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22 November 2017Last updated
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Real Women

'I’m paving the way for equality'

Radha Tamang, 26, is Nepal’s first woman rafting guide. Born in a remote village in the Sindhupalchok district of the Himalayas, she’s now in the UAE working as a raft and kayak guide at Al Ain’s Wadi Adventure Park. She talks to Samantha Dobson about the rewards and challenges of being a pioneer for equal rights

By Samantha Dobson
2 Dec 2013 | 04:03 pm
  • Radha has a love of adventure, and not just on the water - she'd like to climb Mount Everest.

    Source:Stefan Lindeque/ANM

“I was the youngest of three children living in a small village in the Himalayas. Growing up 
we had no electricity and no running water – as a child, one of my daily chores was fetching water from the village well, which was a 20-minute walk away.

“In my village it wasn’t uncommon for girls to marry as young as 12, and most of my friends were married in their teens. School for girls was considered unnecessary because education isn’t required for domestic work.

“My parents were different; they recognised opportunity in education, which is why I was sent to school – even though it meant I was the only girl in the classroom. By grade six, when I was 12 years old, the only secondary school was a four-hour walk away. I got up at 4am with my father to start my day.

FAMILY TRAGEDY

“That same year, my father got sick and died. He was just 48. I struggled... I missed him so much. I wanted to give up school and earn money to help support my mother, but I also knew my father saw education as a way to get ahead in life. Being the only teenage girl in our village attending school, I was asked to help some of the younger boys with their studies. That eventually turned into a tutoring job in the evenings. I didn’t earn much but it was enough to convince me to continue with school as was my father’s wish.

“By the time I reached grade 11, the only school was a seven-hour drive away, in Kathmandu. I stayed with my brother, but even so, coming up with the fees was a continual struggle for my mother. In 2008, I met Inca Trollsås, a woman from Sweden who came to Nepal to kayak and white-water raft. She was frustrated that all river guides in Nepal were men. She said local women deserved an equal chance in this growing tourism opportunity. 
I couldn’t swim – there wasn’t a river close to 
our village – but I had done karate at school, played football, volleyball and rock-climbing. 
So I was eager to give kayaking a go.

“I passed the basic swimming test and agreed to learn more. Following an intensive 45-day training programme, I was the first to graduate from Inca’s Himalayan Adventure for Girls, a non-profit organisation promoting women as guides and instructors in Nepal’s adventure and outdoor tourism industry.

BREAKING TRADITION

“Inca encouraged me every step of the way. 
I owe her so much. After I graduated, she arranged a passport and a small allowance and sent me for specialist kayak slalom training in Thailand. Back in Nepal, even though I was the first female river guide in my home country and had extensive technical knowledge and experience, it was still difficult to get work. 
River guiding is seen as physically demanding and employers are reluctant to hire women.

“In 2011, once again with Inca’s help, I was given the opportunity of a season with Arctic Adventures, a tour operator in Iceland, as a river guide. It was in Iceland that I learned my biggest lesson – to respect nature.

“One stretch of the river I was working on has a class-five rapid known as the Green Room. I was kayaking there in particularly fast-moving water when I flipped. I was pushed down into an underwater hole and held there for more than a minute. I tried not to panic and to concentrate on my training. I curled up into a ball, my lungs screaming for air, and was flung against sharp rocks as I fought for my life. I started seeing visions of my mother and truly thought that these were my last moments alive, that I would drown in a river thousands of kilometres from my home. I was badly shaken, had a dislocated shoulder and knocked out my front tooth, but somehow I managed to swim to safety. I not only survived, but I came back even stronger and with valuable technical knowledge that would help me in the future.

“I returned to Nepal for the following season when tragedy struck again. On the Bhote Kosi River in September 2011, I was kayaking with two male support kayakers. On a fast rapid we all flipped. I tried to roll but couldn’t. I lost my kayak and was once again swimming for my life. I made it out alive, but I was the lucky one – both my friends drowned. I’ve learned to face fear, but more importantly, I have also learned the hard way about the importance of safety.

INSPIRING OTHER WOMEN

“In 2012, I applied for a job in Al Ain as a white-water rafting guide at Wadi Adventure. I was successful and have been here for around 15 months. Again, I’m the only woman among 16 raft and kayak guides, who are mainly Nepalese. My plan is to work hard and save money. I’d like to get sponsorship to climb Mount Everest; I wouldn’t be the first Nepalese woman to the summit, but I want to show the women of my country that being female doesn’t stop me from doing anything.

“Nepal has a problem with human trafficking. Women in particular are exploited, often because they are uneducated. It makes me so sad... There is education in Nepal, but women feel limited by social constraints. I want to send them a message of empowerment: women don’t need to be stuck in domestic roles – with hard work they can be anything they want. The expectation for women in Nepal is that they marry young and spend the rest of their lives caring for their families. But if this isn’t what they want for their life, they shouldn’t feel pressurised into it. A job as a raft guide can change lives through opportunity. Perhaps it is a way out 
of misery, poverty, or just boredom.

“One day I would like to open my own kayaking and raft-guiding school for women. Once qualified, there will always be work for them in tourism in Nepal. They too can be free and independent people. I was given that chance and I’m grateful 
to Inca for believing in me. The best way I can 
repay her is to encourage others.”

For more information on Wadi Adventure, visit 
www.wadiadventure.ae

By Samantha Dobson

By Samantha Dobson