Manisha Dwa is a Project Coordinator at the Nepal Astronomical Society (NASO). She is originally from Pokhara, where she spent her early age and completed her education. She did Bachelor’s and Master’s in Science from Prithvi Narayan Campus. Currently, Dwa is a Master’s in Philosophy (STEAM) Scholar at Kathmandu University. She was a dedicated and competitive student since the school level and a proud daughter for what her mom, as a teacher, would tell her about satellites, moon, and cosmic stuff.
“When my friends would get excited about the moon following us wherever we go, I would have this little proud feeling that I knew what exactly was happening up there, and it’s the moving clouds that are creating the illusion.”
She believes that the exciting science and cosmic stories her mom told her as a child got her interested in Astronomy. However, she realized it only after she enrolled for medical exam preparation after high school as she was expected to do MBBS. She understood that a medical career wasn’t the best choice for her, so she went back to Pokhara and enrolled in a Bachelor’s of Science and majored in Astrophysics.
Dwa faced body shaming, ragging, and sexism in high school and college, which led to low self-esteem and low self-confidence. She couldn’t cope with the environment, nor could she maintain the grades as she did in her school. Everything is about mindset and confidence, which she knew very well, but ragging changed her perspective about life and the world. With time, she understood the value of trusting herself and moving forward without listening to what people have to say.
“I was worried about my grades, but then as I started working as a teacher in the initial days, I started implementing my knowledge and skills, which got me hired anywhere I went. You have to be skilled and pragmatist. As long as you can’t cope with the given scenario, your grades won’t work.”
Dwa is an expert in her field of space and Astronomy. She is the founder of the NASO’s Women in Science Award (WISA), and a co-founder at National Astronomy Olympiad (NAO) and Sano Sansar Youth Hostel Pvt. Ltd, Kathmandu. She is also a project coordinator at NASO. She is an experienced teacher and a science mentor and has worked at different institutions, including Nepal Bharat Maitri Vidyalaya, Saraswati Academy School, Kathmandu and Ankur Vidyashram, Battisputali, Kathmandu. Seeing her students getting excited about her classes and praising her for her work makes her the happiest. She works with female teachers and principals to improve the quality of education in different schools in Nepal. She has also been actively working to contribute to science and Physics, organizing conferences including 2nd Regional Conference on Women in Physics, Nepal and 1st Science, Information and Technology National Youth Conference, Nepal, and attending dozen of international Astronomy, Astrophysics and Space Science workshops, seminars and conferences in the USA, China, Germany, Austria, Greece, etc.
Despite Dwa’s plenty of contributions towards Physics and Astronomy, she has been affected by gender stereotypes in her career and beyond. The culture of simply not trusting people’s worth for their appearance and gender affected her both personally and professionally until she learned to overcome it. “Being dragged by people is a part of life; it is about what you do despite them putting you down.” As a woman, she says, “We all have our own different identity. Neither the throne nor the flower can define our personality.”
However, the criticisms Dwa faced regarding her appearances, and career choices did not stop her. Her self-belief and grit pushed her to become the person she is today. There were plenty of challenges, but with the support from her family and her belief in herself, she got the strength to win everything in the world.
“There was a time when people used to pressurize my parents to get me married, and my friends used to poke me with comments like “Budi vayis, bihe gar.” But the same people and friends now write to me, telling me that they want to make their daughter like me. That is the best thing you can ever ask for.”
“One of the many things that my parents taught me is that you have to learn the basic skills not because you have to go to someone else’s house but because you can be self-sufficient and independent. And yes, I can do any work regardless of my gender. Whenever people saw me working with my father with a pick or shovel, they would criticize my father as “chhori lai yo k garaayeko?”, and we used to look at each other and laugh. I found it was my need to learn motorbike so that in case of an emergency at home.”
“Women might not be the same or equal to men in the biological senses, but in terms of logic, reasoning, and responsibilities, they are equal.”
Dwa is also into astrophotography, traveling, sports, classical Nepali dance, and archery. She has played nationals in archery, and she takes the best planetary shots.
Dwa’s experiences as a teacher and woman in science helped her see the need for more Nepalese engagement in Astronomy. “Even though a lot of our youths show interest in science, they are barely devoted to Astronomy, and we are failing to compete and work at the international level,” says Dwa.
“We need our youths to shift their focus towards having a stronger base and proper understanding. For that reason, we are running projects like Olympiad, Asteroid Search Campaign to train students how to find asteroids with the help of data, Women in Astronomy to train them about Astronomy, Physics and to increase the youth’s involvement in Astrophysics.”
Dwa’s efforts to get more women, children, and youths interested in Astronomy have helped her get a good picture of what’s missing in our generation’s attitude. She has some important messages to share, especially with the youths in Nepal.
“If you are privileged enough, your parents have raised you and provided you with education in a way that you are independent to make decisions for yourself; blaming family, society, and its culture for not completing your goals is just an excuse. You have the capability and choice to convince your family; it is on you how far you can go to achieve them. You can also achieve great things while working in Nepal; you do not always have to study abroad to achieve your dream. You have to accept the hardship that follows your dreams and have grit to pursue them. Don’t just give up if the outcome is not satisfying on the first stage; build yourself up from the base.”
Dwa’s contributions and determination for her work have inspired many. She shares her journey and hardships to let the younger generation know that they are not alone. She believes that even one inspiration matters.
“Every time I am interviewed, I make sure I talk about my struggles because chances are at least 1 out of 100 might relate to my struggles and is inspired by my journey. That one inspiration matters and drives me to do better.”
This article was written by Manwi Acharya, the Treasurer of Nepali Women in Computing for Nepali Women in Computing — CELEBRATE.