Living with Strikes

January 25, 2015 · 1 comment

Over the last 9 years we have waited for our politicians to write the Constitution for our imagesnew republic of Nepal.  After the king stepped down Nepal became a democracy and the important task was to write a constitution for our political system.  9 years and two Constitutional Assemblies later, we still have no Constitution.  For four years, Nepalese people tolerated this inefficiency but then last year there were many protests. The new Assembly begged for another chance and promised a Constitution within a year.
In January 2015, all around the world people were celebrating New Year and hoped for happiness and prosperity.  But in Nepal, there was doubt, frustration and anger.  Once again, the political parties had played with people’s hope.  They promised us a better future and opportunities.  January 22nd was the last date to announce the Constitution.  We stayed up late at night watching television and listening to the radio, suspecting the worst. Once again, they failed us.
The main stumbling block has been a decision about federal states.  Parties are wanting to maintain power rather than think about what will really be the best for the people long term. No-one can agree and no-one will compromise.  The parties misunderstand what the ordinary people want.  Some parties called strikes against the government but ignored the suffering of the ordinary people. We had a very dreadful 19 days continuous strike before so, knowing how hard it was then, we prepared.  When the strikes began again this month, we started to stock the basic necessary things.  When there is a strike, cars, trucks, buses and sometimes bikes are not allowed to travel and schools, shops, industries and factories had to close.
We try to do our very important tasks before the strikes but do not always have warning.  So far, we have had several three days strikes.  Most of our Samunnat ladies are near byDSCN0068a (1280x960) but Parmila ,Deepa ,Rita and Samjana come from 12 to 15 km far away.  Parmila and Rita cycle and Deepa and Samjana travel by bus.  On second day of the strike Parmila rang me and said that her bike tyre burst on her half way to the office and she had to repair it but the shop was closed  so she return back to home pulling her bike. One unexpected advantage of our office building is our Bahini Haru can stay for night when there is a strike like Deepa did.  She stayed in the office for two days.  She also did her cooperative official work in her stay. We all Samunnat ladies still get together in the strikes. The office is the place where we always are together.  We are very grateful for the friends of Samunnat and lovely buyers and the donors for their generous support for our Sweet home Samunnat.  Thank you.
Editor’s Note: The ladies (Deepa, Yashodha and Kumari) are actually VERY happy but traditionally Nepalis don’t smile in photos!

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#polymerartchallenge 5

January 17, 2015 · 8 comments

Phew!!! What a ride this has been!! We have heard about all the lovely comments and hope that some people come to start reading our blog after hearing about this challenge. And we love that the whole world gets to see beautiful polymer from artists all over the world.  We sometimes can’t believe all the different things that people make.

We wanted to include our Bindu beads because to some extent, they are our bread andDSCN0013_resized butter. We sell versions of these loose to non polymer artists via Paulette’s Walther’s website Kazuri West.  Paulette persisted with us at a time when we were scared, nervous and getting in our own way. She opened our eyes to new possibilities and helped us to face our fears, communicate better and work more efficiently.  The beads in this necklace are a twist on the beads we make for Paulette and all the ones we made for the Australian galleries before Christmas we sold. We also did our first custom order where a gallery asked for a specific colour and we were able to respond! This may sound so small but these baby steps are big for us and part of learning to stand and ultimately walk on our own feet.  We included this to say thank you to Paulette and to all the buyers in Australia who keep us going!
The rules: Post an image of your work on 5 days and each day nominate another person to participate.
Nomination: Any scared, frightened but determined polymer clay artist who is willing to risk her vulnerability and post his/ her work. Thank you Sabine, Ron, Anke and everyone else for the chance to show ours!

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#polymerartchallenge 4

January 16, 2015

Today’s entry is a shot of several of our Sundari necklaces.

DSCN3479The ladies adore making these. Sundari means beautiful and the design is based on the heavily embellished style of the embroidery of the indigenous border people and Indian appliqué work.  We were starting to play with the idea when Cynthia taught us our shisha bangle so it was a wonderful synchronicity of ideas!  Each of us feels like our personality and heritage can be reflected in the beads. If you know us, sometimes you can tell who made which bead.  Some of us like a more simple clean shape and others like very intricate and embossed designs. Some use a lot of extrusions and others use more filigree.
Nomination: Barbara Alexander or if she has been nominated Valerie Cook (a sneaky way of making two nominations, no?)
The rules: Post an image of your work on 5 days and each day nominate another person to participate.

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As you can see from the videos of the work rooms here and here, it is a really relaxed environment with ample space for chatting, sharing of ideas and support. We work using DSCN5102an apprenticeship/ mentor model where the more experienced ladies help the newer ladies as they do more complex and difficult tasks. An early skill taught is the very careful use of the pasta machine to condition clay, make the scrap bases for beads such as our Bindu beads and then, with time, learning how to read our recipe book and mix colours. (Thanks again Carolyn and Dave Good!!!) In the videos, you can see we are learning how to use the Lucy extruders donated to us by Kimberley IdalskiValerie Cook, Joey Barnes and Lucy and George Struncova. We also give our Makin Extruders (thank you Jen Tattam) and our PCE extruder (thank you Rob and Wilma) a plenty of use!

In the videos we are working on a couple of new designs: a custom made black and white petal mala based on the design Lindly Haunani allowed us to make and a triangle version of our Bindu beads that is selling well.  There is lots of discussion about what is working, what isn’t and what we need to change. These are our mantra questions!

The flower beads that we are featuring on our second day of the challenge are made by the ladies with the most experience. We have only been making them for the past year and the design is still being refined. Most get sold in galleries in Australia as single, triple or five flowers on adjustable Buna cord.  We love making them!

The rules: Post an image of your work on 5 days and each day nominate another person to participate.

And our nomination for today? Check out the link here to find out!

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#polymerartchallenge 2

January 14, 2015 · 1 comment

Spot the busy blogger….

DSCN5092Most of the time the house is a busy hub creating beads with a specific colour and, when we are making beads for Kazuri, a very specific design that needs to be replicated. We are often making to a specific order . On this particular day, the ladies were learning about faux ivory and texturing and Wendy encouraged them to just play. The results of the fun and joyful day are below.

The ladies would love to nominate Cynthia Hyslop Tinapple, someone they know and cherish.

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The lovely Sabine Spiesser (read more about Sabine’s loveliness here) told us that we DSCN2303have been nominated to share some of our work in Donna Greenberg’s Facebook based Polymer Art Challenge.  For five days, an artist (or group of artists in our case!) posts a photo of their work and nominates another artist to do the same thing. Fabulous idea!

Sabine has offered to do our posting as we were nominated by the divine Ron Lehocky and someone else Sabine is finding for us! Thank you both anyway!!!

We posted this photo because it reminds us of a wonderful time we had playing aroundDSCN2286 with a new technique and just having fun! We laughed a lot and someone suggested that these beads bought out wild women in us!  We thought Sita looked magnificent wearing them!

We nominated Cynthia Tinapple even though we know she would have already been nominated but it was a way of acknowledging how special she is to us! I am not sure if this link works but maybe it will lead you to the work of many artists! Thank you Sabine!

And we know we are hitting you with a lot of videos but you should know us by now…feast or famine! See us working in our new room. Hear us chatter, get to know us! At the very end of the video clip you can see Yashoda and Samjhana, two of our newest ladies.  Yashoda lives in the building and Yashoda makes sure we are never wanting for a cup of tea!  More tomorrow!

BTW, I think I have got my days mixed up but you can live with that!


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A virtual tour

January 12, 2015

For a long time we have wanted to be able to show people the home that their donations DSCN0548helped to build.  We were very happy when Malcolm dai arrived and offered to take some videos! We LOVE our home. Have we said that before? We love the fact that we have an organised, light, large place to work in. We love that people can share their problems with Kopila in private in our office. We love that our kitchen is sunny and has a tap inside.  Have a look here to get a tour of our ground floor.

Kumari, her son and Yashoda love the room they share and the fact that they have a bathroom inside. They do a fantastic job as caretakers of our building.  We will write more about this later but at the moment we are facing a hard time in the east with many strikes. Travel is impossible so Deepa, who relies on her income working in our Cooperative to support her blind father can stay in our building which she loves.

We don’t actually LOVE the fact that we live on building site but we love what isDSCN0270 happening up there.  It’s all action as you can see here. Construction Nepali style.  There is a new large room, positively light drenched, that will become our work room so we have fewer interruptions.  Kumari and Yashoda will move upstairs and will be joined by Bishnu.

Now take care on the stairs as you head up to the roof. There are no rails as our intrepid cameraman discovered.  Eventually the solar panels donated by Barefoot will go up here. We will have a covered area for summer and there will be a lovely sunny corner where we can sit in Winter. We can dry seeds up here, conduct training, do our washing, and have our meals sometimes. Our personal picnic place!  As you read this, the builders are cementing a fence to stop small people from falling off which is a very good thing!

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Secret Women’s Business

November 28, 2014

The opening photo for this post will be the profusion of flower beads that the ladies have DSCN0335had such fun making. The post is NOT about the flowers but the first photo is the one that comes up* on Facebook and the real subject matter may not make for an enticing photo. Even though  the ladies are just as excited about it!!!!

We think our creatively entrepreneurial friends Daniel and Natalia would be very proud of us!  A conversation in Kathmandu a few weeks ago got us thinking about a gap in the local market. (Blokes, you may want to turn away now.)  We’d been reading about sanitary pads! In Africa, school girls were missing school days for want of sanitary protection and we read the remarkable story of the Pad Man in India.  We thought there may be a market for some sort of sanitary pad in Birtamod.

A straw poll in the office revealed that fewer than 20% of the ladies used disposable padsDSCN0289 and the rest used folded up torn pieces of sari.  They were all fascinated to learn about potential alternatives and a roughly made, hand stitched sample pad was greeted with great excitement and another creative journey began.

Not without significant frustrations we may add but, to cut a long story (and powerful lesson in equanimity short) we are now ready to launch our first run of 30 Samunnat Sanitary Pad Kits. Possibly to be called Ritas after our first enthusiastic test subject.

Our informal committee reviewed several patterns available online (gotta love the internet) and we tweaked, tested and modified. A big consideration was coming up with some thing that would dry quickly in our damp monsoon and cold winters. We think our design is a good one. The management committee of the Cooperative is so excited that it is investing in our first run.  DSCN0368The women are so excited about the product that quite a few of them plan to try selling them door to door.  If there is enough interest, we will do a second production run.

Each kit contains two liners made from new fabric and then the inside will be made from recycled fabric.  There are two baklo (thick) inner squares for heavier days and then three patalo (thinner) inner squares for the rest of the period.  One kit costs less than tourist dal bhat in Kathmandu and a little over what you pay for two packets of Whispers (still very much aDSCN0370 product for the middle class over here). Obviously, ours will last for a long, long time and not take such a toll on the environment!

We will keep you updated but at the very least, 80% of the ladies in our group will experience an environmentally friendly, significant increase in comfort and at best, we are making a much needed product that will help our Cooperative to do a great job.

*This may reflect a lack of FaceBook expertise!  But there is method to our madness! Necklaces made using these gorgeous flowers will be available from some of our stockists now and in our etsy shop in 2015.


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Watching a home grow

November 20, 2014 · 1 comment

Just as well we are not putting up with generator noise (did we mention that the oven is DSCN0149magnificent?) as we are putting up with much banging, not to mention water, from the building process upstairs.

Someone’s nagging about windows last visit made an impression because the windows upstairs will be fantastic. Not to mention planned! So much so that the room equivalent to our current workroom is so attractive to the ladies that we will move up there! As well as being light, it has more wall space and will afford privacy and give the Cooperative space toDSCN0144 operate downstairs.

The walls and roof are complete and rendering is now taking place. Water constantly runs on the concrete (and everywhere) so it is a bit like the monsoon except not hot and sticky! Kopila took the opportunity of educating one of the labourers about the evils of child marriage when she heard that the woman had engaged her 12 year old daughter to be married.  This is illegal but still widely practised in Nepal especially in indigenous communities. The bottom line came when the woman suggested that her daughter was happy about the whole arrangement and Kopila basically said she would report her to the authorities.  So much to do in terms of education. This young girl and her mother know no real alternative. this seems to them to DSCN0270be the way of securing a stable future. Her mother carries cement on her head and wants her daughter to have a different life. Maybe marriage to an older man while she is still a child will help? Easy for us to see it won’t but until she learns and experiences an alternative, the old ways look safe.

Januka, one of the younger labourers looks longingly each day at the ladies doing theDSCN0268 jewellery work. We struggle with having to limit ourselves to work sustainably. Wishing we could help everyone.  We keep working on new ideas hoping that we can help as many as possible.

Feast your eyes on the progress shots!

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Lovin’ the oven

November 13, 2014 · 1 comment

photo 1When you realise the journey that our new oven had to make, you will understand why we breathed a cautious sigh of relief when it arrived. Our home is 17 hours away from Kathmandu and the last part of the oven’s journey was on a rickshaw.

As we said in yesterday’s post (this is feast or famine blogging!) we are keen to become a cleaner, greener and more efficient organisation and our small toaster ovens were seriously lackingDSCN0129 in reliable temperature control.  Also we were heartily sick of the noisy, expensive-to-run generator.

None of the Samunnat ladies had seen an oven quite like our new Elba before.  They were intrigued, frightened, excited and  curious. Yesterday we calibrated our oven, watching it anxiously over several hours to check that temperature control was just right and to see if various parts of the oven heated up differently.  Today we cooked our first new-oven- baked-batch-DSCN0136of-beads – a custom order of laliguras Bindu Mala for lovely Sally from Albury Picture Framers and being able to cook more at once means we have a fighting chance of getting the beads to her in time for Christmas sales!

We are over the moon that so far it has all worked out. Ovens have been a source of constant frustration so we are very hopeful that this will be one less thing to worry about now!

Pramila is pointing with a bandaged finger as she suffered our first (and we hope last) work place injury. Fortunately, what could have been nasty was not too bad and and she came back from a visit to Emergency with a bandage not stitches! Still able to string beads…a true heroine!

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