Secret Women’s Business

November 28, 2014 · 0 comments

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.



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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Hey Big Spender(s)

November 11, 2014 · 4 comments

photo 3Kopila and I are just back in town after a few heady days in Kathmandu spending soooooo much money. By our standards!  We had three goals:

1. purchase a lot of silver findings from Abdul and Shokira at Fozia to cope with our steadily growing orders for completed jewellery;

2. search every inch of the Bead Bajar in Indra Chowk for the elusive turquoise pote bead; and

3. look at big ovens (the ladies had no idea such a thing existed. Totally blown away!)

Neither of us are huge fans of KTM so the plan was to shop fast and go. And we did. We spent more money in two and half days than in a long time.  But we got the silver, found the beads (despite nearly every sahuji in the market remorse facedly telling usphoto 1 Paundaina- not available) cleaned the cupboard sized shop of the aforementioned turquoise beads and…no….we didn’t look at ovens.  Well, we didn’t just look at ovens. WE BOUGHT ONE!!!!

We had the cash, we had the promise of free delivery, and we didn’t know when we’d both be back together in KTM (it’s a long way for both of us!).  Also, our darling ladies are heartily sick of the noisy generator and we are very keen to do what we can to become as environmentally clean as we can!  It was scary, step of courage and we are very relieved that it arrived, seemingly intact last night. (With more pasta machines, thank you Jacquie and John!) Today is calibration day. Keep your fingers crossed!!!

I will also be blogging here for a more personal account of the time here if too much is not enough.



Beyond beads….

October 14, 2014

…and why it is so desperately important we keep selling them!

In the week since the office re-opened after the Dashain holiday season, 5 young women in desperately difficult circumstances have come for help.  As ladies in our lovely new work room work to fill orders, Kopila meets with women who are scared, vulnerable and overwhelmed.  Yesterday she told me the story of one of the ladies. UUK is unusual in Nepal, a woman who elected to not marry.  She has been basically abandoned by her family but was able to scrape together some funds and start her own tiny tailoring business. Because of her choices, she is viewed with suspicion and scorn by many in her community.

A man sometimes visited to get sewing done. One day he came to the shop when no-one else was there and raped UUK.  In her attempts to prevent him, she sustained serious injuries and still needs surgery, which she can’t afford, to recover.

UUK went to the police and started a case against this man but with no legal guidance, police and defence lawyers are creating huge delays and obstacles.  She has just been told that there will now be a two year delay before anything else can happen. With no explanation.  UUK lives alone in the same town as the man and he wanders free.  She is scared.

These are typical of the problems women in Nepal face.  Because she lives alone, UUK is suspected of being a prostitute.  Many think that prostitutes or women living alone are ‘asking for trouble’  Because she couldn’t afford a lawyer, UUK was misled about the legal process.  Tragically, in her first attempt to get support, the organisation she approached seems to have kept the funds obtained in her name for themselves.  In desperation, UUK has approached Samunnat asking for assistance with her case and with finding safety. Kopila suspects corruption and headed off to the courts yesterday to start to get answers.  This will be a long process.

Kopila reported that more and more women are coming to Samunnat from beyond Jhapa.  Women from the neighbouring districts of Ilam and Sunsari are travelling to Samunnat. This means we will have to use funds to pay lawyers in those areas when the distance is too great for Kopila to travel.

DSCN5101As you think about gifts for Christmas, please look at the necklaces and bracelets in our etsy shop, or make your own art from the beads from Kazuri West. Buy from the galleries and distributors who sell our work.  You are buying more than necklaces and beads. You are helping to ensure that women like UUK get the legal representation they deserve; that they get the medical treatment they need; that they get the training they need to be able to earn an income and survive.

I head back to Nepal in a few weeks and the etsy shop will have to close so please shop soon!  To our dear readers, thank you for your support and love.

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DSCN1724The blog for the Many Hands Market PlaceKazuri West makes great reading.  Over the past months readers have been introduced to the members of the Many Hands Design Team.  These are artists from all over the world who create jewellery designs which incorporate Kazuri beads.  In the past we have been delighted to see the work of  Pearl Blay, Sandra Francour, Kerrie Slade and of course, Paulette Walther.  In this latest post, the work of another team member, our very own Wendy Moore, has been featured.


Obviously Wendy is wildly biased about SamunnatDSCN1350 beads and keen to incorporate Samunnat them in her work.  Many of Wendy’s jewellery designs go on to be made by us and sold on our etsy site.  Of late, Wendy has been a bit distracted (which explains the silence emanating from this blog for the past month) by the arrival of her first born grand child. We are just as excited about Zoe’s arrival and this week, a Nepali national baby’s outfit similar to this arrived from us for Zoe. We’ll post pictures when she fits in it!!

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bead style FPPaulette Walther, our LBD (loose bead distributor!) from Kazuri beads sent us an excited email the other day. A gorgeous bracelet created using some of our slider beads was on the cover of the latest Bead Style magazine!!  Bead Style doesn’t make it to Birtamod so we are so grateful to Paulette for letting us know.  The bracelet photographed featured our leopard, Cheetah, Giraffe and Golden Brown Dotty slider beads. bead style nov

We love seeing our beads used and were so excited to see the creative ways they were used in the Hand made Slider bead contest and loved Sandra Metcalf’s 3rd-1-sandra-metcalfthird place winning bracelet using our leopard slider.

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After delays due to rain, strikes, supplies and festivals, we are now forging ahead with imageour second storey. As you can see from the photos there has been lots of activity. Not to mention lots of bamboo poles!

The concrete of the roof is poured in a day with many, many people working in a carefully choreographed team to get it all happening in time.  No cement mixers here and bowls of concrete are carried on the heads of some workers to others who slap it down, smooth it out and turn around for the next lot. At the end of the day, when everything is done, we provide a meal to all the workers and we celebrate the stage we have reached.

Recently we received another generous donation from the IPCA.  Our increased visibility means that more women know about us and the there are more requests for us to help.  This means more demands on legal resources, training resources, short term help, and so we are so grateful for the donation coming in! We are really glad too, that now people know that we are where we are to stay!

imageThe other week, Kopila was the subject of a Nepali TV series featuring people who are working to bring peace in Nepal.  Obviously it is in Nepali, but you can still see her passion, pride and determination and you get a real sense of our place, our lives. I hope the link works and that you can see itimage  here. More soon!

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Samunnat Flowers

August 16, 2014

P1020892Samunnat-FlowersLook at these beautiful beaded flowers made by UK artist Kerrie Slade! We love the way Kerrie has used our beads and were also very touched by her comments in her post here.  We do indeed make each bead with great love and care and our existence depends on the sales of our beads so there is a huge amount of hope there too!

There is still time to enter the Kazuri competition using beads from Samunnat or the Kazuri range!  We are so excited about seeing the results. Read the details about the competition here and let us know if you enter!

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DSCN5397 It is always fun hearing about our jewellery as it travels the world.  The connections are wonderful to hear about.  Recently I (Wendy) caught up with two ladies helping us by selling our jewellery.  Virginia Dixon is on the board of the Langtang Valley Health project which provides primary health and emergency medical care to people living in the Langtang Valley region.  Every year, Virginia and her tireless board organise a range of fund raising activities and an auction is part of these.  This year she selected some Samunnat jewellery from our turquoise and black and white range to coordinate withDSCN5400 pashminas to auction.  They looked fantastic packaged up and the women who made the winning bids seemed delighted with their purchases!

Virginia heard about Samunnat from our dear friend and incredible supporter Sarah Bartram.  Sarah has taken our jewellery to so many places and we can’t thank her enough for her support!  She is based near Australia’s capital city Canberra but travels widely, visiting gallery owners and attending markets, selling our products and many other gorgeous items.  It was wonderful to see her in action and to meet people who bought our jewellery.  People were so interested to hear about the process and to know how the money was used.

DSCN5402 We would not survive if it was not for the support of people like Virginia and Sarah, Mel and Yohann at Surya, Sacha at Red Earth in White Cliffs, Sally at Albury Picture Framers, our friends at the Art Vault in Mildura, Robin at Breathing Colours Gallery and the gang at the Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery to name some of our angels.

And talk about six degrees of separation! Sarah’s husband Geoff Bartram is on the board of Langtang Valley Health and was part of the team who made the first Australian ascent of Mt. Everest in 1984.  InDSCN5403 1980 he led a group to Everest base Camp. This group included a young Australian man who came home and showed his trekking slides to a few people including a former student of his next-door-neighbour.  In the fullness of time*, the young man and the student fell in love, got married, had a family, moved to Nepal for a while and in 2007, met up with Kopila and learnt about Samunnat.  The rest, as they say, is history….

*Long but romantic story depending on who you ask!

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