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Here is the story of our amazing Bulu. She is a young Rajbansi girl, one of our Adivasi (indigenous) people. She is a single mother of two small children. Bulu was married by her family at 14 to one Indian man but he left and she has not heard anything from him since one year. She is living with her parents but needs to earn an income for her family and her sister suggest the idea of selling chatpati. Chatpati is delicious snack which is made with noodles, lemon juice, salt, chill, onion, tomato, coriander and spices.
Doing this business herself she borrowed a selling cart but had to spend NRs 4000/- on repairs. She borrowed some money and started this business which is a hard job to pull and push the heavy cart and she has the little ones. With just starting with very little money she is already paying her school fees and feeding herself and every few days she tries to save NRs50/- (approx. AUD0.60) She heard about Samunnat and our Cooperative and came to talk with us and we were so inspired by her courage and determination.
Her wish list is that after three months she can make her own wooden cart and be independent so we are helping her by lending the amount for this with no interest and giving her very big fee reduction for her baby to go to our Montessori creche. Bulu is very courageous and powerful and we were all so inspired when she shared her story. Not many ladies sell chatpati and she feels very proud of doing this job.
When I was talking with her to ask if we could write about her she was so proud and offered me chapati so I could taste how good it was!
I have always noticed the eyes of the grandmothers and older women who live on the way to the Samunnat office. Every day we exchange our greetings but only from outside when I am there or with the ladies. I had a feeling that they wanted to see and give their compassion and love. I was thinking about a way I could spend time with all of Samunnat ladies and these older ladies, our elders. Finally we decided to arrange a Samunnat Open day. We bought some special leaves and cotton to make their time really useful and so they felt like they were contributing. I wanted them to feel that they are very Special for us. I wanted them to realize they had the capacity to support without being dependent with their son or husband. We have a culture that in 3 stages of being a woman we always rely on a man: first our father, then our husband, and finally our son. I wanted to help them understand that they are not a burden.
We invited 8 women neighbors and had a get together sharing in our child care centre room. We had family of all generations! We broke the usual cultural tradition when generally organizations make long boring speeches. We talked clearly about Samunnat mission and goals and introduced each other. I also told them why I wanted this get together and why we were making the leaf plates and cotton candlelight. I explained how it will be useful.
They must have loved it because now they want this kind of meeting every month. They also want to contribute their afternoon time with some income generating ideas with us every month. They assured us that they will give love and moral support to the ladies who are staying in Samunnat shelter. They all feel the part of Samunnnat Family. They had fruits and chiya because they were fasting for the month of Sharwan, especially on Monday. We have already got orders for our cotton candlelights to the value of 5000/- and the neighbors said they will buy our leaf plates when they have their special puja.
Income generation training is a big industry in Nepal and sometimes the only people who benefit are the trainers. We need to think critically about what is available. Sometimes there are no jobs to be had at the end of training; sometimes there is an oversupply of people trained in one field; sometimes the level of training provided doesn’t really equip people to compete in the workforce; sometimes trainers and training providers are exploitative. We have to be vigilant. This is one reason why we shy away from big programs (even though numbers may look good) and try as much as possible for locally based, tailor made solutions.
A direct way of helping is to look at job creation. We are doing this in a few ways:
We employ two of the ladies who received Montessori training in our child care centre;
We are establishing a small beauty parlour in our middle shop where some of the ladies who have received Beauty Parlour training will work;
We have started a Helping Hand Catering Team. This is pretty pioneering in Nepal but people have been very encouraging and they have had their first job. We will report more on this soon (when we have photos!). Basically this is a group of ladies who all had training in cooking, especially in southern Indian cooking which is popular now. These ladies are hired for casual jobs-helping for weddings, funerals etc.
And we are in the process of purchasing a grinding machine (Kumari is shopping in the photo above) which will mean two ladies can be employed in a small business where people in the community will bring their grains and seeds to be ground. Training has been provided and we have decided on the machine. We need to renovate our cow shed which was damaged in the earth quake. It was damage that was not a problem for a cow but is now! We sold our cow. Not all our ideas work and a lonely cow created a lot of work! Cows are great sources of income generation for women in their homes.
We hope you have enjoyed this series of posts about some of the ladies who are changing their lives. There is a lot of sad news in the world at the moment and we thought it would be nice for people to hear some positive things too. As we always say though, this is not possible without the support of people who support us. If you have read this far, you are one of the people whose encouragement and love makes a huge difference. Dhanyabad.
We hope you are enjoying our short series of posts and finding them interesting. This is number 4 and we have one more after this.
Many years ago now, we helped start a small micro-finance cooperative. We provided rooms and staff and the support to help it get going. In the early days it was quite hard to get the required numbers and we struggled to get 30. Many people were unsure about us because many of us were divorced and whether we would be an enduring Cooperative. When we got our proper building, people knew we are here to stay and now we have grown to 700 members with 500 shareholders. Samunnat still provides a room in our building but the Cooperative pays for its staff and the Cooperative board (separate to Samunnat Nepal) makes decisions about loans. This Board includes women who have been supported by Samunnat Nepal. Until recently, only very small loans we possible as we are a poor community and help many people.
Recently the Samunnat Board decided to have revolving loans which means that they lend money to the Cooperative interest free so that the cooperative can make slightly bigger loans when they think this will be useful. One lady who benefitted from this is now managing a kirana basal (general shop) in one of the shops we built next to our building. She used the loan to stock the shop and establish herself in our community which is going because of lots of new building. She is very happy to be working in her job.
Often, the only two options available to girls living in poverty is early arranged marriage or unsafe and poorly paid labouring work and often, either of these options would make them very vulnerable. We see part of our role as PREVENTION and this story highlights that!
KS lived in a border community some 40km from our office. She was from a family of 7- a mother and 5 daughters with only one son. Of the girls, KS really wanted to study but her mother couldn’t afford to send her to school. She decided to leave home, get work asa labourer and pay for her education. Labouring work is often unsafe and puts young girls in very vulnerable situations. As Kopila writes: she is so brave girl she left her home and start to find the place where she can earn and study.
She watched the pink uniformed Samunnat ladies as they passed where she was labouring and after her work she asked our Durga in the tailoring office about Samunnat. Durga told her she must come to us for help and she did! We have organised her accommodation and she is now attending a government school where we don’t have to pay monthly fees but can spend extra money on coaching, uniform, study facilities and food. She now has admission in class 9.
KS is determined to get an education and has shown incredible courage to get this far. We can help prevent KS from becoming another statistic in Nepal’s record of women who have experienced violence. We are excited to see what happens next for KS.