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Well, nearly 200 scarves, over 20 apron sets, countless potholders and mitts, many, many necklaces, bangles and earrings and a change of undies can be squeezed into three suitcases and weigh under our combined baggage allowance of 60 kgs.
It is humanly possible and all those Sammunat products lovingly made over the last six months or so have now safely arrived in Australia. We have had the first three of five fundraising events and sold lots of products. My husband is perplexed as to why there does not seem to be any discernable difference in the weight of the bags!
We have had so many thoughtful donations from the Australian clay community. Thanks to Hector Vera, Mel Dilday, Heather Richmond, Jennifer Tattam and so many others I will remember next time! People have been very encouraging about the blog and we have received some very generous donations. Heartfelt thanks for generous financial assistance to Jonathon Lloyd-Owen, Margot Higgins, Bert and Leslie Washington and John and Claire Douglas for their very kind donations and finally a big thank you to all the people who have purchased products.
Some of you will be aware that before I came to Australia, Kopila and I laboured long and hard on a funding proposal to the Australian Embassy for one of their Direct Aid Project packages. Our proposal outlined the training program and it was designed in close consultation with the ladies.
We dropped the proposal off to the Embassy on our way here and hope to hear the outcome in the next couple of months. We do know that the grants are very competitive but we will let you know if we hear good news! Whatever happens, some of the money made in Australia can go towards funding this program which we, and the ladies of Sammunat, are passionate about.
Send positive vibes about Mal and me fitting many, many kgs of clay and equipment into our suitcases. And staying married after we’ve done it.
More soon, Wendy
I am Kopila Basnet. I have a husband and three daughters. I live in Jhapa with my extended family. My family, my two brothers-in-law and their families and my parents-in-law share my husband’s father’s house in Birtamod.
When I started my career as a lawyer it was very hard for me to establish myself because there were so many lawyers and no one knew me. While I was waiting for work I was doing a weekly advocacy and human rights radio program especially for women. Because of this, people came to know me as a lawyer who would fight for justice for women, especially those who were very poor and vulnerable. These were the people who began coming to me.
My mind was always turning on them and thinking about what it was they really needed. I find out that they were economically totally helpless. They had no money to seek justice or court support. I couldn’t imagine charging them and even wondered whether some of them had the bus fare to get home.
Nepal government has no support for people seeking justice-especially for women. And the law has been slow to support them. Every step of the process, from lodging an application to filing a claim costs money. Then there is the reality that nothing in Nepal happens unless the person you want to do something is given “chiya kaja”-a little extra money to make sure your bit of paper moved up the pile in front of them. If you complain it means the paper goes further down the pile.
Even if the ladies believed they had a right to justice, they could not seek it because they had no skills or resources. I believed we needed an organisation where they could get the skills they needed to empower themselves. They needed to earn an income so they could fight for their rights themselves without needing to ask anyone else for money and had the power to make that happen. I wanted them to be empowered to do some things themselves.
Through my work at another project, I met Gopal who is now on the board. As we discussed these things, the idea for Sammunat grew. If we really wanted to help vulnerable women we realised we had to do it ourselves. Together we contributed NRs 30,000/ to cover the cost of renting a building and paying the trainer. Some of those women have gone on to earn their own incomes in production or training and some are now on our board. We began with a small scarf making training and card making training for 20 women. They also made purses and jewellery and were so happy because they were earning some living. Friends helped us to sell this in Australia and Nepal. Sammunat was born.
Knowing about people who are supporting us overseas has been so important to us and has given us so much courage to keep going.
Women in Nepal are still so vulnerable. It is the story of “K” that I still keep thinking about. “K” was a young woman (much like the young woman pictured here) from a big city west of Birtamod. She was told by a family that she was to be employed by a disabled man as a “carer” and to help him. They were from the hills but lived in Jhapa. When she arrived she was made to live in a room with the man and have relations with him when he wanted. She was so sad and cried all the time and tried to escape. She came to me to help when I was working in the Women’s Development Office.
Two times she had pregnancies and two times the family made her have abortion. So actually she was like a sex worker. So many times she tried to escape and seek compensation and then, when I tried to help her by getting support from some other lawyers, the family sold all he had and made it to another name and she could claim nothing. So now, she has been totally mentally destroyed and every day she is wandering the courts wailing and crying to people to help her. Sammunat was too late to help “K” but we want to make sure that women who want justice can get this.
Knowing about people who are supporting us overseas has been so important to us and has given us so much courage to keep going. Some of our ladies will tell you their stories in coming months. We do not make them but many of them want to because people have been so helpful and they want people to know what the difference is that they are making.
Our office is situated metres from the edge of the busy East West Highway which is filled with gaily painted trucks with musical horns, beeping cars, belching buses, motorbikes, pushbikes, rickshaws, cows, goats and brave pedestrians. The road runs through Nepal’s plains (Terai) region and connects Kathmandu and the Indian border at Kakkabhitta, just 17 kilometres east of us.
Our extremely small office is set picturesquely between two driving schools (yes, they do exist here) which teach Advanced Horn Use 101 most of the day.
We often have 12 ladies here, all doing a variety of things. One may sew aprons on the treadle sewing machine or be putting the edging on the scarves on our donated picot machine. When the power is available, she stops sewing and we get the oven out to cook beads. We had a minor break-through recently when the ladies had the courage to cook their beads without the visiting polymer clay instructor.
Ladies sit on small stools, chairs or the floor and the record has been seven around a small, low table claying. Those readers of a polymer persuasion may count their blessings if they have decent sized tables to clay on.
We’ve all had our “first dal bhat” before we arrive at 10:00 and then work pretty much straight through until 4:00. We’ll usually get a chiya (sweet spice milky tea) at around 2:00 and maybe some pineapple. Birtamod is really hot at this time of year and through-out Nepal there is load shedding. This may sound a little like there is so much power we have to shed some, but that is far from the truth.
Even though there are many mighty rivers in Nepal, the current hydro-electric resources simply aren’t meeting the country’s electricity needs and most places go without power for many hours each day. We all know the minute the power is off because we all start sweating like pigs as the overhead fan, slow even when the power is available, grinds to a complete halt.
Claying generally stops although the Kato clay we use seems to be the best in these conditions. We have plenty of other things we can do like colour mixing or threading the wedding beads to match the clay beads.
Chickens peck outside the entry and throughout the day we are visited by the colourful and curious, the bored and the begging, and the lonely and the lost. At 4:00, we all find our shoes from amongst the mess of shoes on the footpath outside, pull down the roll-a-door and head home for “kaja” or snacks and the chores that wait us all at home.
The ladies wake early and work late to get all the things done that they need to do to be able to get to the office. Many are told not to come but gain strength from their early visits and stand up to those who try to stop them. The satisfaction they have from their day, the companionship they’ve enjoyed and the lessons they’ve learnt give them the strength to face what they do on their return home.
Last month was Shrawan, the month in which the monsoon began (albeit a little late) and the month where ladies wear green saris or green kurta surwals and gorgeous green and orange jewelry.
It is also the month to get elaborate and imaginative henna designs painted on your hands and arms. You can do your own, or ask friends or get professional to do the job.
You have to sit around for ages waiting for the henna to dry and set which means you can’t do any chores so you can imagine how hard that is. We have learned that the design does not come off onto the clay which is fortunate since everyone in our office was hennaed. The henna designs have provided inspiration for the designs the ladies put on their sari beads.
With their brand new clay skills, the ladies of Sammunat designed and created delightful orange and green hearts which they strung on orange and green wedding beads and wore into the market.
Can you imagine their excitement when they ALL got at least one order from someone they met? This was their first creative effort and they all made sales. Admittedly, a crash course in pricing was necessary, but the whole process was affirming. For me, it was wonderful to see them quickly taking off with basic ideas and coming up with their own dreams and possibilities.
Some think that at any given time there is a festival somewhere in Nepal. This entry won’t dispel that idea!
This month’s big festival is Teej when lots of women wear red saris and the best known Teej event is that they go to the temple to pray, make offerings, and in some cases even fast, for their husband’s long life. Not surprisingly, this is not such a big thing for many of the Sammunat ladies.
A lesser known aspect of Teej is that it is a time when parents invite their daughters back to the maternal home to be properly fed. This is an acknowledgement that the lot of a daughter-in-law is not always an easy or well fed one, particularly in small, poor villages. In some celebrations, daughters are even woken up in the middle of the night to be fed to make up for their poor diet in the in-law’s home.
Teej is also a celebration of female friendship. We’ll be wearing our red finery and having a pause in our day to eat some special Teej food and be grateful for the friends we are making here and for all that we are learning from them. Expect some very red sari beads perhaps or special Teej “bahini beads” with their red and gold saris.
It has been an amazing time since our website launched. For those living in computer blessed countries where nearly every home has one, where broadband is the norm and where the connection is fast and reliable, it may be hard to convey the impact of the birth of our website.
Some of the ladies were seeing a computer for the first time. We gathered in Kopila’s house and kept our fingers crossed that we could get a connection to coincide with our celebratory sticky Indian sweets and chiya.
To say that the ladies were thrilled would be an understatement. For those totally unfamiliar with the concept, Kopila explained that a website was like a book that people (that is, you!) could read on the computer to learn about us, what we do and what we make.
By seeing photos of themselves beading or creating, they began to see themselves as people with skills and abilities, not just as people with sad stories. They have been so encouraged by people’s response to the website and by the fact that people love what they make. I think they are surprised at the sense of connectedness that is evolving.
We will update our blog often and hope that we can give you some sense of life here. Some of the ladies would like to share their stories and we’d love to share our dreams and plans with you. We just want you to know what a big difference the website has made. None of us expected it to have such an impact on our confidence as individuals and as an organisation.
For now we will bask in our website glory and keep you up to date via this blog. We plan to have our online store up and running in early 2010 (late 2066!).
Lucky Australians will have the chance to get products if they email us on email@example.com to make orders and discuss availability and delivery. We are making arrangements with friends in US, Holland, Canada and the UK for distribution help there so don’t despair if you aren’t an Aussie!
From all of us here, thank you and keep visiting or better still, subscribe (enter your email address in the box in the left column)! Let us know what you’d like us to share and we’ll do our best to respond.