Attitude towards disability in Nepal

Although Nepal is widely known as a multi-cultural country, about 80% of its total population follow Hinduism. Hindu scriptures have a large influence on Nepalese people’s attitude and knowledge  towards disability. In Hinduism, disabilities are believed to be linked to “karma”, sins that have been committed in past lives. Many recent research studies on disability carried out in Nepal outline the fact that this sort of attitude is more common among uneducated and illiterate Nepalese residing in rural areas of the country. Studies show that a significant number of modern Nepalese believe disability to be a disorder that is genetically related, inherited or caused due to accidents.

In Hinduism, fate, karma and possession of bad spirits are believed to be the causes behind disability. Because of deep inter-connection of disability to religious beliefs, many families do not seek medical treatment or rehabilitation. Some families even attempt to hide the existence of their child’s disability. The threat of social stigma has prevented people with disability and their families from accessing health services, education and employment opportunities. It has also served as a barrier for them to not be a part of a social group, especially in the rural areas. Comparably, the situation of disabled women is much worse than men as Nepali society is a patriarchal society, where women are dominated by men.  Mostly in rural areas, women are confined within the household and are expected to perform only the household chores. Since disabled women are deprived of educational opportunities and any type of vocational training for employment, they have to completely rely on their husbands or family members to sustain their daily living.

Studies show that people who are literate and have attended school are developing more positive attitudes towards disability than the rest, which clearly marks the positive impact made by education. The majority of respondents in some research studies believed that disabled individuals can go to school, marry, have children and even sit on committees. This modern perspective contradicts the traditional Hindu scriptures, which recognize disability as a penance or revenge from past misdeeds. Seven Women recognizes the importance of raising awareness and education to improve the attitude and knowledge of disability in Nepal.

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Disability in Nepal

Nepal has a sizable portion of its population that is marginalized, excluded and discriminated on the basis of caste, creed,  class, gender, ethnicity, and geographic location.  Individuals with disabilities are among such population, whose empowerment has been socially, politically and economically absent from the mainstream development.

Population census of 2011 mentions that 1.94% of individuals in Nepal are disabled (NDWA, 2013). The number of people with disabilities varies along with sources but as per the estimation, about 7-10% of the total Nepalese population suffers from disabilities of some form. Nepal has been implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities  (CRPD) since December 2009 (NDWA, 2013). There have been some efforts to address the rights of persons with disabilities, but they are not enough.

Women With Disability (WWDs) often face multiple discrimination based on their gender, disability and poverty in Nepal. This has diminished the ability of most WWDs to support their own livelihood. They have to thus depend upon the support of their family members as there are virtually no significant livelihood support to WWDs by the state.

With the vision that some form of employment would help these women lead a dignified, independent and satisfactory life, Seven Women provides different kinds of skills development training  such as handicraft making, tailoring etc to WWDs. Besides training, we also support to develop the business plan by introducing and selling the hand-made products in Australia. This activity provides our women with monthly income and helps them sustain their livelihood on a daily basis. 

Cultural insights into Nepal

  • 68.2 % of persons with disabilities in Nepal have no education. Among the disabled male population, 59.6 % have had no education, while a whopping 77.7 % of disabled females have had no access to education. (Source: “A Situation Analysis on Disability in Nepal”)
  • There is still a strong belief in Nepal that disability is due to sins of the past, fate, and God. In particular, more than half of the parents of persons with disabilities surveyed felt the disability of their child was due to fate and God’s will. These beliefs prevent them from accessing appropriate health care treatment for their disabled children.
  • In Nepal the majority of people view disability as a penance for sins committed in previous lives and thus strong prejudices are held against people with disabilities. Unfortunately most Nepalese are ignorant of the different causes, types, and cures for disability.
  • The male-female literacy ratio in Nepal is 65:42 (2001 Census). Girls are discouraged from attending school, because they traditionally have to work at home. Seven Women is doing its bit to correct this gender imbalance.
  • Nepalese society assigns tightly defined gender roles to men as breadwinners and women as homemakers. Marriage is seen as the most acceptable economic option for women as it offers the best way for them to gain access to property and land- via their husband- and secure their livelihood. Women with disabilities in Nepal are unlikely to marry as they are considered ‘incapable of reproductive work’. Thus 80% of women with disabilities in Nepal remain unmarried and often struggle to find life’s basic needs.
  • Disabled men in Nepalese culture face similar constraints to that of disabled women in establishing a family life but their chances of marriage are higher, due to their entitlement to family property and greater likelihood of securing jobs. Men with disabilities in Nepal prefer not to marry women who have a disability as they fear the women will not be capable of their traditional roles or satisfying their husband’s sexual wishes.
  • Organisations like Seven Women have helped Nepalese women reduce their economic dependence on men, increased their bargaining position in the household, and enhanced their autonomy, economic dependence and self confidence.

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From little things, big things grow!

Donations to set up the Seven Women centre

Donations of sheets and pillow cases that will help set up the new women that come to the centre

  • Seven Women has been collecting sheets, towels and bedding for our new transition centre for women in desperate circumstances in Nepal. The supplies will help set up the bedrooms at the centre for the women. We have been overwhelmed by the generosity of people and their donations. Many people from across VIC and NSW have taken the time to collect bedding and towels for the women we work with in Nepal. Some of the donations have been brand new items from textile and linen businesses.
  • Seven Women would like to thank Triumph International Australia for donating 105 pairs of women’s underwear to the women we work with in Nepal who come to our centre to get back on their feet after finding themselves in desperate situations. Women often come to our women’s skills training centre with nothing but the clothes they are wearing. These woman’s briefs will be fantastic items to put in our ‘Welcome Packs’ with general toiletry items etc. Thank you “Triumph” on behalf of the Seven Women team Australia and Nepal.
  • Thanks to Cranes pharmacy in Sydney for donating toiletry bags for the Welcome Packs. They have arrived safely in Melbourne and will be heading over to Nepal in June on our next Tour.

Thanks Cranes pharmacy for initiating toiletry bags for the women who are taken in by Seven women Nepal. They have arrived safely to Melbourne from Sydney and will be heading over to Nepal in June on our next Tour.Welcome Packs include the following items in a toiletry bag containing toothbrush, toothpaste, small bottle of shampoo, a facecloth, a bar of soap, 4x sanitary pads and a pair of new undies (any size from 8-16) .

The ‘Welcome Pack’ is made up of the following items into a toiletry bag: toothbrush, toothpaste, small bottle of shampoo, a facecloth, a bar of soap, 4x sanitary pads and a pair of new undies (assorted sizes from 8-16) . We were able to make up these packs for just $10 from goods from The Reject Shop.
Seven Women in action: 

Selling the products direct from Nepal to Melbourne consumers

One of the best things about running your own organisation is being able to choose who you work with and collaborating with fine human beings.Seven Women is wholesaling to a fantastic cafe called 2Pocket Fairtrade in the city. Meet Gregg the founder.

One of the best things about running your own organisation is being able to choose who you work with and collaborating with fine human beings.
Seven Women is wholesaling to a fantastic cafe called 2Pocket Fairtrade in the city. Meet Gregg the founder.

The women partaking in an education class

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A very exciting time for women from our Seven Women Centre as they began getting an education!!! We are exceptionally proud of them and their enthusiasm to learn. These women get sponsored from our supporters to participate in these classes.

Salina’s new eye!

Yesterday Seven Women paid for an operation that will help Salina's life change for the better. She was given a new eye. The surgeon said the nerve's in Salina's eye were too damaged to repair, but that they gave her a glass eye that looks i...dentical. This 'new' eye is great news for Salina as it means she will no longer have to contend with her weeping eye and being stared at down the street by people looking at her old wondering eye. Three cheers for Salina!

Recently Seven Women paid for an operation that will help Salina’s life change for the better. She was given a new eye. The surgeon said the nerve’s in Salina’s eye were too damaged to repair, but that they gave her a glass eye that looks i…dentical. This ‘new’ eye is great news for Salina as it means she will no longer have to contend with her weeping eye and being stared at down the street by people looking at her old wondering eye. Three cheers for Salina!

Our Seven Women team (Australia and Nepal), has now been able to train and find employment for over 500 marginalised and impoverished women in Nepal. What a fantastic feeling! Thanks for your help in achieving this… it has been a huge team effort.

These are some recent disability statistics that have been released which highlights the plight of being born with or acquiring a disability:

* 1/10 people in the world have a disability
* 88% of disabilities are invisible
* 80% of people who live with a disability live in developing worlds
* 9/10 are not given a chance for an education

2012 Study Tour: Tricky Tasks and Dazzling Donations!

Each of the 15 Study Tour Participants had been chosen and has a unique role to play in the relationships we develop with the women at the new Seven Women training centre. Although we have quickly learnt that this study tour is not about coming and doing and leaving a mark on what we have achieved in the time we have been here (for this is not the Nepali way), we still do hope to make a significant contribution.

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In the few months leading up to the Study Tour, each participant was to raise money to go towards something we would need in Nepal for our task or other needs we identified that would help the centre progress. With the amazing generosity of so many people, we were able to collect a substantial amount of money and therefore had great capacity to equip the centre with some things which they would benefit from. See below for more details of what we bought with the donations.

Below we will briefly outline what each person’s task was, and how it went and if they spent money on materials.

Hannah - Hannah’s task was to interview the women and document many of their stories. In addition, she also took the wonderful initiative to make signs for the new vegetable garden at the centre. This involved scouting out wood and finding a carpenter to make little little picket signs to put in the garden. She also had to research the Nepali names of the vegetables to write on the signs. They look great! They are a great addition to the new little garden that the women will surely lovingly tend as an extra income generation project.

Hannah preparing garden stakes
Hannah preparing garden stakes

Marty - Marty was working with Annita who is the manager at the new Seven Women centre. His task was to develop and update the computer systems at the centre so that doing online product orders for the women would be a lot simpler, easier and more efficient. They worked so well that they were all done in one day completing the task, so that is something that will really help the centre stay on top of their inventory, purchase orders and other logistical things.

Marty showing Annika the new computer systems

Brad -  Brad, being a bit of a handyman, was looking for jobs to do and one noticeable thing missing was any sort of storage for the women’s bedrooms. So Brad’s task became building shelves for clothes storage in the three main bedrooms in the house. He, along with our infamous local leader Padam, went to a local ‘hardware store’ to get wood, nails and other necessary tools and then Brad set to work with a couple of helpers building the shelves. Considering the frustrations of sub-standard wood (which is all that was available), Brad managed to complete three functional and shelving units, with the invaluable help of his two assistants Sarina and Marissa. The women are bound to appreciate this contribution as they continue to set up their new homes and work centre.

Brad and Sarina constructing shelves
Brad and Sarina constructing shelves

Sarina – Sarina, as a dressmaker back in Australia, was also contributing to some new product designs for the women at the centre which are yet to be finished. These include products such as a baby bib and other sewing products. Sarina was also kept busy throughout the trip building shelves, and capturing the trip on her camera.

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Meg and Jessie – Meg and Jessie went with Padam to go and find some nice photo frames to put up all around the centre to add a touch of homeliness to the otherwise very bare walls. The photos were of the Nepali women who has been involved in the centre, and they were beautiful close up portraits – a daily reminder of who the centre is there to serve. Meg and Jessie did an amazng job on our last day at the centre finally nailing all the photos up in each room and along the corridor. The finished product was fantastic, and despite several difficulties along the way, the task was completed very successfully!

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Ruby – As a talented artist, Ruby was really able to contribute to the centre using her great skills in design and painting. Many others in the group also helped to paint the mural that spreads along the concrete wall at the front of the centre. Ruby’s design of red, yellow and orange magnolia’s (infamous flowers in Nepal for being signs of good luck) now frame the front courtyard in the most charming way.

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Annelise – Annelise is a young film enthusiast and has taken on the role for the trip as videographer. This is such a crucial role for the whole trip but especially for the Seven Women centre. She worked to capture the women in their home and their work environment, and how we as a Study Tour group were able to be a part of that. Annelise was also able to do some filming at the centre with just the women there and will really provide supporters with a direct and intimate glimpse into the lives of Seven Women.

Ann-Elise the photographer and film maker
Ann-Elise the photographer and film maker

Lara – Lara, as a business owner of a textiles design store back in Australia, created a unique design for the women at the centre for laptop sleeves. This is a fantastic idea by introducing new products that there will be a demand for in the Australian market. Lara had designed the product and created a prototype for the women to work on in Nepal. She spent some time and donation money to shop for materials – including locally sourced leather to be used as the lining for the laptop sleeves. A couple were made by the time we headed home, looking fantastic! This is something that will begin to make its way into the general Seven Women product catalogue!

Salina being taught by Lara to make a laptop sleeve
Salina being taught by Lara to make a laptop sleeve

Matt – Matt purchased a variety of school equipment, particularly sports supplies, which he donated to a local school which we spent some time at. Precious National College is a non-government school set up to provide schooling to children who can’t always afford all the school fees to attend a government school. We were able to spend a morning at the school teaching some classes about Australia culture and playing games. Matt ran some great sports games for the school, and they demonstrated to us some of their exercises. We also played some Aussies vs. Nepali volleyball with the new equipment that had been donated.

Playing tunnel ball
Playing tunnel ball

Clara – Clara, along with Matt’s help, was able to paint a beautiful mural on the roof of the Seven Women centre. It was in the shape of a wooded tree and on the last day, we all added our painted hand prints to mark us being there. The hope is that as new people come to the centre, they too can add their hand print. It also makes the roof look like a great fun working environment. It is a space which the women utilise a lot for work and socialising.

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Alex – Alex spent time during the trip selecting particular photos which at the end of the trip she had developed and put into a beautiful Nepali handmade paper photo book. These photos were a wonderful collection of our trip – representing all the places we went, people we saw, jobs we did, the women we worked with, and to leave something at the centre to commemorate our time in Nepal with the centre which has had such a lasting impact on us all.

Alex and her group on the elephant safari in Chitwan
Alex and her group on the elephant safari in Chitwan

Leigh – In Australia, Leigh works for recreational camps for youth and children with disabilities and he was able to share about his work in Nepal. This was particularly relevant at the centre which works closely with people with disabilities. It was an important comparison between both contexts and strategies across countries. Leigh’s input will be an important contribution to the strategy and procedures that take place at the centre.

Leigh saying thank you and goodbye to Padam, our Nepali group leader and guide
Leigh saying thank you and goodbye to Padam, our Nepali group leader and guide

Erin – A fearless group co-leader and mother hen of the group, Erin served an invaluable role the entire trip helping to organise everything down to the most infinite detail (as much as is possible when in Nepal!). She was always there to help anyone out with their tasks and general experience of Nepal, as someone who had been to Nepal previously, she was knowledgeable and informative and the prefect go-to-girl!

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Marissa – My official role was to record our trip through regular blogging, which proved difficult with our very busy days and my need to borrow other people’s computers when they weren’t being used. However, I was able to record several key experiences and aspects of our study tour, with a keen eye to observe and learn about Nepali culture and what we were learning as a group as part of our tour. I was also able to put up some posters in the centre with pictures of the staff team in Nepal, as well as Australian volunteers.

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Steph – Our amazing group leader and Seven Women CEO Steph was constantly working to make sure we all had the best possible experience and exposure to Nepali people and culture, as well as unique and intimate insights into the fair trade practices and producers that we were there to see.

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Donations to the Seven Women Centre – With additional funds that were donated as a part of the lead up and promotion of this trip, we were able to contribute:

Setting up the new computer and printer
Setting up the new computer and printer
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The new inverter battery helps to combat the huge daily power black outs. Having this is life changing to allow power backups and avoid disruptions.
Setting up the new computer and printer
Setting up the new computer and printer
New kitchen table for the centre
New kitchen table for the centre

Additionally, we are able to contribute some more wooden beds and mattresses for the house, a tea table, and some money towards the health fund to help pay for necessary medical expenses that the women may have from time to time.

What an amazing thing it has been to play a role and pass on support from Australia for the setting up of this new centre. It is so exciting the way everything is being provided and will be ready to train, empower and employ many women for years to come. Thank you for your support too – your contributions have really helped make a difference!

If you would like to continue to support the centre and the work of Seven Women, please visit the website for more infomation, and contact info@seven-women.com for details on how to make a donation.

This blog is a follow up entry from our recent trip to Nepal with Seven Women. For more blogs go to: www.sevenwomenngo.wordpress.com

2012 Study Tour: The biggest fair trader in Nepal

ACP – Association of Craft Producers

ACP began in 1984 and has been going ever since now employing 70 staff, 60 onsite producers onsite in Kathmandu, and over 1100 producers outsourced in over 15 regions of Nepal. Onsite, all staff and producers are paid a wage, and all outsourced producers get paid on a rate-by-piece basis. In Nepal this is found to be the most effective way of giving a fair wage and ensuring workers don’t slack off their work in a culture where laziness and lack of accountability is standard. When ACP was established, they used to rely on donations and outside investment, but after 3 years they were able to be self-funded developing independently and sustainably through their income from the products they made.

We visited the centre and received an intimate tour with one of the staffers who introduced to us all that they do. She was clearly committed and motivated by the underlying cause and principles of ACP. The organisation’s objective is to lift the standard of women by education, skills training and employment. This is achieved by operating as a fair trade organisation under the label of the same name issued by the WFTO (World Fair Trade Organisation). ACP utilises the traditional skills that many Nepali women know such as knitting and sewing, however they have also diversified into many new industries which allow involvement of new employers and clients in different products.

Some of the work that they do includes a range of linens and materials decorated with hand-dyed materials, block printing, screen printing, and hand embroidery.  ACP mainly uses their own designs but they also work with designs from individuals by request. Each product has such an amazingly intricate process and designed so preciously.  It was incredible to see the amount of stages and handiwork that goes into each piece that is produced. At the ACP centre, there are design teams for developing new products, where they produce sample pieces, which are then distributed to the outsourced factories to be assembled there from all the materials provided by ACP.

They have a wide range of felt and knitted items that use wool where the raw material is sourced and imported from New Zealand. We were able to see all the stages and processes of these materials from bags of raw wool, to dying, drying, pressing, and sewing products. Some of the other industries include glassware, which is a new initiative made possible through training the men and women at ACP from a German company. Additionally, there is carpentry, ceramics, and lots of felt products including felt and leather made shoes/slippers.

The centre is very well set up and run, and adheres to the fair trade standards of good working conditions and facilities including toilets, clean water, proper waste management, and recycling initiatives. They also have a shop set up in one of the rooms where they sell a lot of their extra stock. It is so beautiful to walk around the site and see all the men and women at work in their different departments. Then to be able to see the products in their final stages and purchase them direct from the shop is such a unique and wonderful story to share. I can honestly say it has grounded my views and my convictions in supporting fair trade and hand-made items where I know that the producers are being paid fairly and being treated well for their amazing work. It is also a great thing that Seven Women works with ACP for some design work and extra production. How fantastic that ACP had led the way in many respects for fair trade production in Nepal.

2012 Study Tour: Alternative energy innovation in Nepal

FoST – The Foundation for Sustainable Technologies

Briquette making and other amazing alternative sources with Sanu Kagi

The other day we had the privilege of meeting with Sanu, one of Steph’s friends who lives in Thamel near where we are staying. He is a very wise man who has done lots of studies and traveled around the world teaching his research and methods for alternative energy and recycling initiatives. The work he does in Nepal is absolutely invaluable in providing a cheap and resourceful option for cooking fuel. Sanu is set up as a training workshop and demonstration space, as well as a storage space for all the stuff they make, and they also sell all the products. I even love the set up of the workshop with creative recycling – vases made out of old drink bottles, sings made from cardboard boxes, bags made from plastic bags, and mats woven with straw and recycled rubbish. It gave me lots of creative ideas as to what to with recycling and up-cycling!

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A couple of the specialties that Sanu is involved in is solar cookers and cooking briquettes made from waste paper and other recycled materials. Both of these initiatives have been developed from Sanu’s own designs and research on sustainable technologies. After many years being involved in the World Bank in Nepal, he began dabbling in alternative energy and sustainable options as a hobby. He felt it necessary because of the traditional ways of cooking and collecting wood in Nepal; wood is heavy, people have to travel far (especially women and children), the wood burns all day and night and therefore creates a lot of waste, and there is also so much waste available which is useless for anything else.

Solar cookers have served as a great saver of electricity or fuel – not only is this expensive, but also very unreliable. Power and fuel would often be unavailable and therefore limited ability to cook. With solar cookers, being exposed to the sun there would always be enough power saved up to do a family’s daily cooking. Sanu’s wife was one of the first people to trial this out, and although apprehensive about cooking outside on the terrace, after 6 months she was converted and has been more than happy to use a solar cooker where possible ever since! She was also finally convinced that the food tastes even better being cooked this way! They have also been able to sell and spread the use of solar cookers to families and businesses around Nepal.

The briquettes are made from waste paper, saw dust, other packages, leaves and grass. The mixture is soaked in a barrel which is pushed through a little manual machine and pressed down into a cylinder. Each briquette dries in the sun for a day or so and is then ready to use on a stove. It’s an amazing initiative which is much more affordable than other forms of cooking fuel such as LPG and Kerosene. Sanu simply wants to get the training and products out there so more people use it and stray away from traditional methods which are much worse for the environment.

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Dried briquettes

One other thing Sanu has done is develop a natural fertilizer called Biochar made from ash, waste material and leaf litter. It is used to mix in with the soil and it supports germination of the roots and it has no chemicals so it needs less water than other fertilizer and retains carbon and water in the soil much better. It has lots of benefits including increased fertility and moisture content and it also protects the roots. In his greenhouse and pot-plants he uses it and he has shown the difference it makes in producing healthier and bigger crops.

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Greenhouse crops

Sanu’s work is absolutely amazing – it was great to meet him and for him to share with us his work. He is very connected around the world and has demonstrated his ingenuity and appreciation for sustainable and ethical living. I was so glad to have seen what he is doing and I believe it will continue to go far. The more training he provides, the more people will be equipped to make more sustainable choices. The women at the EPSA Seven Women centre have the briquette making training and also have a solar cooker to use at the house. There is an initial plan to set up a little stall at the centre which they can sell the briquettes at and have it working alongside their vegetable and herb garden; utilising the biochar in their gardening and the solar cooker in their cooking! What a beautiful and flourishing relationship (excuse the pun) this has become between Steph and Sanu.

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2012 Study Tour: Hiking through a rural Nepali village

We spent the last couple of days visiting some wonderful places that Nepal has to offer. The early morning start was well worth it to witness the amazing views the Himalayas have to offer. A couple of hours bus ride out of the city, we climbed up to the town of Narcargot and I even braved climbing up a tall metal viewing tower to get the best view the district has to offer.

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From here, we were able to enjoy the amazing chillingly fresh crisp air as we hiked through frost-covered rocky paths and pine forests down to a village called Sulva. This village is close to Steph’s heart as she stayed there on her first visit to Nepal and built a school building there which is still used today. We were able to sit outside the house of the beautiful family she stayed with and we spent the morning with them. It was a truly unique and humbling experience. They were so welcoming and hospitable – ensuring they put mats on the porch where we were sitting, and bringing tea and biscuits for their guests (which is the done thing in Nepal!). The tea was a hybrid of tea, coffee, sugar and ginger I think, and surprisingly enjoyable!

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We met Indira, who is one of the daughters, 19 years old. She is so beautiful and although her English is quite basic, she speaks it very well. Her job was to serve the tea, and then she proudly led me by the hand through her double story concrete house (pretty high standard in a rural village)  demonstrating where they store their potatoes and maize, and where they cook and sleep. Indira has a mysterious charm about her – she is very modest but extremely confident and it was so lovely getting to know her. She and Steph were almost inseparable as they caught up as old friends.

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Maize storage
Indira and mother greeting Steph
Indira and mother greeting Steph

We also met Rum, who was a son, 27 years old and happened to be at home the day we visited because someone was leaving the village and so he got the day off. Rum is a school teacher at the local secondary school teaching geography, population studies, health and similar social sciences. He is extremely smart and has very good English so I really loved talking to him. He was quite blunt and honest when sharing his experiences, thoughts, what he has learned, and his sobering view of the Western world and what truly brings happiness for the soul. I asked him lots of questions about his life and rural life in Nepal and he was more than happy to explain as best he could. Rural life is hard – every family works very hard every day – some have enough food, some don’t. He explained that their village operated like a bit of a co-operative which is awesome, so if one family doesn’t harvest enough crops, they can go and work in someone else’s fields and earn their food that way. It seems like a well oiled unit, which makes sense, as some of the families have been there on that land for many generations. One of the beautiful houses had been there for 100 years, even withstanding a big earthquake a number of years ago!

Rum’s thoughts of life gave me lots to ponder – rural life vs. modern Western life, the things that bring happiness and satisfaction, and what we take for granted in our society at so many levels. Health, education, employment, and more.

On the way hiking down from the village, we saw some awesome sights – beautiful views for one, but also many local residents in their natural habitat cooking, cleaning, weaving straw mats, building, and much more. We even witnessed one family outside washing and dressing a two-day old baby! It was a beautiful site to behold!

This experience was so enjoyable and so intriguing that I am so looking forward to our village stay in a couple of days time where we will get an even more intense experience and insight of rural Nepali village life.

2012 Study Tour: What do chip packets have to do with mountain people?

Introducing the beautiful Beni – Changing the world by empowering mountain Nepali women and recycling packaging and tyres and other non-biodegradable materials.

The other morning, we were shown the office and shop of one of the most beautiful Nepali women I have met so far on this trip. Her name is Beni, she manages a fair trade business and shop training women in mountain areas of Nepal to be educated and learn skills to earn an income. Her products are all made from recycled products, including plastic packaging, jute, rubber tyres, ricesacks and more. They make a unique range of products including jewellery, bags, homewares, decorations and more.

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We sat down with Beni in her shop and we were able to learn her story about the women she works with, the problems many Nepali women face, and what she (along with others) are trying to do to empower the women and help them improve their lives. She discussed with us many cultural problems that women face including forced marriages, lack of education, no control over money or power in marriage to say no or defend their rights. However, Beni believes in the right of women to be educated, earn an income for themselves and choose how to spend it. She believes it is more important for women to be independent even if it means standing up to their husband and/or family when it is usually frowned upon because of cultural norms.

She told us stories of women she has worked with who have been beaten or traumatised by family members, women who have gone abroad to find work and have returned a few years later with a mental problem, and women who are so used to living in the shadow and control of their husband or parents. However, her excellent English and loving character charmed us with the way she is placing education and empowerment at the forefront of her work, helping women to stand up for their rights and find value in themselves and their work. The two-fold beauty of the products is that their raw materials are free and saving rubbish from the streets and from landfill. They design their own products and work together to ensure quality. It was a privilege to hear Beni’s story and her commitment to help the mountain people of Nepal who can face daily struggles just to be heard.

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I bought some products from Beni’s shop in Thamel, Kathmandu, and I cannot wait to be able to tell people back in Australia about the story and the faces behind the products and how great their work is! This is what social work, fair trade, and empowerment is all about.