Lives of people living in Shanti Tole in the far west Nepal are changing for better step by step. Villagers are receiving support to better their homes infrastructure and skill based training to earn a livelihood.

Text and photo by Ishwar Rauniyar

In February 2019, almost a year back, I was desperately waiting for my second baby, as the due date was approaching. And during that time, I had to travel to the far west Nepal to visit a village – Shanti Tole.

Shanti Tole means Village of Peace. However, I found no peace, seeing several social economic problems in this village such as gender-based violence, child marriages, illiteracy, poverty, lack of proper sanitation, no proper school, unemployment and so on. One can say Shanti Tole represents the everyday struggles of villages in developing countries.

Nine months later I came back to the village. I now have a nine months baby girl who is cute, loving and adorable. Things in this village are changing for better step by step like my baby who is now trying to crawl, sit properly and walk catching our fingers. And as we are showing her a way, DCA is taking a lead in the village through Dalit Women Rights Forum (DWRF).

Entrepreneurship for Livelihood

Dipa Devi Damae is 26 years old and has three children – two daughters and a son. Her typical day rotates around household chores and running her clothes-stitching business. She starts working from early morning, first finishing her household chores, feeding her children and spending a few hours looking after the vegetables in her kitchen garden. This season, she is growing bitter gourd, pumpkin, spinach, cauliflower, cabbage, garlic, onion, chilly and other seasonal vegetables.

She then starts stitching clothes. “I am perfect now. I can sew pants shirts and many other dresses,” she shares, “I now earn Rs. 400 to Rs. 500 (3 to 4 USD) on a daily basis.”

Dipa Devi Damae sewing and stitching clothes.

Dipa comes from an ultra-poor family. She has five family members. Her husband, Lok Bahadur Damae, works in India. He used to be the bread winner of the family. The family had to struggle on a daily basis for food and necessary things for the children. She had to wait until her husband would send her money.

But things have changed now.

"I now manage my household expenses and my children daily needs. I do not have to wait for my husband’s salary to fulfill my children’s basic needs including exercise books, pencils and other things" shares Dipa Devi Damae.

Things changed in her life since DCA adopted her village, implementing project through its local partner - Dalit Welfare Rights Forum (DWRF). The project asked the people to present their business plans. And Dipa Devi proposed her plan of getting training in sewing and request for a sewing machine. “Then I received Rs. 15,300 as per my business plan and bought a sewing machine. I also received training,” she says. “This has changed my life. I now have confidence to send my children to a better school.”

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Kitchen Garden brings Nutrition

Besides skill-based training, villagers also were supported in developing kitchen gardens where they could grow vegetables for food security. “Earlier we had to go to the market to buy vegetables,” Dipa says, “At times, in lack of money, we had to eat without vegetables. But now I go to my kitchen garden and get the vegetables I want.”

Pushpa Aujhi watering vegetable saplings and spinach.

I was surprised to see the dry fields turned into a green kitchen garden with all the varieties of vegetables.

Pushpa Aujhi and her mother are busy watering the vegetable saplings and spinach. Their small kitchen garden has almost all the seasonal vegetables including cauliflower, potatoes, spinach, onion, garlic and other leafy vegetables. “These days we always eat rice with vegetables,” Pushpa says, “We don’t need to buy anything.”

Pushpa Aujhi's mother watering the crops.

Pushpa and Dipa are just examples. A lot of the families in this village have recieved support. The project provided them cash and motivates them to do kitchen gardening. And the results are seen on their fields.

“However, it would be much better if we had water access at our doorsteps,” says Pushpa.

Improved Cooking Stove for Healthy Life

The villagers are also provided with Improved Cooking Stove.

“Earlier we, cooked with firewood, and there was a lot of smoke. My mother used to cough a lot and our eyes would water every time we entered the smoke-filled room.  It is not good for the health,” stated Pushpa. Pushpa’s mother also mentioned how the cooking stove has helped her save time as it requires less firewood and food cooks faster.

Shanti Tole is a small village in the far west Nepal. The residents of Shanti Tole belong to the Dalit community, one of the economically marginalised groups in Nepal. They are considered to be “Untouchables”. The village has a total population of 407 people in 71 households. 54%  are women. Most of the households residing in the village migrated from the northern hilly districts – Doti and Achham. For the past 22 years they have been living here without any land registration.

A house in the small village Shanti Tole.

The project provided seed money to all 71 households to start a kitchen garden in order to ensure food security. “Kitchen gardens was a concept to motivate them for growing vegetables on their small piece of land so that they don’t need to buy vegetables. This would lessen the economic burden of the family,” says Malati Maske, Programme Manager, Active Citizenship for Accountable Governance.

The project also provided seed money to start a business for six entrepreneurs, goat distribution to 15 families, smokeless stove to 40 families, solar light to 12 families and toilet support to 24 families.

Additionally, the project to maintain greenery of the area, has planted 750 lime and banana plants.

“The concept itself is a unique one,” says Dr. Surendra Bahadur Thapa, head of the programmes at DCA Nepal office, “We are not just working to change their livelihood but also to make them independent, and asure their future generations a sustainable livelihood.” It’s a three-year project, ending in 2021. So, for in the next three years, I am hoping that my baby girl will walk on her own, and  so will this village.