The last three years have shown a notable change in the lives and livelihood of people living in Shanti Tole in Kailali District, from women coming forward asking for their rights to youths engaged in economic activities. And the ‘rich kitchen garden’ is clearly telling the changed eating habits of the people, with a lot of nutritious food in their plate.
Text and Photo by Ishwar Rauniyar, Communication Manager
Until four years back, Bal Bahadur Sarki was a bare cobbler who was visiting place to place with no exact location in the market, mending shoes. And the hard work was barely enough to maintain his daily needs.
But things have changed now.
He has become an entrepreneur. Thanks to the individual donor who supported him through DCA to start his own business. The amount wasn’t BIG, but it gave him confidence to do on his own. “I was living a difficult life, hard to send my kids to the school,” he says.
He is now able to send his children to the Boarding school.
“The business has given me enough profit and confidence to send my kids to the boarding school,” he says, “I am living a respectful life.”
He is now planning to shift his shop to a better and bigger space.
Father of three children, Bal Bahadur, didn’t know anything about the business until he participated in the business plan training and support provided by Dalit Women Rights Forum (DWRF) programme funded by DCA.
The project asked the people to present their business plans and oriented them on doing business in a proper way and also supported with seed money.
“I knew how to make shoes, but didn’t have an idea that it could be scaled up as a business,” he says, “I was hardly earning NPR 100 per day by fixing shoes of others, so the training motivated me to start my own business. And NPR 15,000 I received initially became an icebreaker.”
And later he received NPR 20,000 that added value in his business. Now, he saves NPR 1000 per day, after deducting his daily expenses.
“I save NPR 30,000 to NPR 40,000, a month,” he says. “I have already invested almost NPR 400,000 in this shop.” His shop is full with different designs shoes for both women and men.
He is also planning to add one more machine and looking for an employee to help him in his business.
“The demands are increasing and I haven’t been able to fulfill the demand,” he says, “I am looking for hiring people so that I can provide jobs to others and to scale up my business.”
He has also bought a piece of land near the market area from the money he earned by making and selling shoes.
He proudly says, “I want to break the chain of my family going to neighbouring country India, washing dishes in the hotels, and earning nothing.”
He came back from India four years back, where he was working in a hotel – washing dishes and according to him, was very difficult to save money after paying own expenses and sending some to his wife here in Shanti Tole.
“My generations from grand father, father may be even before them have been relying on India, going for earning, and passing it to generation to generation, but saving nothing,” he says.
“I have now able to break the chain. My elder son who is of 12 years old, is also interested to take this business further. I will help them economically how much they want to study so that they will not have to face problems that I faced being an illiterate.”
At the same time, he has also given a modern shape of his inherent skill. Sarki, in Nepal, is an occupational caste belonging to leather workers and falls under so called ‘Hill Dalit’ as classified by the Government of Nepal.
“We are regarded as so called ‘untouchables’ and discriminated and it that was also reflected when I was running as a cobbler,” he says, “But, once I was able to give it a modern shape turning into a shoe entrepreneur, the perception of people has changed.”
According to him, people from all walks of life, castes and ethnicity visits him for shoes. “This has made me very happy and feel dignified,” he says with a warm smile.
He remembers his past days, and do not miss the opportunity to thank DCA and local partner, whom he believes, “If they hadn’t supported me, I could have still running here and there fixing old shoes and earning a little. But I am an entrepreneur now.”
Given the changed situation in the village, members of Local Government are closely monitoring and supporting the village.
“There was a time when we used to visit the village constantly and ask them for their needs, and they were always hesitant to speak in front of us,” says Binita Mahar, Executive Member of Gauriganga Municipality, “Things have changed now. They are coming to us with several demands. They first discuss in the community and make a collective demand and come to us.”
She believes that it is a good start and is helpful for the people representatives to plan further.
“In the past, there were trainings or meetings provided by different organisation in this village, but always end up by giving a few hundred rupees,” she says, “This project has a different approach that involved the sustainability of its activities on the ground.”
Echoing Mahar’s statement, the Ward Chairperson of ward number 10, Padam Ayer says the major change we can see now in the village is women are economically sound.
“It’d not be difficult for women in this village to produce NPR 500 or NPR 1000 but at the same time the male members struggle,” he says, “The major reason is they know how to save money and are earning from different economic activities.”
The Chairperson of Suryamukhi Dalit Women Group, Birma Devi Sarki proudly says, “We are now growing vegetables on our kitchen garden, and have been selling some of the vegetables that have been useful for our daily expenses.”
This has not just helped them to be economically sound but also add nutritious food in their plate.
In total 73 households have their own kitchen garden where different types of vegetables, corn, etc are cultivated. The support has developed an ability to produce daily consumption of food item in kitchen garden which has ultimately supported to save the cost of vegetables and, ensured to balance their nutrition diet and supplement.
In addition to this, the project has also supported with goats, chicken and ducklings.
The Ward Chairperson also assured that the ward is working closely with the communities in terms of owning the project and taking it as ward’s own programmes.
“We have been coordinating with the groups in identifying the needy, and planning our projects accordingly,” he says. “We have also provided trainings targeting to women if they require anything that is not covered by the project.”
The ward office has also launched fifty-fifty partnership programmes that if the community contributes fifty percent of the amount the ward office also adds 50 per cent to complete any development programmes. The Chairperson also added that 50 - 50 concept water supply project was also initiated last year and the community will have the drinking water facility in their doorstep by March 2021. “This has been very helpful and encouraging,” says Ward Chairperson Ayer. “In other activities, like household level electrification and building of ‘gate of the community’ was also done under this concept.”
A 14-year old girl Mamata Sarki studies in class 9. Her sister got married in an early age, at 13. It was a child marriage. “Getting married in an early age means you will be losing everything. You cannot achieve a goal you aim to,” she says.
She has seen her sister struggling looking after kids in such an early age.
“It doesn’t just hamper your future, it is quite difficult physically as well,” she says.
This is something she learnt from seeing her sister and the different sessions of anti child marriage campaign she participated in the community that was organize by the youth group.
“I have been also motivating my friends in the school to not to marry in early age,” she says, “Sometimes it’s not just the parents who force you to get married, it’s your choice and you elope with the guy you love.”
But she believes it doesn’t always turn out to be a good life. She has seen many such cases who had to leave their studies in the middle and was even difficult after having children.
“If my parents force me to get married in an early age, I will report to the police.” She says confidently, adding “If I see others getting married in an early age, I will report that too. This has to stop for the betterment of girls.”
The Chairperson Birma Devi Sarki says that there hasn’t been any case of child marriage for the last two years. “We have been successful to stop child marriages in our area,” she says, “Our awareness programmes engaging with youth group and door to door visit is actually bringing good results.”
Ward Chairperson Padam Ayer further added that the awareness level of people in this area is reflected in the village.
“We can see greenery in and around the village and the place that was stinking before is now clean and well managed,” he says showing garbage bins installed in different locations of the village, “This is a perfect change.”
This year project had supported dustbin to 73 HHs, 2 dustbins were provided to each household; in total 146 dustbins had been distributed.
There are two types of dustbin one for perishable and another for non perishable wastes. Before distribution of dustbins, community has been made aware about proper way of using dustbins and its importance. Further collection of perishable wastages will be utilised as manure in the kitchen garden. The community will also be able to produce organic fertiliser which is key factor for production of organic and healthy green vegetables. Overall the dustbin has helped people to keep their surroundings clean and healthy.
“Toilet construction has targeted especially women and girls. Because women and girls are more vulnerable to abuse/rape going faraway to get toilet in open space and have to face lot of challenges during menstrual hygiene,” says Malati Maskey, Programme Manager, Active Citizenship programme at DCA. This will also assure a clean and green environment in the settlement that ensure the healthy life of all marginalized communities”
All 73 HHs were supported to make permanent toilet. It has helped to make their surroundings clean and specially for women and girls toilet facilities have ensure their reproductive health and supported to manage menstruation challenge. Construction of toilet facilities has increased their access towards wash facilities.
“This has also helped to achieve government’s Open Defecation Free (ODF) plan,” says Maskey.