Meet the Women Who Became Powerhouses in their Village
Story and Photos by : Regeena Regmi
Nestled in the serene hills, facing the majestic mountains in Western Nepal, located in Suklagandaki Municipality, Thaprek is a naturally rich village that was deprived of many facilities and was plagued with illiteracy, poverty, gender injustice and lack of sanitation. This Gurung community is home to the bold women of the Ratanpur self-help group who have transformed the face of the community in less than five years.
While the Open Defecation Free campaign was gaining momentum in the country, this small community was struggling to motivate each other against poor sanitation and hygiene. The women can clearly remember training on Heifer’s 12 Cornerstones for Just and Sustainable Development as the motivation to united and create a lasting change, not only in the appearance but also the attitude of each community member. Once limited to their household chores, the women now participate in social events, plan together and learn to earn.
Engaged in their subsistence farms, the farmers never sold what they produced but often gifted it to the neighbors, which didn’t account as their income. They had no investment, no choices, no saving and didn’t even dare to dream big. They depended on men and parents with pensions for even a meager amount of money. In this dire situation, the women struggled to feed their children, educate them or pay for decent health services. Festivities were never possible without loans from land owners or neighbors. Men from most families had gone abroad for work or to the cities to make income, which increasingly aggravated the family life. Some women share how they tried to move to the city to educate their children, but money sent from abroad was never sufficient to pay the fees or buy any food
Today, the circumstances have been changing for the good and Heifer Nepal has had a role to play. Starting its operation in 2015, Heifer realized that goat farming could be an ideal enterprise for the women of the community. While not many were engaged in goat rearing — and those who explored it as an opportunity to make some income were adopting traditional inefficient practices — Heifer knew that with training the women would have successful enterprise. Many women claimed that they only took up this profession when they realized that Heifer was gifting goats, and this might be the change they needed.
Mamita Gurung, 36, married the love of her life and moved to this community. Soon after, she began to realize the state of affairs that went haywire and unchecked. Lack of access to sanitation, poverty, caste discrimination and gender inequalities ran high. With her husband headed to gulf nations seeking a decent chance at employment, Mamita joined the self-help group created by Heifer and began her journey with hopes for positive change. Mamita recalls the days when the economic condition of the community was so fragile that they’d have to beg to make ends meet. With Heifer’s trainings, Mamita and her group members ran a campaign of building improved livestock sheds. They built all the sheds by parma (a traditional practice among peasants to help each other turn by turn). Animal well-being practices were unheard of, but change was slowing taking hold in the community.
“I can earn sufficient to convince my husband to return from labor migration.” – Mamita Gurung
Mamita received two goats as a gift from Heifer and was provided with seeds and sapling for various fodder and forage, which proved pivotal in providing for the nutritional needs of her animals and also reduced their cost of production. A first-time goat farmer, Mamita said, “I had never raised goats. When Heifer came to our village, I started the enterprise with the help of the two goats that were gifted to me.” Filled with spirit and vigor, Mamita and her husband improved their sheds and increased their flock size to 30-35. Mamita said, “I finally have money in my hands, I had no hope to make my own earnings.”
The Gurung couple in agreed in unison that the village’s transformation was exceptional. The status of women has increased dramatically. Now the men do not hesitate to cook or do household chores so the women can leave the house to participants in various social activities. Mamita and her husband are convinced that goat selling can fulfill their needs all year, and hope to increase their flock size and earn more income from their enterprise.
Til Maya Gurung was helpless when her husband abandoned her with their three sons. With her parent’s support she was able to raise them, working long hours in the fields to make ends meet. She struggled for years to raise her children, never realizing she could have her own choices and dreams. But now things have changed. Til Maya is a happier thanks to her goat farm. She is generating her own income and making her own choices. “I wish someone had told us about goats as an income source earlier,” Til Maya said. “Many things would have changed. I no longer have to ask for money [because] goats help me earn enough for myself.”
“I can make my choices and fulfill my needs without asking anyone else now, which I never hoped for.” – Til Maya Gurung
Sunsari Gurung is from the same community. She said, “We didn’t even have the means to eat fresh vegetables, now not only do we eat fresh veggies throughout the year, we also make a decent income from them. I plant chilies, potato, maize, tomatoes, cauliflower, coriander and so on.” Sunsara continued, saying, “The moment we changed our habits and started selling our extra produce, we realized that a viable income could be made from it. I have also sent my kids to the city to get a good education and have been saving in the nearby bank.” Sunsari is accompanied by her husband who is a former foreign migrant. She recalled the days when she received a meager amount of 5000 rupees, or about $44, to sustain the household for three months. Now she fondly says, “I am so happy I don’t have to lower my esteem and ask [for] money from people anymore. I am so happy that my knowledge has increased.”
“I can invest in my child’s education and family’s health with my earnings, and save some for future too.” – Sunsari Gurung
Saraswoti Gurung felt similar economic constrains in leading a good life. With no income of her own, she was living on her mother-in-laws pension and the meager money that her husband sent from Malaysia. She felt helpless when she had to ask for money. After joining Heifer’s program, she now spends her time tending to her goats and growing vegetables. She happily said, “I am pretty sure I earn more than my husband does in Malaysia. With the income I make, I take care of the household and also pay for the education and health of my children.”
“I am pretty sure I earn more than my husband does in Malaysia and he is proud of me too.” – Saraswoti Gurung
As the women have taken on leadership roles there has been an exponential change in the community. Women are investing in education, health, nutrition and animal well-being. Social stigmas associated to gender, caste and ethnic groups have decreased, creating a greater sense of unity in the village.