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CELEBRATING WOMANHOOD Women who Inspire Postive Change By Sara Parker and Shrijana Singh Yonjan

Celebrating women

Dedicated to: The women who shared their amazing stories and to all women who inspire

Sara Parker and Shrijana Singh Yonjan First Edition 2018 Edit and design: Cheyenne Hansen All rights reserved Š Parker & Yonjan (2018) Images of Navadevis – Raja Gole Photo Editor: Rajiv Shrestha

#WomenWhoInspire #InpsirationalWomen #LJMUNepal


Contents Page 4: About the authors

Page 32: Doma Paudyal

Page 5: Sara’s reflection on the book

Page 34: Nisha Sharma Pokhrel

Page 6: Celebrating Womanhood

Page 36: Sita Pokhrel

Page 7: Navadevi awards

Page 38: Gulab Devi Ram

Page 8: Shrijana’s reflections: preface

Page 40: Keshari Thapa Rana

Page 10: Adharshila

Page 42: Pema Sherpa

Page 12: Nirmala Bagchand

Page 44: Ramdevi Tamang

Page 14: Amira Dali

Page 46: Maya Thakuri

Page 16: Sumitra Manandhar Gurung

Page 48: Menuka Thapa

Page 18: Kalpana Karki

Page 50: Radhika Thapa Karki

Page 20: Zubeda Khatun

Page 52: Laxmi Timilsina

Page 22: Haridevi Koirala

Page 54: Gyani Shova Tuladhar

Page 24: Indira Rana Magar

Page 56: Chameli Waiba

Page 26: Laxmi Magar

Page 58: Renchin Yonjan

Page 28: Tripta Lungeli Magar

Page 60: Afterword

Page 30: Sarita Mishra

Page 61: Acknowledgements

Celebrating women


About the authors

ara first went to Nepal in 1986 after completing her schooling in Singapore and immediately fell in love with the country. After completing her degree in Geography she returned to Nepal in 1992 and lived and worked in the remote mountain village of Sikles. Since then, through her work as a Reader in Development Studies in the Sociology Department at LJMU at Liverpool John Moores University, she has visited the country more than 30 times in the past 30 years. Her PhD was acton research based and focused on non-formal educaton and women’’s empwoerment. She has also led and edited a photography project which led to a coffee table book being made featuring photogtaphy by local people. She has had the privilege to work with staff at the Research Centre for Educational Innovation and Development (CERID) and staff teaching Gender Studies and Padma Kanya campus in Kathmandu. This work led to her co-ordinating a link between Nepal UK and Bangledesh funded by the British Council Development Partnerships in Higher Education (DelPHE). The inspiration for this collection of stories arose from Sara’s longstanding research and work in Nepal years in the field of gender, education and development. Sara has also written a children’s book: Adventures of Fairis a Nepali frog, which is used in Primary schools around the world to educate children about Fairtrade.


Sara and Shrijana visiting Adharshila hrijana Singh Yonjan, born in Nepal, is a creative consultant. She has conceptualized, organized & managed programs and projects of various nature ranging from glamourous events to social projects. She is known for her unique themes and is an expert at blending various forms of performing arts, music, songs and dance movements in her projects. She has extensive experience working with stage, television and radio programs and coordinating workshops, conferences and seminars. Her special area of focus has been issues related to women, children and working with marginalized communities. Writing is her passion and she has contributed articles to several mainstream newspapers and has been a columnist for ECS Living in Nepal. She has also made a mark as an anchor and moderator of national and international programs.Celebrating Womanhood Navadevi Awards is Shrijana’s brainchild and is the only ongoing award programme for Nepali women that encapsulates women from diverse professional, socio-economic, geographic and cultural backgrounds onto one platform. Skilled Birth Attendants of Nepal is one of many visual documentations she has done apart from her search for Celebrating Womanhood recipients. One significant event is Music of the Gods where she coordinated a three day music festival of the Gandarbhas of Nepal and India for UNESCO. She has conceptualized and directed Maya & Max a 12 series television episode targeted for children 8-12 supported by DANIDA. Shrijana currently lives in the United States with her husband and three daughters. She continues to work towards sharing the stories of inspiring Nepali women through her writings and programs.


Sara’s reflection on the book


ver the past 30 years I have been fortunate to work with a wealth of people in Nepal in the field of gender and education. I am passionate about working collaboratively and have instigated and co-led a number of links between institutions working in the field of gender and education with funding from the British Council and British Academy. As a result of these links Padma Kanya Campus launched a Masters in Gender Studies which is run off-campus to enable men to take the course. In the final year of this link we held a conference in Kathmandu on gender health and education. The papers at this conference in 2010 highlighted the progress being made promoting gender equality but also highlighted that more needed to be done.


lot has happened since then and the gender movement in Nepal has grown significantly with events such as 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women and Girls and Women of the World Festival amplifying the voice of activists.


ne thing that struck me and my colleague Kay Standing ten years ago was the lack of material in the curriculum on gender studies from Nepali activists. We had come across so much good work being done by so many local NGOS and activists that this led us to interview women who were suggested to us as being ‘inspirational’ and we used these interviews to generate an online learning resource Qualitative Analysis in Action.


t was in the process of collecting these interviews that I met Shrijana Singh Yonjan from Celebrating Womanhood Award as some of the women we had interviewed had received her prestigious award, named after the 9 female goddesses and shining the spotlight on local powerful women from all walks of life. Shrijana felt that many were well known faces in the women empowerment sector and they were indeed ‘influential’ women. We discussed how the women were all activists, advocates and NGO leaders. Shrijana recalls that she felt that “the representation of women in other professional sectors was lacking” and adds “the lack of women from other walks of life reinstates the glaring flaw in the way women empowerment was/is being understood within Nepal. Many women who had contributed greatly and impacted their communities and nation as a whole were not included or accepted as serious leaders and change makers, when in fact they were creating change that everyone was aspiring for”.


his led us to ask ‘What about the women out there whose voices weren’t being heard?’ – how could we address this. So we started to work together and secured some small funding from LJMU which enabled 6 female journalists to go and collect stories of women from all over Nepal under the wing of Shrijana and her team. We collected over 50 stories and have collated 25 of them into an online book. We have also included women from many geographical, cultural, ethnic, socio-economical and professional sectors. We believe that achieving the goal of empowering women is impossible without including them all.


unding was secured from the International Office in Liverpool John Moores University to enable local journalists, under the wing of Shrijana, to go and collect stories of women who were less well known in Nepal.


wenty five of these stories are presented here to give the reader a flavour of the wide range of work being done on so many levels by so many people. We hope that they will encourage others to share their own stories The stories will not only be of relevance to Nepal but serve to inspire all who are working to improve society as the women and the barriers they have overcome and their achievements – as an example for us all.

Celebrating women

Celebrating Womanhood


ver the past fourteen years 139 Nepali and 6 South Asian women have been honored with the Celebrating Womanhood award. The award has also been presented to four women’s groups. In addition special mentions to 3 women and 5 men have been presented for their contribution and support to women issues. Celebrating Womanhood successfully held its seventh national and the first ever South Asian Region Recognition in October 2008.

“Celebrating Womanhood is committed to finding real life examples of strength and accomplishments made by women to inspire other women to aspire to do the same.�


he Celebrating Womanhood Awards are named after nine Hindu Goddesses representing nine different attributes. Naming the awards after the Goddesses is a deliberate endeavor to extract the attributes they signify and to relate it to real life women; rather than limiting them to objects of worship. Female divinities; Lakshmi, Saraswati and Durga are widely worshipped as Goddesses representing wealth, knowledge and power. Ironically, Nepali women are still subjugated to secondary positions in these areas.

elebrating Womanhood Women who Inspire Positive change is an archive of inspiring stories of 25 Nepali women. They are past recipients of Celebrating Womanhood Navadevi Awards ( established in 2002 by Shrijana Singh Yonjan (Creative Statements and SSY Creations). It is the only annual awards for Nepali women that recognizes and honors real life female heroes who represent diverse geographical, cultural, ethnic, socio-economical and professional sectors. Celebrating Womanhood is based on the belief that positive and possible examples are crucial to bringing about positive change. It is an endeavor to honor women who have risen above social and cultural practices overcoming barriers to achieve a breakthrough in their field of work making a positive impact in their lives and in their communities.

Shrijana Singh Yonjan interviewing Laxmi Timilsina at her home in Rayale, Kavre.


Navadevi Awards The Celebrating Womanhood Navadevi Awards are categorized as follows:

Annapurna: The female divinity of grain and abundance, the divine aspect of nourishing care and prosperity and the seed of inspiration; this award is presented to a woman working in the field of environment, agriculture and creative arts.

Bhagawati: The Goddess of divine energy, she denotes self-awareness. This award is presented to a woman who touches lives through the medium of media and literary works.


The Goddess of infinite, energy, Bhawani denotes power and absolute vitality. Like the connotation, this award is presented to a woman dedicated to the field of sports or to a task requiring great physical and emotional strength.

Durga: Durga is the great warrior Goddess whose energy becomes lethal when directed against the forces of evil. This award endeavors to honor a woman who has dared to challenge concepts, beliefs and practices that demean women.


Karuna denotes compassion and sympathy. Karuna also denotes peace and order. This award is presented to a woman who has dedicated her life to uplifting the status of deprived and disadvantaged communities.

Lakshmi: Lakshmi, Goddess of wealth and good fortune. This is awarded to a woman entrepreneur who has managed to break new grounds and provide opportunities of economic empowerment to others.

Mahamaya: Mahamaya is the supreme manifestation of the goddess as a creator of illusions, ethereal, bewitching and celestial. Like the name, this award is presented to a woman from the field of theatre, performing arts and glamour.

Saraswati: Denoting the Goddess of learning and the arts, the Saraswati award is given to a woman dedicated to imparting knowledge. Teachers and literary figures fall into this category.


She is resolve will, vast energy, self-awareness and strength. Shakti also denotes the unity of the male and female energy. This award is either given to a woman showing extraordinary strength or jointly to a couple for working together towards the development of their chosen sector.

Patent Right of Celebrating Womanhood lies with Shrijana@SSY Creations

Celebrating women

Shrijana’s reflections: Preface


es a, a lot has happened in the past century. The women of the world have come together to make their voices heard, their presence felt and their role as equal partners in all sectors acknowledged. In short being a woman or the essence of womanhood is no longer a matter related only to the feminine physical attributes. It has become an amalgam of their experiences, rights, knowledge, wisdom and contributions.


ow have we selected the 25 stories in this book? It was definitely not easy zooming down to the selection in this volume from the treasury of stories that we have. I prefer to call this book a volume because there are more stories waiting to be shared. Many of these stories are untold stories of unsung heroes. We may recognize some of the women but we never tire of listening to them again and again. These are women who through their work and life have contributed in shaping the thoughts and actions of generations to come. Their grit has contributed greatly in bringing about a shift in conventional mind-sets and ideologies regarding women’s role in society. This is the time to promote and benefit from their stories.


ith due respect to established names in the field of activism, advocacy and empowerment, we see a void and feel the need to highlight the ow is it different being a woman in the western work and contributions of women from diverse sectors. world from being a woman in Nepal or in South We believe that women empowerment cannot be Asia - the so termed ‘third world’? In my quest achieved without including women who represent for inspirational women year after year for Celebrating diverse socio-economic, geographic, cultural, ethnic and Womanhood Navadevi Awards, I have had the professional backgrounds. After 14 years of Celebrating opportunity to meet and observe truly amazing women. Womanhood, I see the biggest challenge in achieving our goal of women empowerment is inclusion of women “I am left speechless & overwhelmed when I leaders from all sectors into the mainstream gender hear their stories. Yet, it is still ‘sensational’ and and women empowerment movement.


tragic incidents related to women that find and are given priority in mainstream media.”


rganizations working for women rights and major INGOs/NGOs have for years focused on compiling, documenting and projecting women as weak, downtrodden, violated and in need of rescue, assistance and protection.


understand the need for documenting and reporting the violence and discrimination that women of our region have to face. But I also believe that we need to project real life examples of how women in similar situations managed to overcome cultural and social barriers to make their lives better and made a positive impact on their communities while doing so.


here is a wide gap between ‘influential’ personals and organizations’ representing women issues at a national and international arena and local level leaders. It seems as though the women empowerment movement is a zealously guarded, tight knit and impenetrable circle of powerful, well-connected and well-established limited groups. Many local level groups and individuals whose involvement could add momentum to the women empowerment movement and achieve greater results are left outside the circle. They are occasionally included when NGOs and organizations need a face fill in or justify a gap in their projects. Over time these success stories too stand neglected between stacks of reports of ‘successful’ projects.


“It is my mission to share women stories that tell a different tale; tales that inspire generations to come.”


hese stories need to be studied by national and international organizations and included in their mandate towards achieving the goal of empowering women. It has been my honor knowing and meeting each and every one of these women. They have taught me the meaning of what it means to be truly aware and empowered.


n the personal front, I would like to thank my family; my mom whose constant support and encouragement has enabled me to pursue my dreams always. My daughters and husband who understood my need to spend my days and evenings glued to my laptop oblivious of what was happening around me. I would like to especially thank the recipients of Celebrating Womanhood with these words:


introduced me to my amazing self Kindled and ignited my belief in me Invincible, Indomitable and Unbreakable Above all limitations am I!”


y preface wouldn’t be complete without mentioning few names who made this book possible. A one hour long coffee meeting at Dhokaima Café with Sara back in 2014 was the first spark that ignited the possibility of a partnership with the gender and women studies department of Liverpool John Moore University (LJMU). Selection of past recipients, updated interviews with the selected group, follow-ups, affirmations, corrections, compilations and finally here we have 25 powerful and inspiring stories.




n the process of presenting these stories, crucial factors such as social surroundings, cultural beliefs, economic and geographical factors play a pivotal role. The role of family and community members, particularly male members play a key role in some of the women’s lives. We believe wish to thank Chanda Bista, Ram Kala Khadka, Laxmi that these inspiring stories represent the changing faces and roles of the South Asian women. These Basnet, Durga Lamichhane and Laxmi Bhandari for women are real life examples of change that their efforts in collecting the Nepali interviews. Thank has been advocated by national and international you Cheyenne Hansen for your patience in designing this book: Rajiv Shrestha for your professional touch to organizations working for women and human rights. our collection of photos. A special thank you to Kunda While being indicators of positive change, their Dixit for connecting Sara and me. examples can guide us on what further steps need to be taken.


Sara & Shrijana


SY Creations has partnered with Liverpool John Moore University (LJMU) to compile and share the voices and stories of a selection of inspriational women in Nepal We hope to en- present these powerful and motivational stories as study material for interested institutions across the courage others to share their stories globe. PLEASE SHARE yYOUR OWN STORIES #womenwhoinspire and use rhe hash tags #WomenWhoInspire #InpsirationalWomen & #LJMUNepal have joined forces to help

Celebrating women

Adharshila: Renu Sharma and Kamala Upreti Women’s Foundaton Chabahil, Kathmandu body of the foundation. Their initial office was run out of a bag containing everything from letter pads to office stamps. Today, the number of women who have benefitted from the free legal services has crossed 5,000. The foundation’s shelter not only protects victims of violence but also provides them with training opportunities to further their skills and find employment. The Women’s Foundation’s primary focus was on providing women in need of rescue, counselling and rehabilitation with free consultation and legal aid. But


t was just another ordinary day in the year 1987. Renu, Kamala and Tara were wrapping up a game of volleyball with their friends at Padma Kanya College in Kathmandu when a distraught couple came in search of their missing 9-yearold daughter. They walked into the campus vicinity and begged the girls for help. The couple shared that the little girl had been brought to Kathmandu by a doctor who had promised to enrol her into school on condition that she worked mornings and evenings at his house. A few months later, they were informed that their daughter had run away from the doctor’s house stealing 11 tolas (approximately 11 grams make up 1 tola) of gold ornaments which they demanded in return. Disheartened by the news and after the police couldn’t find their little girl, they took it upon themselves to find her. Renu, Kamala and Tara had no prior experience in working on such cases. Nevertheless, they took it upon themselves to help the couple and ultimately succeeded in finding the little girl who had in fact been given away by the doctor himself to work as a maid servant to his sister. Their first feat inspired the girls to take up the cause of the downtrodden as the true calling of their lives. Thus Adharshila - The Foundation for the Solidarity and Development of Women (Women’s Foundation), was formed in 1988. Under the able leadership of the three sisters, 45 students of Padma Kanya College came on board to form the first official

“With a strong commitment topped with determination and a will to succeed in their mission, the Women’s Foundation worked on tirelessly reaching out to victims of violence.” they understood that this would not be the end of the problem nor a permanent solution to the various forms of violence and discrimination that Nepali women faced. The Foundation strove to build itself up as a multi-faceted organization working to empower women and end discrimination. They moved forward with the belief that economic empowerment played a key role in diminishing violence of various forms to achieve greater gender equality; influencing women’s decision making role and power in terms of marriage, reproductive rights, child mortality, health, education, employment and earnings. With a strong commitment topped with determination and a will to succeed in their mission, the Women’s Foundation worked on tirelessly reaching out to victims of violence. One such case was of a 14 year old girl who was raped by a taxi driver and as deemed right by society was forced into marrying her rapist. From then onwards she was subjected to the worst forms of physical and mental abuse. She finally reached out to The Women’s Foundation fearing for the lives of her two children who were also now the target of regular beatings from their ‘father’. Coming in contact with the Women’s


Foundation changed her life forever. She not only received legal and moral support to break ties with her errant husband but found a means of developing her skills to earn a decent living to support herself and her two children. Today, she is one among the many survivors of violence who lead better lives thanks to the initiation and dedication of the Foundation. Within a span of two decades, the Women’s Foundation spread its work to 12 districts of Nepal. Their dedication and successful track record garnered the support of certain national and international organizations that were instrumental in helping them strengthen their infrastructure. Currently, the Women’s Foundation has three concrete houses on 12 ropanis of land which houses 120

in organic farming. The farm provides food and milk to the shelters with surplus production being sold at local markets. The latest venture of the Foundation is its microfinance projects in six districts including Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Jhapa, Sindupalchowk, Kavre and Dholaka incorporating 3000 women who are all proud owners of businesses ranging from animal husbandry, general stores, tea shops, vegetable shops, and tailoring. The women trained in weaving produce traditional Nepali Dhaka and Pashmina shawls that are sold in 100 showrooms around Nepal. These products have also found a place in the international markets of Canada, Germany, Italy and Japan. The products range from cotton, linen and wool scarves, sweaters

children and around 50 women at a time. The children attend school according to their ages and grades. There is an additional shelter for victims of violence and for those who have no other means of livelihood. A special childcare centre has also been established for children whose mothers work as labourers and are too poor to afford childcare. Children from the shelter and nearby local communities attend Bipul School which was established by the Women’s Foundation in 2013. The Women’s Foundation believes in and has worked toward making itself self-sustainability. The land around the centre has been used productively to grow vegetables for consumption by the shelter. The women and children take great pride in planting and nurturing their garden. The Women’s Foundation also runs an organic farm in Bhaktapur. Established in 2004, the farm employs women and further trains other women

and shawls. 60% of the profit goes towards funding the Foundation’s various projects, 20% towards running the facility and 20% to the employed women in addition to their salary or daily wages. Despite its achievements and contributions, the Women’s Foundation still has to face and overcome many challenges. Many times legal matters regarding children and women in the shelter pose a problem. Threats from perpetrators, lack of awareness in victims regarding their rights and uncooperative government officers are some of the regular challenges that crop up. But the smiles and achievements of the children in the shelter keep the three sisters going. Yes, the Women’s Foundation has an amazing record and they prefer to stay low-key for all that they have achieved. With their undaunted spirit and on-going efforts, the Women’s foundation continues to work towards empowering women legally and economically.

Celebrating women

Nirmala Bagchand Dhangadi, Western Nepal


irmala Bagchand was married off at the age of 16 whilst studying in grade IX. For the next 20 years of her life she was totally engrossed in taking care of her home, family, raising children and had no aspirations whatsoever of becoming a leader of her community. However, she was concerned by what she saw in her neighbourhood where domestic violence was part of daily life. Nirmala would often hear women screaming in despair and crying helplessly when their drunken husbands beat them relentlessly. No one would intervene because it was considered to be a private affair between husband and wife. People simply shrugged off the daily violence terming it ‘logne swasni ko jhagada Paral ko Ago’ or justifying it saying that fights between husband and wife is like ‘straw on fire’ which subsides as quickly as it flames up. One of the main reasons that women silently put up with this treatment was because they were totally dependent on their husbands. They were uneducated and unaware of their rights. They could not speak or stand up for themselves. The frequent and senseless acts of violence prompted Nirmala to question herself

on her worth as a woman. She felt fortunate to have had the chance to attend school and felt that with her ability to read and write she had the power to change things around her. After a break of 20 years, she began her personal process of empowerment by continuing her studies. Nirmala would get up each morning at 3 am to study and finish her daily chores after which she went to school with her youngest son. Her perseverance paid off and she successfully completed school and went on to join college. She then ventured out to share her new found knowledge with the women of her community. Her first endeavour was to hold adult literacy classes. She meticulously and methodically planned her classes and was able to hold regular half yearly classes on a continuous basis. These classes reached out to many especially to those who had otherwise no other means of access to education. Among the ones who benefitted the most were the Dalit women. Due to Nirmala’s endeavour women became educated and aware of their rights. They were equipped to speak for themselves and as a result domestic violence in her community decreased.

“Nirmala would get up each morning at 3 am to study and finish her daily chores after which she went to school with her youngest son. Her perseverance paid off and she successfully completed school and went on to join college.” Nirmala then focused on working for the rights of young girls and boys working at different tea-shops and restaurants in Dhangadi. She mobilized them by organizing weekly gatherings for them to share their thoughts. These interactions endorsed her belief of providing these children with access to education. The


children came from extremely poor families who could not afford to feed or clothe them properly. Sending them to school was a far off dream. Nirmala took it upon herself to facilitate free education for the children in different public and private schools. She personally went to different private and public schools in her hometown to ask for scholarships for the children. Navadurga and Saraswati school continue to offer free education every year to children recommended by Nirmala. Nirmala feels that the state should focus on implementing a strong policy for education to all which is within everyone’s access.

“Nirmala took it upon herself to facilitate free education for the children in different public and private schools.” Caste and social background has for long been a major hurdle and challenge in accessing education and a better future for women and children belonging to disadvantaged communities. Nirmala felt the need to establish a school solely dedicated to such communities. After much planning and obtaining a license from Kathmandu to open ‘Prerna Women’s School’,

“Nirmala’s spirit was not dampened and her mission to spread the light of education to the darkest corners goes on. She is currently working at educating and empowering near about 300 Dalit women from 13 districts.” Nirmala and her group came to loggerheads with the local administration that would not cooperate with them. Their request for teachers from the education board was never met. Nevertheless, Nirmala’s spirit was not dampened and her mission to spread the light of education to the darkest corners goes on. She is currently working at educating and empowering near about 300 Dalit women from 13 districts. Six adult literacy classes are being run on a regular basis offering educational opportunities and awareness classes to women of Kailali in western Nepal. Today, Nirmala heads the Women Upliftment Centre and is the Chairperson of the Human Rights Security Network. She dreams of establishing a special educational program for housewives who are unable to continue their studies after marriage. She is a spokesperson and champion advocate of the voiceless.

Celebrating women

Amira Dali


Working for Women’s Empowerment through Education and Environment Awareness

mira Dali was a brilliant child who passed her tenth grade (high school in Nepal) at the age of 12 in 1967. She was awarded a scholarship to study at the prestigious Sofia University in Tokyo, Japan after completing her Masters in Economics at 19. She chose to study Business Management and graduated with flying colours that opened up a world of opportunities. She received offers to work in Japan and the USA. But, she chose to return to Nepal equipped with knowledge, skills and dedication to match. In 1982 Amira landed in Nepal filled with dreams, ideas and plans for the future. Little did she know that the road ahead was filled with challenges! The first thing that shocked her was to see the deteriorating environment and bare hills of Nepal that were in stark contrast to Japan’s lush green landscapes. She instantly knew that she had to do something about it. This led her to establish Love Green Nepal, a nonprofit organization dedicated to environment preservation. She understood the need to work with local communities if her work was to make any long term impact. She strategically planned and combined educational awareness and empowerment programs with environmental activities. Soon Love Green Nepal was planting trees in collaboration with local communities. She encouraged the participation of

women in the greenery campaign. Amira’s dedication to this cause is evident by the change brought about by Love Green in the Panchkal valley in Kavre District and Sankhu. To date 1.5 million saplings of fuel-wood, fodder and fruit trees have been planted by 5000 plus farming households, Twenty community forests and local institutions in 10 Village Districts of Kavrepalanchok, Makwanpur and Sindhupalchok under the guidance of Love Green Nepal.

“In 1982 Amira landed in Nepal filled with dreams, ideas and plans for the future.” Amira further established the Nepal Biotech Nursery and introduced the use of tissue culture in propagating

various plants and crops that was a pioneer undertaking in Nepal. The first crop to be experimented on was Banana. It proved to be a grand success and as a result the Terai region of western Nepal is still producing high yielding healthy banana plantlets year after year. Growing orchids were a novelty to Nepali farmers in Makwanpur. Nevertheless, they took up the challenge with much fervor and it is expected that orchids will soon be an important export item. Understanding the importance of making communities self-sufficient, Love Green Nepal initiated major programs like Sustainable Agriculture Project, Girl Child Education, Women Empowerment Project and Environment Conservation Project. Love Green Nepal has constructed five Multipurpose Women Centers in Panchkhal, Patlekhet and Anaikot of Kavre. These centers provide


skill development and awareness training programs along with saving opportunities for women. Amira is a strong advocate and believer of educating and empowering disadvantaged communities. She followed up on her beliefs through Love Green Nepal by constructing 46 Schools in Kavre, Bhaktapur, Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Dadeldhura, Makwanpur, Siraha, Kapilvastu and Sindhupalchok.

“Amira provided opportunities for many young women to pursue higher studies in Japan and encouraged them to return to Nepal to contribute to their communities.� 345 girl students from low income families have directly benefited from scholarships and more than 100 students have embarked on their career after completing their education. Amira provided opportunities for many young women to pursue higher studies in Japan and encouraged them to return to Nepal to contribute to their communities. She helped six young ladies (out of her scholarship students) from an economically disadvantaged community to learn baking in Japan. The group returned to Nepal and established Prakriti Bread Pvt. Ltd, to demonstrate that if women are provided opportunities they can succeed. In addition to their Major projects, Love Green Nepal provides regular health care services to local

communities via health camps. They have also established 2 permanent health posts. The organization has constructed 1800 toilet attached biogas plants in the Panchkhal valley of Kavre districts and 2 VDCs of Makanwanpur and Sindhupalchok. Love Green Nepal worked at making homestay a means of income generation for homeowners in Patlekhet of Kavre. Up till now they have reached out to 1500 national and international guests under the Ecotourism homestay program. Amira’s contribution to the Nepali agro industry is truly commendable. She has played an instrumental role in encouraging sustainable agriculture practices (IPM/

Organic) among 1200 farmers in Kavrepalanchok, Sindhupalchok and Makwanpur. Through this practice there has been an 80 % reduction in the use of chemical pesticide and 50% in chemical fertilizers. A laudable fact about Amira is that she could have used her close relationship and network in Japan for personal gains. But she chose to divert it towards the betterment of Nepali communities. She has played an important role in the last 30 years to help develop bilateral projects in Nepal that are supported by Government of Japan through JICA. These projects have included Horticulture Development, Grain Storage, Salt Iodization and School Building Construction projects.

Celebrating women

Sumitra Manandhar Gurung CEO – Mahila Sahayatra Microfinance Bittiya Sanstha Ltd Chitlang, Nepal read religious scripts. At a time when girls were married off as soon as they hit puberty and very few believed in educating girls, her family was resolute about educating Sumitra and her siblings. Upon completion of high school Sumitra’s father took his daughters on a hike through the Tamang villages of Rasuwa. This proved to r. Sumitra Manandhar be an eye opener and life changing Gurung lives and incident for Sumitra. As they breathes economic passed through the poverty ridden development! She is settlements, she could not help living testimony to the observing and deliberating on the fact that economic empowerment is socio-economic disparity, illiteracy the key to women’s empowerment. and lack of awareness. The seed She is the Chief Executive Officer of wanting to work for marginalized of Mahila Sahayatra Microfinance and underprivileged communities was Bittiya Sanstha Limited; a planted in her young mind at that microfinance banking organization moment. targeted to serve women and youth She went on to study and become in the hills and mountains of Nepal. one of the first women geographers Sumitra does not limit herself to a of Nepal and travelled far and desk in a posh executive office in wide throughout the country for her Kathmandu but travels around Nepal Master’s degree — both unheard scouting for places to set up new of for women in Nepal at that bank branches and help the existing time. While completing her Master’s 25 branches to provide more degree she became a voluntary efficient services. teacher at Chiti Lihar, Lamjung. Sumitra Manandhar Gurung was The poverty, discriminatory practices born in Ason, Kathmandu in 1954 on the basis of caste and gender into a family of six children. Her and general lack of awareness grandfather owned the first bicycle she saw there kept nagging her store in Kathmandu and played to do something. She had begun a significant role in establishing to understand that economic the first co-educational school in empowerment along with awareness Kathmandu, Shanti Nikunja. Her would be the golden key towards father was socially, educationally improving lives and developing and religiously active and aware. communities. He was a patron of Anandakuti In 1979, Sumitra gained a United Bihar and other places that had Nations University Fellowship for social and religious importance and Advanced Research and Training value. Sumitra’s mother had no in Mountain Geo-Ecology at formal education but was able to the University of Colorado. She


“At a time when girls were married off as soon as they hit puberty and very few believed in educating girls, her family was resolute about educating Sumitra and her siblings.”

completed her MSc. in Human Settlements Planning from the Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok In 1982. It was here that she met Chandra Gurung during the course of her studies. Her parents were against her decision to marry Chandra so they got married in a simple ceremony in Bangkok in 1981. Sumitra and Chandra came back to Nepal in 1985, accompanied by a daughter Amanda and a son. Chandra Gurung died in a tragic helicopter crash in Taplejung District in 2006. After completing her post-graduate degree, Sumitra worked as an ethnographer in the UNESCO ‘Mountain Hazard Mapping of Kakani’ project from 1979-1981; Graduate Teaching Assistant at the Department of Geography, University of Hawaii, in the mid1980s and a research intern with the Environment and Policy Institute, East-West Centre, Honolulu, Hawaii, from January 1987 to April 1988. In 1988, she completed her Ph.D in Geography from University of Hawaii at Manoa, USA, entitled ‘Beyond the Myth of Eco-crisis in Nepal: `Local People’s Responses to Pressure on Land in the Kakani Hills’. She was involved in the


Pacific. She is the Chairperson of the National Coalition against Racial Discrimination (NCARD), founding member of LUMANTI, a support group for shelter for the urban poor and a founding executive member of Sankalpa, Women’s Alliance for Peace, Power Democracy and Constituent Assembly (WAPPDCA) since 2006.

field as team leader, manager, consultant in multi-disciplinary teams, developing and implementing, evaluating and advocating strategic programs & policy reforms to change the position of deprived and marginalized groups for alleviating poverty and ensuring their dignity in society. With over thirty years of experiences in integrated rural and urban development programs microcredit, natural resource management and community participation, through the perspective of social inclusion; Sumitra managed and worked in various community projects, in India and Nepal to promote gender equity at all levels from practice to policy to help promote the social inclusion of marginalized groups. She has contributed to designing microcredit programs and widening access to credits with the landless communities to ensure rights to land and shelter through policy reforms. She worked for a number of organizations including Plan International and Action Plan (GAP) team. She was responsible for developing methods and strategies to internalize gender perspectives in mountain resource management and ICIMOD’s research and policies for the region of

Hindu Kush-Himalaya (Myanmar to Afghanistan). At Plan International in the mid-1990s she developed, planned, implemented, and supervised a variety of infrastructure projects, education, livelihood, habitat, reproductive health and integrated programs with staff and community organizations targeted to children, adolescent girls and women using participatory processes to benefit 17000 families and their communities in the remote mountain areas. Her fondest memory is that of conceptualizing, designing and organizing a 4 days residential Children’s Convention for 3350 children and mothers held at Huprachaur, Hetauda. She focuses on the inclusion of marginalized groups in the constitution making process in Nepal and had served as a member of the Screening Committee of Social Inclusion Research Fund (SIRF). In August 2001, she went to Sri Lanka to enhance her knowledge about ‘Lobbying and Strategy’ in preparation for WCAR (World Conference against Racial Discrimination). This workshop gave her an insight into how law and development are interrelated for the upliftment of the status of women, especially in Asia and the

“Sumitra believes that all women should be aware of their rights” Recipient of a number of grants, honours and fellowships, Sumitra is an avid photographer who continues to document her journey through Nepal. Her photographs showcase Nepali society and reflect her observations of Nepali society around her. In the 70s and 80s, Sumitra was already photographing disaster-prone areas in Nepal. She photographed houses, villages, child brides as they were getting married and young girls smoking cigarettes. Sumitra believes that all women should be aware of their rights and be ready to fight for equal rights in every sector. Her immediate short-term plan is to continue to work in the micro-credit sector to provide all those from deprived sectors, and females who have been sexually abused, equal access to financial resources. Her long term plan includes her continued efforts towards establishing Nepal as a multi-nation state. Nepal is a diverse country that needs to ensure there is equal access to the country’s resources and facilities to all communities, religions, castes and ethnic groups, regardless of age or gender, in all fields of development.

Celebrating women

Kalpana Karki


Land Rights Activist, Sindhupalchowk

uring Dashain, all the girls of her village wore new clothes and roamed around with great pomp and show. These girls would have more than four to five thousand rupees spending money in their pockets. They were girls who worked in Kathmandu as carpet weavers. Kalpana’s father also made up his mind to send his daughter to work in Kathmandu with the hope of his daughter earning and dressing well. But Kalpana had other plans. She had no wish to flaunt new clothes or money. She wished to complete her studies. He mother stood by her decision resolutely and her support paved the way for Kalpana’s future. Kalpana was to become an extraordinary advocate and activist for the cause of women’s rights over land and property. Kalpana was born into a poor family from Sindhupalchowk. She was of a very determined nature right from childhood and wished to do something big in her life. Her family owned a small piece of land which only yielded crops for five months in a year. The family had to go and work on other people’s fields’ for the rest of the year. Kalpana had no choice but to lend her hand to her family in this work. Even then it was very difficult for her family to earn a decent livelihood. Kalpana was not admitted into school until the mid-eighties. Ultimately she put her foot down and demanded that she be sent to school with her elder male cousins. She started following them to school and did extremely well. After finishing grade five she came up against another major hurdle. Government schools only provided free education till grade 5 but anyone enrolling into grade 6 had to pay. Kalpana’s family had no money to afford her education. However, where there is a will there is a way. Her aunts who were slightly better off than them gave Kalpana money as gifts during festivals. These monetary gifts along with scholarships that she received from school helped her get through till high school. She then had to face the challenge of deciding how she would go on to pursue higher education. However, Kalpana was not one to loose hope. So, she headed towards Kathmandu with the few hundreds of rupees she had managed to save from her farm work. She took refuge at an aunt’s place and completed

her Intermediate degree after which she headed back to her village. There were very few options or opportunities at the village. Initially Kalpana joined the Shanti Primary school and taught there for a year. She then worked as a social mobilizer for the next four years. This role enabled her to understand the problems and real state of her village to a great extent. She learnt a lot from what the villagers shared with her. She came to understand that until the villages prospered, the nation as a whole would never develop. This further led her to be part of the land rights movement in Nepal. She then understood why her mother and aunt were constantly hiding each other’s home ownership papers for each other away from other family members. Witnessing such an incident in her own family strengthened Kalpana’s belief on how important it was for women to establish their rights over land. In 2005 she joined the community self-dependence centre and fully plunged herself into raising the issue of women’s rights over land. In a short time, she took on the responsibility of leading the various groups to push the movement even further. She started organizing women farmers groups and her efforts spread from the community level to the district and to a nationwide


movement. In 2009, 337 women farmers from Dang, Banke and Kanchanpur in western Nepal marched together for 11 days and merged in Kanchanpur.

“Ultimately she put her foot down and demanded that she be sent to school with her elder male cousins. She started following them to school and did extremely well.” The following year in the first week of March one thousand women from 50 districts gathered in Kathmandu for a rally to pressurize the government into signing a bill securing the rights of women over land. This led to the announcement in the budget of 2006/7 that joint property holdings were liable to lesser tax than properties owned solely by men. Furthermore, a policy was passed outlining that women had rights over properties that were under sole proprietorship of their husbands. These inclusions in the law ensured the rights of women over property providing them with the incentive of lower taxation if the land was under a woman’s name. Kalpana was elated by the outcome and felt that her dream of seeing women have access over land was finally

coming true. More than 2,000 women have benefited from this policy within eight to nine years of this initiation. To achieve this goal was no ordinary task. There were many who questioned why they needed to give women rights over property and land when they were already providing women with food and shelter. Kalpana has been fighting for long trying to explain that right over land is not just about material acquisition but is directly related to a person’s security, strength and courage. Kalpana also explained at length to various groups that providing women with land rights did not mean taking away the man’s right. Then there was a panel who said that it was enough giving women access to education. Why would they need rights over land too? To these comments, Kalpana cleverly answers why men should only be the ones to enjoy both benefits. Why was it so difficult for our society to digest the fact that women should also have rights over both? She furthers states that as women are directly linked to running household matters from planning household budget, day to day supervision to caring for the children, what better option could it be than to entrust women with control over property matters. Currently several international and national organizations have forged partnerships with Kalpana into taking the issue of women’s rights over land and property to greater heights.

Celebrating women


Zubeda Khatun

Social Mobilizer Bardiya, Far-West Nepal

he story of Zubeda Khatun would be incomplete without including her husband, Farman Jaga. This is a perfect example of how the women empowerment movement can gain momentum and achieve greater results if men are included as part of the movement. It is furthermore interesting to note that contrary to popular belief; educated urban men are not the only ones to be more conscious and supportive of women empowerment. Zubeda Khatun was studying in grade six when she married Farman Jaga at the age of 14. She gave birth to their first daughter the very next year at the age of 15. Three more daughters were born to the couple and for the next ten years Zubeda was busy caring for her daughters and home. Their third daughter required extra care and attention since she was paralyzed from the waist downwards after contacting Japanese encephalitis.

“This is a perfect example of how the women empowerment movement can gain momentum and achieve greater results if men are included as part of the movement.” It is not uncommon to hear these kinds of stories in Nepal and in the South Asian region where countless women like Zubeda go through life accepting hardships and daily drudgery as part of their fate and destiny. However, Zubeda envisioned a better life for herself and her family. She also had the will and grit to work towards it. She knew that if she were to bring about change, she would have to be the change. Her two elder daughters had started going to school. She understood the benefit of completing her studies. Farman on the other hand had never been to school. His childhood had been spent herding cattle and helping his family take care of their small farm. One would have thought that he would not have understood or supported his wife’s dream. However, Farman supported Zubeda wholeheartedly when she expressed

her desire to go back to school. It was not only Farman but his mother who supported her daughterin-law’s decision. In fact Farman’s mother assured Zubeda that she would take care of the younger two children while Zubeda attended school. They lived in the small town of Laxmania in Bardiya in the far-west region of Nepal. It was a small Muslim community of extremely orthodox people with lots of restrictions imposed on women. Women had to have their heads and faces covered with a veil all the time. It was unheard of for married women to venture out into the world in search of their dreams. It was but natural for Farman to become the target of ridicule amongst his community when he let his wife go back to school. But that did not deter him from supporting his wife and he even took on the responsibility of personally reaching and picking his wife up from school every day. Zubeda too was determined to succeed and wasted no time in making the most of the opportunity. She got up by 4 am to prepare for school and finish her household chores before school. She took extra tuition classes after school and after coming back home would always revise what she had studied in class


going to sleep only around 11 pm at night. Farman was ever ready to share household chores with her. Zubeda’s perseverance paid back and after re-joining school, she started receiving invitations to participate in various awareness and skill development training programs.

“Zubeda too was determined to succeed and wasted no time in making the most of the opportunity. She got up by 4 am to prepare for school and finish her household chores before school.” She would be the first choice for these programs as she fulfilled their criteria of being educated and possessed leadership skills. She also became a member of the forest community group. She was the obvious choice for the position of President of the Jutela Samuha, a women’s centre to raise awareness on violence against women. Zubeda was not only

guiding women from her community but reaching out to Dailekh, Surkhet and Bardiya districts. In 2003, Zubeda gave her School Leaving Certificate exam when her eldest daughter was studying in grade 7. Zubeda is now the President of the Muslim Namuna Community group. Zubeda is truly a Namuna (example) for her community members. She has worked hard at promoting education for the girl child and has through her own example been able to inspire families in her community to send their daughters to school. Her work with the community forestry and the centre to monitor violence against women is on-going. She tirelessly cycles to the main office at Guleria which is about 7/8 kilometres away from her village to attend to various issues that require attention. Zubeda credits her husband Farman for being her greatest moral support. Farman has always stood by her through her trials, triumphs and tribulations. Together they have been able to change the mind-set of their conservative and closed society. Farman often cites the example of how we need to implement the popular Nepali proverb; ‘women and men are the two wheels of the chariot’, if we are truly to envision a fair and just society.

Celebrating women

Haridevi Koirala


Popular Folk Singer, lyricist, composer and poet

aridevi Koirala was born in Baidam adjoining the Phewa Lake in Pokhara. Her childhood was spent playing on the banks of the breath taking lake that inspired her to pen down poems and songs. The community of Gandarbhas (traditional music players) who lived nearby further kindled her poetic spirit. She was enchanted by their music and songs and wished to sing out loud like them. But she could not do so because she belonged to a Brahmin (high caste) family. It would be beneath her dignity to sing and dance like the Gandarbhas or Gaines as they were often called. Whenever she was overcome with the desire to sing, she would go to the nearest field and sing out loud. At times people would hear her and shake their heads in disbelief as it was sacrilege for a Brahmin girl to sing. They would even say that she was inviting shame upon herself and her family by acting beneath her caste. That did not deter Haridevi from following her heart and she kept on writing and composing poems and songs.

“Even as a young girl she understood the pain and melancholy of the wives who were unloved, unappreciated and insignificant. It was as though they existed for the sole purpose of serving their husbands and his family. Haridevi captured the feelings of these women in her writings and soon started writing against social discrimination.”

Haridevi was a very observant child. She was raised in a society that functioned strictly under the patriarchal law. The role of women and girls was limited to being subservient with no say or role in anything. Haridevi grew up seeing her father, her grandfather and uncles marry and take on multiple wives. In those days the number of wives a man had defined his manliness. Even as a young girl she understood the pain and melancholy of the wives who were unloved, unappreciated and insignificant. It was as though they existed for the sole purpose of serving their husbands and his family. Haridevi captured the feelings of these women in her writings and soon started writing against social discrimination. After passing Grade 10, she started teaching at the local school. She married Ram Bahadur Koirala at the age of 20 and adapted to the role of a dutiful wife. Fortunately for Haridevi, her husband supported her desire to continue her studies and with his support was able to complete her studies up to the intermediate level. She continued teaching and re-started writing, composing and singing. With her husband’s support Hari Devi recorded her first song at Radio Nepal. It was a tragic song that became very popular among song lovers. Her immediate family and community disapproved strongly. Her second song was based on the pain of a woman whose husband had taken another wife. When the song started playing on the radio, people began speculating that Haridevi’s husband must have


left her and taken another wife. Her songs became extremely popular among listeners but her close family and friends could not accept her singing. Some even smashed their radios when her songs came on air. Rumours about her leaving her husband and children and going astray were spread.

“Regardless of the hostility around her, Hari Devi continued writing, composing and singing songs.” Regardless of the hostility around her, Hari Devi continued writing, composing and singing songs. Her husband was her strongest pillar of strength, support and encouragement and stood by her in her life’s mission of preserving and popularizing folk based songs. Haridevi believes that folk culture is the identity of a nation and needs to be shared and passed down to the younger generation. She established the Haridevi Koirala Literary Fund with Rs. 800,00/- that she

raised from her programs to encourage and support deserving talents. Over the years Haridevi discovered the power of her music as a tool to raise concern against social discrimination and injustice. Many of her songs are based on women and their struggles. She has woven many of her popular songs around Teej, a festival related to women. She popularized the traditional format of Teej songs into songs that highlighted the issue of equal rights for women.

“To date she has over 84 recorded albums. 200 of her songs were recorded at Radio Nepal. She feels that one of the biggest challenges of keeping folk songs alive is their cheap commercialization. She is very vocal and shares her thoughts and beliefs at the various musical functions to which she is invited on how folk culture should be preserved and promoted.” Her poems and songs motivate people to stand up for their rights and promote positive thinking. She actively participates and contributes to social activities in her community. Each year during Dashain (a major festival of Nepal), Haridevi provides clothes and food for a month to women living with HIV and AIDS. The reason for her doing so is her strong belief that no one should be left behind or be discriminated against celebrating happy moments in life. To date she has over 84 recorded albums. 200 of her songs were recorded at Radio Nepal. She feels that one of the biggest challenges of keeping folk songs alive is their cheap commercialization. She is very vocal and shares her thoughts and beliefs at the various musical functions to which she is invited on how folk culture should be preserved and promoted. She credits her listeners as her biggest motivation and achievement and continues to inspire us through her poems and songs.

Celebrating women

Indira Rana Magar


Founder President of Prisoner’s Assistance Nepal (PA Nepal)

ndira Rana Magar is a crusader for the rights of prisoners and their children who are directly affected yet often neglected by state and society. Indira’s organization Prisoner’s Assistance Nepal (PA Nepal) has grown into a well-established and recognized NGO providing education, skills and rehabilitation training for the most vulnerable and neglected groups while advocating for their rights. Her contributions to reform, rehabilitate and introduce welfare programs in Nepal’s prisons have received worldwide recognition. She was one of the three final nominees for the 2014 World’s Children Prize and was awarded the World’s Children’s Honorary Award by Queen Sylvia of Sweden the same year. She was also an Ashoka Fellow 2005, Asia’s 21 young leaders 2009, and BBC’s most inspiring and influential women around the world 2017. Indira was born into a poor landless family of Jhapa, eastern Nepal in 1972. As was the general norm, Indira was expected to stay home and take care of the home and fields while her brothers were sent to school. But Indira was a bright young girl and was determined to learn to read and write. She asked her brothers to teach her what they learnt in school. Her dusty front yard was her board and broken twigs her pens. She was ultimately enrolled into her village school after her elder brother persuaded their parents that she would find a better husband if she was

educated till 5th grade. Once Indira got a chance to attend school, there was no turning back. She excelled at studies and always topped her class. She went on to complete high school at a nearby town. After completing high school Indira initiated adult literacy evening classes for the girls and women of her village. She started a campaign to raise a rupee from each household to buy kerosene for the lamps so she could conduct her evening classes. However, Indira’s noble intentions were not well received by the villagers who could not digest the fact that women were learning to read and write. Indira was even accused of leading the young girls astray by making them come out of their homes after dark. Indira moved to Kathmandu in 1990 with just 300 rupees in her

pocket with the hope of finding and achieving her life’s mission. It was the year that the whole country was going through great political turmoil trying to establish itself as a multi-party democratic nation. Indira remembers days on end when she survived on cucumber and water. Just when she was on the verge of giving up and going back to her village, she got a job as a teacher. She probably would have continued teaching if she not met renowned Nepali writer and human rights activist Parijaat. Meeting Parijat proved to be the turning point in Indira’s life. Parijaat became her inspiration toward understanding her life’s true calling. Indira started working with Parijaat’s organization ‘Prisoners Assistance Mission’ which was committed towards providing relief to poor and forgotten


prisoners. Back in those days the focus was mostly on the rights of political prisoners. Prison life was and is till date no less than a nightmare in Nepal. Besides leading a harsh life during imprisonment, prisoners are stigmatized and illequipped to re-enter society after serving their sentences. Seven years after Parijaat’s death in 1993, Indira decided to establish her own organization Prisoners Assistance Nepal (PA Nepal) in 2000.

“Indira initiated adult literacy evening classes for the girls and women of her village.” PA Nepal’s major focus was on improving living conditions for imprisoned women and their children. Children who had no one else to take care of them would live with their mothers inside the prison under pathetic conditions. Indira initiated the concept of a day care for the children where they would learn to read, write and play. PA Nepal further worked at providing former prisoners with employment opportunities and ensuring a sound and secure environment for their children. They worked together with local communities to lessen prejudice against former prisoners. PA Nepal also started housing children who had nowhere to go and provided them with care and education. Indira furthermore believed in nurturing the bonding between children under her care and their

imprisoned parents. Therefore, she regularly took them to visit their parent/s in prison. Furthermore, the visits from their children gave the prisoners something to look forward to and a reason to live a better life after their term in prison. While taking PA Nepal forward, Indira got married to a man of her parent’s choice. But her marriage turned out to be a disaster. Her husband did not share the same passion as Indira did and could not understand why Indira found it so compelling to work for prisoners and their children. He gave Indira the ultimatum of choosing between her work and her marriage. Indira tried her best to make her marriage work but her husband started abusing her physically. She finally walked out of the disastrous relationship and fully devoted herself to working for prisoners and their rights. The schools that she has established in Sankhu and Jhapa for children of prisoners is providing

education and free lunch to the extremely poor families of the local communities. PA Nepal has established a model organic farm in Palpa. Indira encourages the children in her homes to pursue interesting hobbies and interests. An avid mountain biker herself, she has trained and formed a group of Young Mountain biking guides from children who were otherwise living on the streets. Today, Indira Ranamagar is a member of the National Project Consultant Committee of the Department of Prison Management and an active member of the Network for Children, Prisoners and Dependents. Through her organization she is currently working directly with 8 prisons in Nepal and is in contact with more than 60 of the 73 active prisons in Nepal. Indira shares that she feels blessed when she sees the faces of the children who are her energy and motivation.

Celebrating women


Laxmi Magar Mountain biker

wenty nine year old Laxmi Magar has made a mark as a Nepali woman mountain biker winning more than 30 different national and international races. Her latest victory includes the four day long ‘Sri Lanki Holidays Rumble in the Jungle’ in June 2017. Laxmi clocked 20 hours 20 minutes and 18 seconds clinching the tile 1 hour faster than her nearest competitor, Australia’s Tania Tyrhon riding across Sri Lanka’s diverse terrain and climate braving intense humidity, scorching sun and torrential rain. This recent win is one more feather in her cap for Laxmi who has participated in and been placed among the top 3 winners in many challenging bike races including the Yak Attack considered to be one of the highest and toughest races of the world. Less than a decade ago Laxmi was a simple young girl who had no clue as to what the future held for her. She came from a family of humble means but remembers her childhood with great fondness. She grew up in a family bound by love, affection and care. She had always been fond of cycling ever since she was a little girl. One of her favourite activities was taking her father’s big old cycle for a spin. The

bike was difficult for a child to ride but Laxmi even managed to put her younger brother on the back seat. Another treat for Laxmi and her sister was their occasional 20 minutes ride on rented bikes for Rs. 2. After completing high school, Laxmi worked at odd jobs to save money and joined the Lalit Kala College of Fine Arts taking arts as her major. She cycled to college because she could not afford the bus fare. At Lalit Kala Laxmi explored and mastered her aptitude and love for art. She often combines her two talents, capturing picturesque places that she reaches on many of her biking adventures onto canvas. In 2009 pressed on by her friends Laxmi took part in her first ever marathon mountain bike race from Kathmandu to Nagarkot. With no prior experience of a proper bike, Laxmi finished third after experienced professional bikers. The race was the turning point of her life connecting her with her life’s true calling. There were many hurdles and challenges to overcome. Mountain biking is an expensive profession. A good mountain bike, proper nutrition, money to pay for training and entry into races were issues that posed constant challenges to Laxmi. Furthermore, mountain biking was considered a man’s world with an almost


non-existent number of female riders when Laxmi made her entry into the arena. Luckily for Laxmi, friends, mountain bike lovers and well-wishers pitched in to support her most of the time making it possible for her to enter races. In the following years, Laxmi started working in a bike shop which later gave her a good bike at a cost much lower than its original price. Over a short period of time Laxmi became a familiar name in the mountain biking field in South Asia. She has completed her second level in cycling coaching training from the World Cycling Center Korea. Laxmi had set her mind on the Sea Otter Classic race in the USA where she hoped to learn a new style and level of racing.

“With no prior experience of a proper bike, Laxmi finished third after experienced professional bikers. The race was the turning point of her life connecting her with her life’s true calling.”

An organization called Soul Sister Cycling had been working hard to fundraise for Laxmi’s participation in the Sea Otter Race. A documentary titled ‘ Himalayan Dreams’ was also planned to capture Laxmi’s journey from Nepal to the Sea Otter. The Soul sisters invited Laxmi to participate in the Colorado Race of 2017 but Laxmi was not granted a US visa shelving this grand dream. Nevertheless, she has not given up hope of participating in international races. One of the races she has set her sights on is the Cape Epic Race of South Africa. She also wishes to establish her place in the South Asian Mountain Biking Cross Country Women Race. Laxmi is a licensed female mountain bike trekking guide and is popular among mountain bikers. She is affiliated with Himalayan Action Treks and Tours. Her future plans include bringing more girls into cycling. She plans to start sister cycling in Nepal and create a bike park for beginners. She also plans to run mountain bike adventure tours. She suggests that to become a mountain biker one needs to have a physically fit body and sound mental health. She shares that cycling means everything to her. What this champion misses most is her mother’s proud smile every time she brought home a trophy.

Celebrating women

Tripta Lungelee Magar


Working for the rights of the People living with Disabilities Sunsari, East Nepal

ripta Lungelee Magar is a living testimony of the saying, ‘ her body may be broken but her spirit is not!’ It just takes one meeting with her to realize the zeal and positivity with which she views and lives life. At the age of two Tripta was inflicted with polio that damaged her legs for life. People around her said that she was cursed because of the sins she had committed in her past life. As a little child Tripta was frustrated at not being able to jump and run around like other children. She would beat her hands on the ground and scream in despair. Tripta’s mother Rana Maya would always be at hand to comfort and boost her morale. Rana Maya instilled the belief in Tripta that she could do anything that her 7 siblings could do. Tripta learnt the power of determination at an early age when she crawled along the hard and dusty road under the scorching Terai sun to reach school drenched in her own sweat. There were times when she would almost pass out due to dizziness. Despite all these physical discomforts and difficulties, Tripta completed her 7th grade at the local school. The next challenge was to get to the nearby town of Itahari to attend high school. The bus stop was half a kilometre away from her home. Tripta would crawl to the bus stop and clamber on to the crowded bus where many times people would step on her hands and feet. There were times when she would not be allowed to get on the bus by the bus conductor.

But her grit and determination was undeterred and she completed high school. During the break between exams and results, the Chairperson of Sunsari Red Cross Society Sarala Kayatha introduced Tripta to Bholaman Shrestha who offered free typing classes to Tripta at his institute. Tripta attended these classes with great enthusiasm and soon mastered typing. Her next goal was to get a college degree. Tripta travelled to Kathmandu and joined Padma Kanya College in 1988 after overcoming various societal and financial hurdles. Initially, the other students stared at her in curiosity. But Tripta’s positive outgoing nature

and spirit soon won her many friends. At the end of her second year final exams, Tripta received a wheelchair from a senior student Asha Pun, whose father was a Major in the British Gurkha Army. The wheelchair became Tripta’s wings as they gave her additional mobility. Tripta wished to earn her own living and be economically independent. She applied for the position of a typist at the Purwanchal Gyanchakshu School for the visually impaired in Dharan. Initially the interviewers were sceptical of her physical state. They asked her questions like, if she was able to use the toilet by herself;


who would take responsibility if something happened to her on the way to work from home. They were not sure if she would be able fulfil the responsibilities related with her work. Ultimately Tripta’s confidence and qualifications won and she was selected for the position at Gyanchakchu. In addition to her responsibilities as typist, she would read the morning papers to the students. Dambari Yonjan, the school principal encouraged her to apply for a government position in the education sector as a result of her dedication and capabilities. Soon Tripta was appointed a teacher at the Gyanodaya Secondary School in Dharan. After working there for two years she went on to work at the National Higher Secondary School and the National Federation for the Disabled. While working at the Federation, Tripta got to meet and interact with people living with disabilities from all across Nepal. Tripta learnt about their daily challenges and understood their pain and frustrations which made her realize the need for an organization that specially catered to women living with disabilities. This encouraged her to establish the Nepal Chelibeti Apang Samaj (Nepal Disabled Women and Girls Society) in May 1998. Tripta was very clear about the objectives of the organization. It laid special focus on informal education and skill development training for women and girls living with disabilities. The organization also promoted the importance of health and hygiene. Recognizing the need for women’s economic empowerment, the Nepal Chelibeti Apang Samaj launched its own savings and credits group. The

savings and credit group enabled women to start their own small businesses by providing them with low interest loans. This made it possible for the women to earn, save and plan their future. Along with progress came prosperity and trust of the local community. With trust came support from organizations like Plan International, Nepal and the village development committee.

“Being physically challenged did not deter Tripta from overcoming the challenges that came her way.” The Chelibeti Samaj was able to construct its own office building with its savings and support from various individuals and supporting organizations. The office organized various activities where they made it mandatory for at least one member from each household to participate. They promoted local

crafts like weaving wicker baskets and stools. Pickles made by the organization’s members was a popular seller. Tripta also wanted to ensure that old people and people suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s received proper care. Her dream of creating a home for the elderly materialized in 2015. The old home today helps elderly people who have no place to call their own. She was able to raise awareness and funds for the provision of a 24 hour ambulance service for the elderly. Alongside establishing centres and homes for the differently abled and elderly, Tripta accomplished her dream of acquiring a Bachelor’s Degree in Education. She has been acknowledged for her work by many organizations in her hometown. Being physically challenged did not deter Tripta from overcoming the challenges that came her way. She overcame every hurdle turning them into opportunities and paving the way for a better future for others living with disability.

Celebrating women


Sarita Mishra

Music Guru/Social Worker Gaushala, Kathmandu

he Hindu scriptures state that ‘a person who has no appreciation for music, literature and art is like an animal without horns and tail’. Classical music is held in high regard as the music of the Gods themselves. The practitioners of classical music have to go through rigorous training before they can establish themselves as music gurus. Women in the classical musical field are mostly singers. Very few venture out to be composers or musicians. Musical instruments like the sitar and veena are easily identifiable as being instruments widely played by women whereas instruments related to rhythms like the different types of drums are considered a man’s forte. When Sarita Mishra decided to take up the tabla (a South Asian musical instrument consisting of a pair of small drums), nobody took her seriously. Nevertheless, she went on to become Nepal’s first professional woman tabla player.

Prasad Mishra arranged for a dance tutor to come home and teach her dance. Under the tutor’s guidance Sarita learned about the different styles of movements, beats and rhythms. She was intrigued by the beats and started playing them on the madal, dhime, khi and ultimately the tabla. Sarita discovered that the tabla was what she enjoyed playing the most. She “When Sarita Mishra decided to take completed her Master’s Degree in tabla at the Prayag up the tabla (a South Asian musical Music Academy, Allahabad, India in 1997. instrument consisting of a pair of small Upon her return to Nepal she wished to take up playing tabla as her full time occupation but was faced drums), nobody took her seriously.” with challenges she had not anticipated. People were not used to seeing women tabla players and so was not accepted into the circle of tabla players nor given As a little girl Sarita used to enjoy listening to a chance to perform at programs and festivals. Other and playing musical instruments. She lived near men tabla players avoided her for fear of having to Pashupatinath temple where bhajans (devotional perform together with her. People even told her that songs) were part of daily life. Bhajans were also it would be better if she gave up trying to be a tabla part of Sarita’s daily routine as her parents sang bhajans morning and evening. She also enjoyed music player and concentrated on finding a good husband. Sarita was determined to succeed and never gave lessons in her school more than other subjects. After completing school she joined Lalitkala campus to study up the idea of achieving her place as a tabla player. Her father was her strongest support and source of art. Her parents thought Sarita would do well in art encouragement. She started teaching music at Padma because she had always been fascinated with colours. Kanya College in Kathmandu where she encouraged Even while cooking, she was intrigued by the colours of different vegetables like the bright red of the tomato, young women to take up tabla as a choice for instrument. Slowly her skills as a tabla player started green of the chilli and the deep purple of the eggto be recognized by the musical circle and she started plant. However, while studying art, she discovered receiving invitations to perform at concerts. From that she was drawn more to music and switched to performing at concerts Sarita started recording musical music as her major subject. She felt that she was a renditions for Radio Nepal. All through it Sarita never better fit for the world of music than art. Seeing his stopped learning. She studied and practiced tabla under daughter’s interest in music, Sarita’s father Late Hari Nepal’s renowned tabla player Homnath Upadhyaya for


12 years. Sarita credits him for helping her understand a whole new dimension to being a table player. Sarita has played in around 3,000 concerts, recorded over a 100 musical pieces on Radio Nepal and released four albums; Utsarg, Taal Sarita, Ananda Utsav and Bholiko Nepal. Understanding the need to uplift women musicians, Sarita formed a group and established the Cheli Sangeetik Samuha –CSS (Women’s Musical Group) in 2005. The group’s main objective was to bring together women musicians and encourage more women to take up music as a profession. CSS further worked at utilizing music as tools to heal psychologically traumatized victims of different forms of violence. Two years after the formation of CSS, Sarita established NAAD Sangeet Pathshala (NAAD Music School). NAAD offers music classes to students from lower income families especially to those who were marginalized, underprivileged and with no other support. Sarita believed that music would minimize the chances of children from impoverished families going astray. Sarita also believed that the positive vibrations of music would lead them to adopt a positive mind-set and outlook towards life. The school provides opportunities to learn tabla, madal, sitar, harmonium, violin, guitar, flute, keyboard, vocal and dance to interested children, women and men. Sarita believes that music has the power to heal psychological scars inflicted by trauma and violence of various kinds and is working at sharing it with

persons who require such healing. NAAD has worked together with several organizations to address situations arising due to conflict and violence. It has been giving free classes to survivors of conflict and violence. 300 students have already graduated out of NAAD Music School. The music school has developed theme based performances to raise and spread awareness on various issues requiring attention. The issues range from uterine prolapse, HIV and AIDS, domestic violence and environmental protection. NAAD is further working together with other organizations towards the development and preservation of traditional musical instruments. Over the years Sarita’s work and the positive impact it has made was recognized by various national and international organizations along with individual supporters. The South Asia Foundation Nepal Chapter, Action Aid International Nepal, NCell Nepal, Sikshya Foundation and Deinze Foundation are some of organizations that have understood the importance of her work. Sarita works with organizations like Maiti Nepal, Shanti Sewa Griha, Bal Sarathi and Sharada High School who provide shelter to underprivileged, orphaned and homeless children. Sarita’s determination and dedication has led her this far. But she feels her mission is far from being accomplished. She plans to reach out to women and children from other areas of Nepal to benefit from the magic of her music.

Celebrating women

Doma Paudel


oma Paudel holds the honour of being the first Nepali woman nature guide. Under her able leadership, the Community Based Anti-Poaching Unit (CBAPU) in Chitwan has recently marked 1000 days of zero rhino-poaching. One would have thought that after her mother was killed by a rhinoceros in 2004. Doma would carry a deep resentment towards the animal. On the contrary, she became a passionate advocate for anti-poaching and environmental protection. Doma was born in Bacchauli, Chitwan as the eldest of four siblings in 1984. She was originally named Manamaya Poudel but changed her name to Doma since she liked the sound of Tibetan names. Doma was used to the constant conflict between the inhabitants of Bacchauli and wild animals. It was common for wild animals to roam around the village at night often destroying crops, attacking domestic animals and homes and at times even injuring and killing people. Doma’s father and brothers used to stay up on ‘machans’ along with the menfolk of the village watching out for such threats at night in an effort to protect their crop and cattle. Doma often went along with them on these night watches. This was instrumental in helping her overcome her fear of the wilderness and wild animals. After finishing school in 2001, Doma joined an organization called Dusk Nepal, which worked

Nature Guide, Chitwan earned enough for a simple life. But Doma wished to do more! She had made up her mind to work as a nature guide. She understood that being a nature guide was no ordinary task and involved risking their lives at times. The general perception was that the career of a nature guide was only for men since it required great resilience, physical strength and courage. When Doma expressed her desire to become a nature guide, everyone scoffed at her because no one believed that a woman could lead a group safely and skilfully through the dangerous jungles. Nevertheless, she held on to her dream. Seeing her determination, she was allowed to go as an assistant guide on for environmental preservation nature tours under male guides. On and women empowerment. This one such tour Doma’s resilience experience was instrumental in igniting her interest towards working and skill was highly appreciated by the visiting group after which she in these areas. She understood was allowed to lead nature trips the need for humans and wildlife started with half day trips slowly to live in harmony with each graduated to leading 1 and 2 day other. This learning was probably trips. Eventually she was entrusted what helped Doma cope with her mother’s death. On being asked as with longer and more challenging trails. There has been no looking to what prompted her to work for the preservation of the very animal back for Doma since then. She that had caused her mother’s death, soon became a popular, much respected and trusted figure in her Doma answers that we should be sector. aware that unlike humans, animals do not have the capacity to think and act intellectually. They act “The general perception instinctively and at times become aggressive if they feel that they or was that the career of their habitats are under threat. a nature guide was only Being the oldest daughter of the family Doma took on the for men since it required responsibility of managing household great resilience, physical matters and taking care of her strength and courage.” younger sister and brothers. Doma’s family ran a small tea-shop that


Among Doma’s many significant works a signature campaign for the preservation of the one horned rhinoceros was an important milestone. She worked together with important organizations like the Youth Awareness Venture for Anti-poaching, the Community Geographic Communication Centre, Nature Guide Association of Chitwan, Bird Education Society of Chitwan, Wildlife Conservation

initiate home stay programs in her area that contributes to income generation for the local communities. According to Doma, when communities have more wealth, they are more willing to participate in environmental and wild life preservation programs. She has also involved tourists from all across the globe to be part of voluntary community work.

skill development training are also run on a regular basis. Children who have lost their parents to attacks by wild animals are granted scholarships to continue their studies. The Wildlife Victim Fund further acts as a bridge between families who have sustained injuries or have lost a family member to a wildlife attack and the government. Doma has inspired many women

This fun experience has attracted tourists back again and again. Doma established the ‘Wildlife Victim Fund’ in 2017 understanding the need for an organization that addresses issues of people attacked by wildlife. Medical treatment and counselling by experts are provided to the victims. Long term programs like public awareness on wild life, eco-tourism, safety programs and

to become nature guides and the once male dominated field is no longer out of bounds for women. She has been the voice of Nepal in International conventions on wildlife and nature conservation and has been honoured with national level awards. She continues to lead nature tours and believes that Nepal’s abundant natural beauty is parallel to none.

“We should be aware that unlike humans, animals do not have the capacity to think and act intellectually. They act instinctively and at times become aggressive if they feel that they or their habitats are under threat.”

Society and Wetland and Biodiversity Preservation Nepal on wildlife and environmental preservation. Doma started her own Eco Tours guide service agency through which she provides guide services on various long and shortterm trips. She sets aside 10% of her profit in a fund to support families who have lost members to wild life attacks. She also utilizes the fund to organize various nature preservation activities. Her work has helped to focus on the challenges and issues faced by hundreds of people working in environment preservation. She has also helped

Celebrating women

Nisha Sharma Pokhrel Theatre Actor

(Chature’s tricky business), Bheed Dekhi Bheed Samma (from crowd to the crowd) and Nimitaa Nayak (Assigned Leader). The role of a Buddhist nun in Agni Ko Katha (The Story of Fire) is one of Nisha’s much loved and widely acclaimed roles.


isha Sharma Pokhrel’s theatrical journey and her unforgettable roles have earned her the title of Gurukul ki Guruama ‘Respected Teacher of Theatre’. Today her name is synonymous with Nepali theatre. Nisha has acted in over 50 plays enacting roles from that of a spirited young woman to a mellow old woman and from a progressive advocate to a deeply troubled suicidal woman. Nisha embarked on her theatrical journey at the young age of 10 with Bijaya Malla’s Kankal (skeleton). This was followed by Prativa Akaash Magche (Prativa seeks the sky) where she played the role of the younger sister of the main female lead. Her elder sisters Suryamala and Chandramala were both active members of the Arohan Theatre Group. Her father was a music enthusiast and their home was the meeting ground for many skilled musicians of the time. Therefore, it was no surprise to anyone when Nisha showed her inclination towards theatre. Nisha’s popularity as an actress grew with Madan Krishna and Haribhansa’s play Bigyapan (advertisement) that was a big hit in 1985. She went on to gather much acclaim with plays like Mayadevi ko sapana (Mayadevi’s dream), NyayaPremi (Justice lover), Jetho Choro (The eldest son) and Asar Ko Ek Din (A day in the month of Asar). Her acting prowess and popularity opened the doors to television series. She is still remembered for her powerful performances in Chature Ko Dau Pech

“Nisha Sharma Pokhrel’s theatrical journey and her unforgettable roles have earned her the title of Gurukul ki Guruama - ‘Respected Teacher of Theatre’. Today her name is synonymous with Nepali theatre.” Nisha’s performances are not limited to the national arena. One of her personal favourite role is that of Nora in Henrik Ibsen’s ‘The Doll’s House’. The Nepali adaptation was directed by Nisha’s husband Sunil Pokhrel and has been presented over 200 times at different venues in and outside Nepal including Norway, the birthplace of the playwright. Nisha and Sunil can be jointly credited to introducing Ibsen and modern western plays to the Novae Nepali theatre going audiences. Furthermore, Nisha ventured out to try and successfully enacted extremely challenging roles as in the play ‘4:48 Psychosis’. The one-act play is popularly known for its highly abstract language and form and as Kane’s final work. Adapting and entering into the dark and disturbed mind of a woman on the verge of suicide was not an easy feat to achieve. Nisha shares that the ominous fact that the writer had committed suicide after writing this piece loomed large over her. As an actor who dived deep into her characters becoming one with them, Nisha went through an extremely exhausting experience to get in and out of Kane’s mindset. As Antigone in Sophocle’s Antigone directed by French director Gilbier, Nisha once again exhibited her unmatched gift for breathing life into her characters.


Rashoman written by Ryunosuke Akutagawa and directed by Sunil Pokhrel is also one of Nisha’s masterpieces. Transforming and enacting powerful characters from historical and mythological books has also been Nisha’s area of passion and expertise. Her role as Yajnaseni (Draupadi, wife of the Pandavas) written by Prativa Ray is her most recent powerful role. Nisha traveled with this play to USA in 2016 after successful presentations in Nepal and India. It was no easy task to venture into and come this far in a society where a career in theatre and films was not considered respectable for women and girls. The early 90’s were times when Nisha and her sister Suryamala were passionately involved in theatre. But in comparison to their popularity and fame, the remuneration they received was not much. The sisters had to scrape through and save as much money as they could from what they received. Travelling by public transport and going hungry during rehearsals was a she would have to be the one to take charge of the common practice while doing so. Nevertheless, their home-front and all practical matters and challenges passion for theatre did not dwindle. of running a household. Nisha shares how there were days when they had no money to buy milk for their son. Despite all challenges, Nisha fully supported Sunil in his theatrical projects even though it meant dealing with “It was no easy task to venture overwhelmingly demanding situations. There was a when he worked on a theatre project with street into and come this far in a society time children and Nisha was entrusted with the responsibility where a career in theatre and films of feeding them every day. As funds were scarce, she to sell their small plot of land and her jewelry was not considered respectable for had to keep the project going. During these trying times, Nisha’s sister Suryamala and brother-in-law Saroj who women and girls.” were by then settled in the US tried to convince her to migrate to the US for a better life. But her love for theatre kept her in Nepal. The establishment of Gurukul in 2002 brought Nisha and Sunil’s dream into fruition. It was during this period that Nisha married Sunil Soon Gurukul became a popular and powerful hub Pokhrel in 1990. Sunil had been one of the cofor theatre enthusiasts, writers, directors and students; directors of Prativa Akaash Magche. Sunil Pokhrel is generating an interest and zeal for modern theatre credited to being the pioneer of modern Nepali theatre among Nepali audiences. and a brilliant theatre director and Nisha has often Over time Nisha has used the medium of theatre to played the central character in many of his plays. highlight social issues requiring attention. Bonded labor, The initial years of marriage were not easy for violence against women and girls, caste discrimination Nisha. She was expected to adapt to the role of and human rights are some topics that have found a traditional daughter-in-law by Sunil’s conservative a place in her plays. Having dedicated more than 3 Brahmin family. The birth of their son brought on decades to theatre, Nisha shares that she is reborn additional responsibilities for Nisha. Sunil continued each time she plays a new character. She feels that with his theatrical pursuits and was oblivious of his she still has a long way to go and that the role of responsibilities as a married man. Nisha realized that her lifetime is yet to come!

Celebrating women

Sita Pokhrel


ita ama (mother) is a familiar name to the people of Biratnagar and its surrounding areas. She has earned the title because of Purwanchal Anath Ashram (Eastern district Orphanage) which is currently home to 120 children and the elderly who have been abandoned by their families. For the past 25 years, the orphanage has provided shelter, food, clothes and education to over 500 children and the elderly. Many of them have gone on to complete their college education and pursue successful career paths. Many are married and have their own families.

“For the past 25 years, the orphanage has provided shelter, food, clothes and education to over 500 children and the elderly. Many of them have gone on to complete their college education and pursue successful career paths.” Sita Pokhrel was born in a little hilly village of Sankhuwasava. She learnt about the importance of helping the poor and the disadvantaged early in life. Her father always told his children to be ready to help those who had no one to turn to. These words were to become Sita’s guiding light in the years to come. Sita’s father

Purwanchal Anath Ashram also initiated the establishment of a school in the village providing the village children with access to education. Her mother was a very pious lady who instilled in her the sense of giving and caring for the poor and destitute. As was the norm Sita married Bal Mukunda Pokhrel at the age of 13. Bal Mukunda’s work required him to be stationed at different towns before they settled down permanently in Biratnagar. It was here that Sita found her life’s calling. She shares an incident that took place a little more than 30 years ago. An 11 year old girl came knocking on her door one day in search of work. When Sita asked her why she wanted to work, the little girl replied that her father had recently remarried and wanted her out of the house. He was arranging for her to be married to a much older man. The little girl had run away from home to escape the ordeal and was ready to work as a housemaid for a living. Sita immediately took her in not as a maid but as another member of her family. Later on the little girl shared that she had a younger brother back home and he too was mistreated by their step-mother. Sita arranged for the little girl’s brother to be brought to her home too. From then onwards Sita’s home became a shelter for abandoned children. She took in more children but had no long term plans as to how she would keep supporting the children who she had taken under her wing. She just knew that her mission in life was to provide love and care for children who had

nowhere else to go. The first step was to formalize the shelter and in 1987 the Purwanchal Anath Ashram was formally registered. Eventually, the orphanage had to restrict itself to sheltering only orphans as it did not have the capacity to host and manage all the children who arrived at their doorstep. Many times parents who were too poor to take care of their children would bring them to the orphanage with the hope of leaving them there. They felt that their children would be better off under Sita’s care. In addition to orphans, the orphanage also opened its doors to the elderly who were abandoned. Operating the orphanage was not an easy task and feeding children and ensuring that they received proper nutrition was a big challenge. Sita personally started going from door to door asking for any kind of contribution that could help the children. Many sneered at her saying that she had become a beggar and might as well have become a monk. Nevertheless, she stuck to her mission undeterred and devised


ways in which people could help. She initiated the concept of Muthi Daan. This was a plea to each household to set aside a fistful of grain each day to feed the orphans. Sita went door to door collecting the donations and thanking them for their generosity. Later people started bringing their donations to the orphanage and contributions included pulses and vegetables. People even started donating their old clothes. Sita then devised a donation plan where each household could contribute Rs. 2 each month. Today some people donate 50 to 100 kgs of rice to the orphanage. Over time, Sita’s reputation as a truly selfless, compassionate and dedicated, person committed to helping orphans and the elderly spread around Biratnagar and her well-wishers joined in to help her in her endeavour. With generous donations and contributions received over time, Sita was able to convert the Purwanchal Anath Ashram into a more systematic space for children. Separate sleeping quarters for boys and girls were built along with a large dining area. There was ample space to grow their

own vegetables on the 2 bighas (a method of measuring land in the Terai area) of land around the orphanage. Sita and Bal Mukunda taught the children to plant and care for the vegetable that ensures a constant supply of fresh seasonal vegetables. The orphanage currently owns 25 cows which provide milk for the children. There are 30 fruit trees around the orphanage that provide seasonal fruits. All excess vegetables, fruits and milk are sold at the local market enabling the orphanage to be self-sufficient. They earn up to Rs. 50 to 60 thousand per year from the sale of milk, vegetables and fruits. The earnings from the milk is enough to buy grain for the cows and to pay the salary of the person who looks after them. A bio gas facility has been built to utilize cow dung as fuel for cooking. A temple has been constructed on the orphanage grounds. Sita strongly believes in the importance of being in touch with one’s spiritual self and the children gather morning and evening to pray at the temple. Interestingly the central figure of the temple, Baba Sidheshwor is built out of

stones that Sita collected on several picnic trips.

“Operating the orphanage was not an easy task and feeding children and ensuring that they received proper nutrition was a big challenge.” Over time the orphanage has welcomed babies as young as six days to old men and women who are past their 80s. All of them have found love, laughter and people to call their own at the ashram. Many of them have gone on to complete their college degree and venture out on successful careers. Many of them are married and have their own families. But they often visit the orphanage along with their new families. Sita has received many awards and citations over time for her work. Some have presented her with cash awards which she has put into the orphanage fund. The Purwanchal Anath Ashram has been Sita’s life-long commitment and her husband Bal Mukunda has been her constant support and strength. Even if he has already crossed 70 and Sita is nearing her 70th birthday; their daily lives revolve around catering to the needs of the children and the elderly at the Purwanchal Anath Ashram. They are hopeful of finding someone who will take over the responsibility of running the orphanage with as much love, passion and dedication as they have.

Celebrating women

Gulab Devi Ram


Saptari, Haripura

epal is known as a melting pot of diverse cultures, languages and beliefs. These attributes have made Nepal intriguing and culturally rich. Ironically, it is this very diversity that separates and discriminates

communities. Discrimination on the basis of caste is one of the worst forms of discrimination that still exists in many parts of the country. Dalits or the ‘untouchable caste’ has been for generations discriminated against and placed at the bottom of the caste system. The Dalits are further divided into several sub castes on the basis of their profession. The Chamars are one such group who have for long been excluded from social justice and economic progress. They made a living as scavengers, collecting and disposing carcasses of domestic animals. What was more horrific was that it was expected of them to eat the dead animals. Gulab Devi Ram was born into and grew up in this dismal environment. It is generally believed that educated conscious people bring about change in society. However, Gulab Devi Ram has proven that even those considered illiterate and backward can bring about positive change. She shares that even as a young child she would be full of questions regarding what she saw around her. She never got the chance to attend school. Nevertheless, she was aware of the fact that what her community was going through was not right. Gulab Devi decided to stand up for what she believed was right. Her chosen path was not easy and she met with a lot of resistance. She strategically planned her way forward to fight against the redundant custom of her community having to collect and eat animal carcass. One of the first steps she took was to become a vegetarian and inspire others in her community to do the same. As a result of becoming vegetarians the Chamars, Dusars and Dom people stopped collecting carcasses. This initiation turned into a national movement termed as the Sino Andolan (carcass movement) in 1998. Besides rebelling against having to collect dead animals from households, Gulab Devi also stood up against Chamar women having to serve as care-takers of new mothers from higher castes. Their duties would

entail cleaning up, washing dirty linen and giving daily massages to new-borns and mothers. In return they would receive a meagre compensation of grain and old clothes. Monetary compensation would be rare. Without being exposed to the international community’s definition of human rights, Gulab Devi was successful in standing up for and applying human rights not only for herself but for her whole community. Gulab Devi’s bold steps not only inspired supporters but also drew a lot of opposition especially from those who benefitted by exploiting their community. The movement was met with a lot of resistance to the extent of Gulab Devi receiving threats against her life. Her community was barred from using public facilities such as wells and shops. They were even prevented from buying food and medicine and walking on public roads. The Chamars were given an ultimatum that if they did not resume their traditional responsibilities of disposing carcasses they would be permanently barred


from using all public facilities. This tussle between the higher castes and the Chamars made national headlines in 2008. The state owned national daily, Gorkhapatra brought it to public attention through an editorial. Gulabdevi stood firm and ultimately emerged victorious in this fight for human rights and dignity. The Chamars would no longer have to collect carcass and dispose of it.

After this landmark achievement, Gulab Devi focused on other areas that required reform. In 2000 Gulab Devi joined the National Land Rights Platform via the Public Awareness Union Organization. She started working for the cause of the landless bringing up issues of wage based employment for the Dalits. Up till then Dalits would have to work on the fields of landlords from dusk till dawn in exchange for 1.5 kilo of rice and a measly meal. This system was known as the Haruwa Charuwa. At a time when even the men could not speak up for their rights to fair remuneration,

Gulab Devi dared to speak against this oppression and was able to establish the system of receiving 8 kilos of rice instead of 1.5 kilo. Currently the system of being paid in daily wages has been established. Dalits were excluded from the right to acquire citizenship. Due to the movement initiated by Gulab Devi, the Chamars and other downtrodden communities became aware of their rights to establish their rights as equal citizens of the country. She also challenged the social system that compelled the women of her community to hide their faces behind veils. The women of her community today openly attend school and work outside their homes paving the way to economic independence. Gulab Devi made sure that her daughters along with the young girls and women of her community attended school. Her daughter is currently studying for her Bachelor’s degree.

“Gulab Devi is heralded as a harbinger of social change and a leader who ushered in positive change and impacted her community directly affecting the 150 household in Haripur, Saptari in the Terai region of Nepal. She dared to challenge discriminatory practices and opened the doors to education, health, socio-economic and political opportunities for her community.� Gulab Devi is heralded as a harbinger of social change and a leader who ushered in positive change and impacted her community directly affecting the 150 household in Haripur, Saptari in the Terai region of Nepal. She dared to challenge discriminatory practices and opened the doors to education, health, socioeconomic and political opportunities for her community. Gulab Devi shines bright as an epitome of fortitude and resolve.

Celebrating women

Keshari Thapa Rana Principal, Shree Purwanchal Gyanchakshu School for the Blind, (Estd. 1977) Dharan, NEPAL had to let go of her dreams. She decided to study nursing and applied to a college in UK and was even accepted, but her father rejected it outright fearing his daughter would marry and settle down there. Her dreams were dashed for the second time.

she went on to prove them wrong. She has recently completed her 25th year as the residential Principal of Gyanchakshu. Gyanchashu translates to The Eyes of Wisdom in English. The obstacles and challenges when she joined the school were many. The very first challenge was giving the school the identity and “It was here that she recognition of being an educational discovered her passion for institution. Gyanchakshu, until then, was registered as a social teaching. Thereafter, she organization at the Social Welfare eshari Thapa Rana arrived in Nepal at applied for a teaching job Council. Keshari untiringly pursued the age of 13. It was concerned authorities to officially in Hong Kong.” a completely different register the school as an educational world for young Keshari institution for the BVI. She shares who was born in Malaysia to a In 1982, Keshari married Hongkong an incident when she had gone to British Gurkha Army Officer and Rana, a university teacher with meet the then education minister brought up in Hong Kong. On the her parents approval. She started with her proposal and was met with very first day of school at Khaireni teaching at Sharda Balika Namuna a blunt response -‘Do people who Seconday School in Tanahun, Higher Secondary School in Dharan are blind go to school? And how do she was bewildered by the school while completing her undergraduate they read and write?’ Despite all the environment and the behaviour of degree. It was here that she hurdles, Keshari was not only able her class mates. Upon reaching discovered her passion for teaching. to give Gyanchakshuthe an identity the school wearing the mandatory Thereafter, she applied for a teaching of being a formal school for the BVI uniform, shirt and skirt, one of her job in Hong Kong. She was among but also succeeded in establishing it class mate hurriedly put a shawl the 8 to be selected out of 300 as a model school for children with on top of her shirt and advised her applicants. However, she had to special needs and set a bench mark not to smile. She also noticed that withdraw from this offer as her son for educating children with Visual they wore trousers underneath their was only two years at the time and Impairment and Multiple Disabilities. skirts to cover their legs. She felt the there was nobody to take care of At the time she took reins of the behaviour of her class mates towards him. For Keshari, her new found school, there were 50 students the teachers was very disrespectful passion for teaching had become and 23 staff out of which only 11 and inappropriate. Keshari missed her her mission in life. In 1992, she were teachers. The teachers also old school and friends in Hong Kong was offered position of Principal of lacked proper training and education and wished to go back. But her Purwanchal Gyanchakshu School, the skills in the related field due to the family had settled in Nepal after her only special school for the blind and unavailability of special educational fathers’ retirement and she was left visually Impaired (BVI) children in institutions and training centres in with no option but to adjust to her Nepal. The school had a record of Nepal. The school operated classes new environment. principals not lasting more than two only up to the 7th standard which Keshari had earlier dreamt of years. Friends and acquaintances meant the students faced tremendous becoming a doctor or an airline warned Keshari of the school’s difficulties to achieve higher degrees. stewardess. However, lack of proper notorious reputation. Nevertheless, she The government granted NCR guidance to become a doctor and decided to take up the challenge. 900,000 (nine hundred thousand the ill reputation that stewardess had People waited for her to opt out Rupees) per year for the school in society at the time meant she within the first year of her tenure but of which NCR 550,000 went



towards staff salary. The school was established as an informal philanthropic organization with a view to imparting education to visually impaired children. Resources constraint and the lack of trained teaching and non-teaching staff were among the serious issues.

“Under Keshari’s initiation, the government of Nepal now allocates additional funds annually for the school.” In 1996, the government launched the Integrated Education Program. This included the policy of providing grant of NCR 1,000 per month to children with disabilities. But the policy covered only 35 students and there were far more students under Kesharis’ care. So she ventured out to request various organizations for scholarships for the remaining students. It was very challenging at the time, as most organizations were focused on programs for street children. Under Keshari’s initiation, the government of Nepal now allocates additional funds annually for the school. She further explored and successfully implemented the idea of printing and developing Braille text books which the students were able to identify within the Nepali context. In 2005, a program was introduced for Low Vision children and a special program for Children with Visually Impaired and multiple disabilities and Deaf and blind was introduced in 2009 as a pilot program in Nepal which provided the students social and vocational skill development trainings.

Currently, there are more than 100 residential students from 23 districts of Nepal. The school is running formal learning programme up to 10th standard and six batches of students have already appeared in the certificate level examination with most of them passing their exams. The school also provides residence for higher secondary school students. Most former students of Gyanchakshu are currently into teaching, music and government services. The concept of learning by doing is the norm for the students. Hygiene, sex education and personal care are all taught and mandatory for the students to follow. The students actively engage in extracurricular and co-curricular activities like music, dance, drama, literary competition and games (sound table tennis, football, cricket, chess etc). They also actively participate in social activities. The school library is equipped with a wide range of Braille books and large print books which have been mostly donated by well –wishers. There’s also an audio library and resource room with tactile educational materials. Her study visit to St. Vincent’s School for the Blind, Liverpool in 2013 has helped her implement new technology and

teaching methodology for BVI. Keshari dreams of establishing intermediate level education in the school and plans to make the existing physical infrastructures disable friendly and setup a Mobility Park for the differently challenged. A day with Keshari makes one realize that she has truly been the eyes and voice of the visionless and the voiceless. She has devoted herself tirelessly and selflessly to their cause. This meant not being able to spend time with her family as they live in Kathmandu. But she has no qualms over it as her greatest satisfaction is to have brought Gyanchaksu to the level it is today and to have helped hundreds of children with BVI, children with visually impaired and multiple disabilities and Deaf blind access quality education and skill development opportunities. Having completed the Education Leadership Program from Perkins International/ Perkins School for the Blind, Boston, USA in 2016, she is even more motivated and better equipped to spread the light of education by creating learning opportunities that reaches beyond academic learning and empowers the children of today to be a dignified citizen of tomorrow.

Celebrating women

Pema Sherpa


Skilled Birth Attendant Phaplu, Solukhumbu

ema ‘sister’ is a well-known figure in her hometown of Solukhumbu district. She has dedicated well over three decades of her life as a senior nurse and skilled birth attendant (SBA) at Phaplu Hospital in North-East Nepal. Determination, grit and a strong sense of justice are attributes that spring to mind when one meets Pema. She trained as a nurse at Shanta Bhawan Hospital in the early 70s at Kathmandu and worked for over a decade there. She then joined Phaplu hospital at Solukhumbu and became the first trained nurse of the area. Her initial working days at Phaplu hospital were challenging as well as rewarding.

she became an important pillar of the hospital providing medical services not only to patients who came to the hospital but walking great distances to surrounding areas, reaching out to those who were unable to come to the hospital. “There were times Caring for the needy came naturally to Pema as she had when there would be always seen her parents do. Her no electricity and the father, a strong believer of senior medical team would have citizens rights and access to health to attend to patients by and well-being, travelled long distances even into his 80s to torchlight.” provide support to those in need. Her mother staunchly stood by her There were times when there husband in his convictions to help would be no electricity and the others. They provided their eight medical team would have to children with equal educational attend to patients by torchlight. opportunities. They instilled in Pema remembers the numerous Pema and her siblings a strong births that they handled with no sense of responsibility towards their electricity. Having come from a community and the courage to better facilitated city hospital, she speak up against injustice of any felt that she would not be able to kind. These qualities are deeply work under such adverse conditions ingrained in Pema and she is for long. But she went on to be known to speak her mind and not associated with the hospital until her tolerate dishonesty of any kind. recent retirement in 2014. Overtime As the Head Nurse of the Phaplu

hospital she was quick to speak up against any wrong-doings that she saw. Phaplu hospital was largely supported by Sir Edmund Hillary’s trust but it fell under the jurisdiction of the Nepali government making it susceptible to different kinds of corruption. There was a time when she discovered that the brokers were supplying lesser quality food at a higher rate to the hospital patients. She took on the responsibility of providing out of her own kitchen at a lower cost, higher quality food to the patients to prove her point. Pema Sherpa holds the distinction of being the first Skilled Birth Attendant (SBA) to utilize the Sono Site portable ultra sound machine internationally. This exemplary woman has motivated the SBA’s of Africa to start using the machine. She received training on the Sono Site – a portable ultrasound machine from a visiting American company Sono Site who had come to Phaplu for a study visit. Pema was the only one who utilized the knowledge gained from the training. The American company gifted five portable machines to Phaplu hospital. In an area where people were not even aware that they had to go for regular checkups during pregnancy, the ultra sound check-ups created quite a stir as they were fascinated by the fact that they could see a ‘video x-ray’ of the unborn child. Pema walked tirelessly for 4 to 5 days at a stretch carrying the portable ultrasound machine to women in need of pre-natal care. This effort saved patients travel time and


“Determination, grit and a strong sense of justice are attributes that spring to mind when one meets Pema. She trained as a nurse at Shanta Bhawan Hospital in the early 70s at Kathmandu and worked for over a decade there.”

savings and income generation activities. She leads a cooperative savings institution which services mostly women. Women who would otherwise not have access to loans to start small businesses now have access to fulfilling their various entrepreneurship goals thanks to money. It also encouraged the taken on many cases requiring legal Pema’s initiative. The Kyrmu Lodge women to share their problems and help. On the personal front she is her initiative to promote local went on to adopt two daughters seek her advice. tourism and to support an organic Pema got married at 27 to besides her three sons. farm in Gorakhani which is 6 hours She chose to stay on in the a Police Officer who was an walk away from Phaplu. The food inspector. But he turned out to be mountainous village of Phaplu served at the Lodge includes maize, an abusive alcoholic. She had to even after retirement choosing to wheat and vegetables. Her future work on issues requiring attention take on the sole responsibility of plans include opening a museum raising and educating their three like violence against women. She showcasing the culture and tradition sons. Her brothers and sisters stood has been very vocal and active of the area. A recipient of various by her in her difficult times. But in spreading awareness on the national awards for her commitment issue and acted on behalf of the there came a time when she had and hard work, Pema strongly government’s door to door crisis to choose to go and work in the advocates honesty, compassion and USA where nurses earned more management project. Pema has courage as key qualities to being than in Nepal. Her only objective further been training women on successful. of doing so was to earn and save enough for the future of her sons. She worked for two years in USA but her heart was in Nepal wanting to be with those who needed her services the most. She shares how Sir Edmund Hillary, the initiator of Phaplu Hospital also told her that Nepal required her services more than any other hospital in the world. In 1995, she got to know that she had been nominated for the prestigious national Gorkha Dashin Bahu Award and she returned to Nepal. She found her true calling in reaching out to the poor and needy. She re-joined Phaplu hospital and dedicated her days towards making health services better for the people of the area. She trained several batches of nurses and SBA’s at the Phaplu training centre. She has always been an active advocate for social justice and has personally

Celebrating women

Ramdevi Tamang Deputy Mayor/ Social Mobilizer Namobudha VDC, Kavrepalanchowk


am Devi Tamang is the Deputy Mayor of Namobudha, Kavre district of Nepal. She is known by all in her district as a hardworking, dedicated and trustworthy leader. She is living testimony of the fact that knowledge, drive and skills can equip a woman to build her own standing in society. But, it was not an easy task to reach where she is today. There were many hurdles to overcome, innumerable trials to face and the challenge of staying positive in the midst of negative accusations. Widowed at 22 in a society where widows were treated as ill omen and outcasts, Ram Devi went through her share of ridicule and backlash. Ram Devi’s childhood was also not easy. She was born into a humble Tamang family in a remote village of Sinchupalchowk. It was common belief that girls should not be sent to school to prevent them from going astray. Ram Devi’s mother told her that it was useless for girls to go to school for their duties were just to

take care of house, family, fields and cattle. But Ram Devi had an insatiable fire within her to break out of the dismal life which her mother had drawn up for her. She was determined to fulfil her thirst for knowledge at any cost and so while out in the forest to collect fodder for the cattle she would hide her ‘doko’(wicker basket used to carry firewood and fodder) in the bushes and attend classes in the public school. Battling against all odds, she managed to complete high school and at 15 reached Kathmandu in search of work. After much disappointments and fruitless struggles, Ram Devi decided to return to her village and do something there. She had some tailoring skills so she started a training centre for women and girls. At 16 she married a man chosen by her parents as was customary in her village. Getting married at that tender age was not unusual as it was believed that if daughters remained unmarried for long they would go astray. Marriage and responsibilities attached with it cut short her wish to pursue higher studies. Furthermore, married life was not easy with a mother- inlaw who often tortured her for not bringing dowry. She was beaten and threatened with a sickle even when she was pregnant. Fortunately, her husband stepped in and saved her from the situation. They started living separately from then onwards. But Ram Devi’s happiness was short lived and the death of her husband in a

fatal motorcycle accident changed her life forever. The respect she had received from people around her as the wife a of UNDP field representative changed overnight and turned into nasty derogatory remarks accusing her of being an ill-omened woman who brought about her husband’s death.

“Battling against all odds, she managed to complete high school and at 15 reached Kathmandu in search of work.” With no one to support her, Ram Devi searched and found the answer to a better future within her. Using her hard earned education and skills, she started a tailoring unit in Shyampati as a means of income generation. Not only was she able to earn a decent livelihood from her shop, she was also able to teach tailoring to women living close to her. With two very young daughters to fend for, Ram Devi was not only determined to live a dignified life but also wished to help other single women like her. Resolute in her mission, Ram Devi participated in the National Convention of Single Women and got the opportunity to listen to and interact with other single women in 2001. She connected with WHR – Women for Human Rights, an organization working for the rights of single women. Coming in contact with WHR was a turning point in her life. Her meeting with Lily Thapa, President of WHR re-


endorsed her belief that she should dedicate her life to the cause of uplifting the status of single women in Nepal. She became an active member of WHR and participated in WHR’s various training and skill development programs. Her life was no longer just about her personal struggles and challenges. She was connected to the stories and pathos of hundreds of widows. The social discrimination, poverty and illiteracy among widows who in turn blamed fate for their misery encouraged Ram Devi to take on the cause of educating and making single women aware of their rights and responsibilities. Equipped with her new skills Ram Devi became an instrumental figure in training other single women on tailoring, agro enterprise, animal husbandry and leadership skills. Ram Devi initiated the formation of a 10 member single women’s group in Kavre. The early days were filled with lots of challenges. Their group was the target of hatred and torture. The villagers went to the extent of coming to beat them up accusing them of trying to bring doom to the whole village after causing the death of their husbands. Despite all adversities, Ram Devi moved on ahead bravely never deterring from her chosen path emerging stronger and wiser transforming into a true leader. She became the champion for the rights and equality of single women. Under her leadership and guidance, single women in the community were able to unite and rise up against discrimination living a life of economic independence and dignity. She lobbied with the District Development Committee to

lease 75 ropanies (10 acres) of land for 50 years to the single women’s group for agricultural and animal husbandry purposes. She took a loan of Nrs. 650,000 in her name to buy a small plot of land with a natural water source to aerate that land.

“Ram Devi had an insatiable fire within her to break out of the dismal life which her mother had drawn up for her. She was determined to fulfil her thirst for knowledge at any cost” She then developed and led an ambitious project of pumping the water uphill to the farm. She also built water taps bringing clean running water right to into the village saving time and energy for

the villagers who otherwise had to walk down the hill to a small ravine to collect water. Achieving desired results and working for the rights of single women was not an easy task. The journey from the day she was widowed to her current status as Deputy Mayor has been arduous, challenging and at times frustrating. Ram Devi is always striving to do more and looks forward to the days to come with a positive attitude. Her dream is to include more and more women in economic activities through awareness, self-employment and income generating activities. The biggest achievement in her life is the social transformation among single women and the positive changes in the outlook of the society towards single women in her community and neighbouring villages. Many now say that she truly represents the true meaning of her name ‘Ram’ the God and ‘Devi’ the Goddess.

Celebrating women

Maya Thakuri Writer/Litérateur


magine a little girl whose playground was the crematory of her hometown! A good meal was hard to come by, let alone the chance of attending school. She collected used exercise books of the neighbourhood children and copied what was written on unused lines and pages. That little girl was Maya Thakuri. Today the walls of her home are adorned with numerous citations conferred on her for her literary contributions. Her works have further been translated into Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, English and Japanese and included in the syllabus of schools and universities within and outside Nepal. Quite an achievement for someone who never attended school or received any formal education! Maya’s childhood was not an easy one. Her father was a wayward Indian army man who hardly cared or took responsibility of his wife and children. Maya’s mother Devi, learnt sewing and knitting and attended adult literacy classes held by the Army Families Welfare Society. She passed on these skills to her children introducing them to the allure of words. Maya recalls the hardships her mother went through to make ends meet. But, she always made the most out of their dire situation and always promoted creativity, integrity and positivity. Maya recalls a corn cob rag

doll that her mother made for her to play with. That doll used to be her sole friend as she watched her contemporaries go past their house to attend school. When Maya turned 7, her father took her to his senior officer’s house to work as a baby sitter. Young Maya was awestruck by the officer’s bungalow and its grandeur. She was only used to her dilapidated hut with the leaky roof, where they were forced to tug at the only quilt they possessed to keep themselves warm at night. Food was always scarce and often times Maya went around the neighborhood asking for essential ingredients to cook a meal. She couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw closets filled with dresses and cupboards full of food at her work place. She could not comprehend how some could have so much while others so less. One day she stole a dress and took it home for her younger sister for which she got a sound beating from the officer’s wife. When Maya’s mother questioned her as to why she had stolen the dress, Maya replied that she thought it wouldn’t really matter if she took one dress for her sister from among the many dresses hanging in the closet. Maya remembers her mother weeping bitterly that day.

“Being the eldest of 3 children, Maya took it upon herself to start earning at the age of 8 to help her mother run the house. She started working at a knitting factory where her duty was to roll yarn into balls of wool. She also found work at a printing press.” Being the eldest of 3 children, Maya took it upon herself to start earning at the age of 8 to help her mother run the house. She started working at a knitting factory where her duty was to roll yarn into balls of wool. She also found work at a printing press. Her duties entailed cleaning and keeping the machines dust free. While doing so, she was fascinated with how the machines composed words and printed words on paper. She soon learnt to handle the machines.


She read the magazines and books that were printed at the press and felt encouraged to pen down her own words. Her writings comprised of her own experiences and feelings along with poems and songs on different themes. At first she was accused of plagiarizing other creator’s works as she had never received any formal schooling. But these oppositions and adversities drove her further to reach greater heights. Understanding her thirst for knowledge, a local school teacher offered to teach her for free. In return, the teacher’s wife expected Maya to do all her odd jobs. Maya followed her orders without complaint. The exposure to words opened up a whole new avenue for Maya. The day she passed her high school exams she felt as though she had conquered the whole world. She also recalled stories her maternal grandmother used to tell her on her few visits. These stories left a deep imprint on her young mind igniting the spark in her to write stories of her own.

books. Along with writing, Maya was also a talented singer who started singing for All India Radio when she was very young. Maya was part of the group of artists who were invited to Nepal by the late King Mahendra in 1964 for his birthday celebrations. Maya was then introduced to famous Nepali artists of that era with whom she got the opportunity to sing and record songs. Do not force me to go home where I do not wish to go, instead let the river take me along with its flow… These are excerpts from one of Maya Thakuri’s popular folk songs. Her singing career came to a standstill when someone mixed vermillion in her food. She sought many treatments over the years but none worked and her singing career came to a halt. The singing world’s loss proved to be the literary world’s gain. Maya concentrated fully on her writings and produced one great work after another. Maya has published 7 short story compilations among which Ama Jaanus (Mother please go), Priyambada, Yudha(War), Pahad Orladaicha (The hills are decending) are greatly heralded works. Her published works further include a compilation of songs and a compilation of children’s stories along with numerous folk tales, poems and memoirs.

“Her singing career came to a standstill when someone mixed vermillion in her food. She sought many treatments over the years but none worked and her singing career came to a halt. The singing world’s loss proved to be the literary world’s gain. Maya concentrated fully on her writings and produced one great work after another.” As she grew older, Maya questioned her mother many times, on why she tolerated her father’s atrocious behaviour. She remembers how he used to come home drunk after nights of philandering and Devi would dutifully oil, massage and bathe him in the morning. Devi always used to tell Maya that women are like the earth – tolerant and nurturing. Maya has depicted her mother through some of the characters of her various

Maya married Damodar Sharma, an engineer from Pokhara and taught at the Gandaki Boarding school of Pokhara for 25 years. Today she lives in Kathmandu, Nepal with her husband, daughter Anuradha and two grandsons Devashish and Shuvashish. She continues to be an inspiration to the Nepali literary world and truly epitomizes how will power, grit and hard work can overcome even the most adverse of situations.

Celebrating women


mong many rampant social evils of Nepal, human trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and girls has been an on-going threat towards humanity for many years now. There are an estimated 200,000 women and girls caught up in this lethal web due to poverty and helplessness. The ‘people’s war’ of 1996 – 2006 forced a lot of young people to leave their villages in search of safety and security into big towns and cities. Unfortunately, instead of finding protection from the state and public sectors, many of them, especially women and girls were trapped and forced into the sex trade by predatory groups. Massage parlours, cabin restaurants and dance bars mushroomed around the cities giving rise to new forms of sexual exploitation. The recent earthquake of 2015 also added to the rise in the ‘sex trade’.

“Today Rakshya Nepal is a force to reckon with having rescued and rehabilitated more than 1600 women out of brothels, massage parlours, dance bars and cabin restaurants.” Several groups and organizations have been working to rescue and rehabilitate victims of sexual violence for a long time. Their efforts have compelled policy makers and the police to be more sensitive and pro-active when dealing with sexual violence. Unfortunately, amidst this widespread nexus of sexual crimes, women exploited by dance bars, cabin restaurants and massage parlours

Menuka Thapa President, Rakshya Nepal

were not as high on the priority list as the ones in need of rescue and rehabilitation. Rakshya Nepal was established in 2004 to help women working at dance bars, cabin restaurants and massage parlours counter exploitation. The founder Menuka Thapa was a young girl who worked as a singer at a dohori (duet song) restaurant and had personally witnessed women employees being mistreated. Today Rakshya Nepal is a force to reckon with having rescued and rehabilitated more than 1600 women out of brothels, massage parlours, dance bars and cabin restaurants. Menuka’s personal story is not less intriguing. Born the youngest of 15 children (of whom only 9 survived), Menuka’s father died while she was in her mother’s womb. She was labelled ominous and blamed for her father’s death by relatives and acquaintances alike. However, Menuka’s mother and elder sisters took good care of her. They made sure that she got opportunities that they never did. When Menuka was old enough to attend school, they enrolled her into the village public school. The school was on top of a hill and an hour’s walk each way. The road was dusty and slippery. The children sat on the dusty ground underneath the open sky. School would be off during the rainy season. In contrast to this there was a better facilitated boarding (private) school within 30 minutes walking distance from their home. Though it was more expensive than the public school, Menuka’s mother and sisters resolved to send her there at all costs. They laboured in other people’s homes and fields to make enough money to send Menuka to the private school. Menuka was a responsible and hardworking child and always did well in class. She often received notebooks and pens as prizes which

she carefully utilized over the year. Based on her academic performance, she was awarded a scholarship in fourth grade. The scholarship was a big financial relief for her mother and sisters. Respecting the sweat and faith placed in her by her mother and sisters, Menuka made sure she did her part. She finished her homework before dark and slept early so they would not need to buy extra kerosene for the oil lamps. She would read all night long on moon lit nights. Over time her sisters got married and went off to their new homes. Their only brother too went his own way and Menuka was left alone with her mother. Menuka wished to go to Kathmandu to pursue higher studies. But, she couldn’t do so due to financial constraints and her mother’s deteriorating health. When the ‘people’s war’ broke out in 1996, Menuka was compelled to move to Kathmandu leaving her mother behind to escape pressure from the Maoists to join their troupes. Though she had relatives in the city, nobody was willing to help, leave alone offer her a place to sleep. She would often sit on the pavement outside the Standard Chartered (then Grindlays) Bank and stare into empty space for hours. She even met others in the same situation as her and made friends with them. She wished to go


back to her village but was afraid of being captured and taken away by the Maoists. Menuka had a small radio in her possession which her mother had gifted her. She would often hear about organizations that helped women and children in need of help on the radio. Hopeful to find the support she needed, Menuka went to many organizations seeking help. But, no one could help her as she did not fit into any of their criteria; neither was she trapped in the sex trade, nor was she HIV infected; nor had she been raped. She was disgusted with the bureaucracy and paperwork that was involved to get help from any of the social organizations. Then one day Menuka’s life took an unexpected turn. As she was sitting at her usual spot on the pavement wondering what to do next, a kindly gentleman came over and started talking to her. He was Mohan Bahadur Thapa, Chief engineer of Buddha Air. He asked Menuka if she would like to live in his home with him and his wife Mana. It was as though her guardian angel had come to her rescue. The Thapa couple fulfilled Menuka’s dream of pursuing higher education and enrolled her into Padma Kanya college. Menuka chose music as her major subject since she had always wanted to be a singer. The singing lessons cost extra money so she started working at a dohori (duet song) restaurant. She would work from 6 in the evening to 11 at night. While working at the restaurant, Menuka observed that the waitresses who worked there had to put up with all sorts of sexual advances and exploitations every day. They were afraid to speak up for fear of losing their jobs as they were not well educated and needed the money to survive. Menuka encouraged them to speak up against the injustice meted out to them. She even helped them in times of need by giving them her

share of money and started teaching them to read and write. She ultimately became their mentor and guide. Under her direction the girls working in the restaurant became united and started standing up for their rights. Menuka worked at the restaurant for 6 years before she established Rakshya Nepal. Her singing had won her many fans that supported her in her new endeavour. In these 6 years, Menuka had wanted to bring her mother to live with her in Kathmandu but, her mother passed away before she could do so. Menuka, was devastated but remembering the grit and determination with which her mother had raised her, she focussed on the goal set before her. Menuka’s main mission behind forming Rakshya Nepal was to address the issues of women working in dance bars and massage parlours. She knew that there was an urgent need for addressing the issue. When she first went to the District Development Office to register Rakshya Nepal, the officer in charge looked at her suspiciously and outright denied issuing her a licence. Menuka persistently kept going back every day for the next three weeks to make him understand why Rakshya Nepal was necessary. Finally the officer relented and after making her remove a few clauses from the document Rakshya Nepal was registered in 2004. The first year was a challenge for the organization in terms of having to prove itself and to arrange

logistics and finances. Ironically the officer who had initially refused to register Rakshya Nepal donated Rs. 50,000/- (Fifty Thousand) to the organization. The amount helped the organization buy a computer, phone and furniture. Rakshya Nepal started on its uphill journey by conducting informal education classes for women and girls working as waitresses and dancers. Along with the classes they were given skill development trainings and made aware of their legal and human rights. Rakshya Shree Saving Cooperative Finance was established to encourage women to save. The Saving Cooperative has around 1500 members and is the financial backbone of Rakshya Nepal. Furthermore, Rakshya Nepal has established two schools in Kathmandu catering to low income families and children who are orphaned or abandoned. Menuka shares that the biggest challenge that Rakshya Nepal faces is the social and political system that questions victimized women instead of the perpetrators. Often times the perpetrators are caught only to be bailed out of prison by their higher connections. According to a recent survey conducted by Rakshya Nepal 98% of women trapped in the sex trade wish to get out of it into a more honourable profession. Each day brings a new challenge but Menuka is ready to take it on with the belief that there will be a day when every woman will be treated with the respect that she deserves.

Celebrating women

Radhika Karki Thapa

Entrepreneur and Social mobilizer, Itahari, East Nepal


adhika Karki Thapa of Itahari is the epitome of economic independence. She plays a significant role in empowering women. Radhika was born into a poor farmer’s family as the second child from among four sisters and two brothers. However, she was fortunate to have a father who understood the importance of educating his children and a mother who defied traditional roles set for girls. Radhika’s father fought against his extended family’s traditional thinking that it was not necessary to educate girls and further encouraged them to read newspapers and listen to the radio. Her mother set an example by daring to plough their field which was otherwise considered a bad omen. Radhika’s father moved their family to Itahari with the dream of providing his children with better educational opportunities. Unfortunately, Radhika failed in her high school exams which put a stop to her educational prospects. Nevertheless, she took up vocational sewing classes and soon got a job at the women’s skill development centre. Besides sewing clothes for customers she also started training other women. She earned a salary of

five thousand rupees a month from which she saved enough to buy two sewing machines. That was the beginning of her entrepreneurial venture. She set up New Radhika Boutique and Tailoring Shop in one of the busiest streets of Itahari. Radhika’s determination and hard work paid off and her business proved to be successful. She was able to take care of her parents and send her two younger brothers to school. Radhika fell in love with and married the man of her choice. At that moment in her life, Radhika felt that she had everything in life that she could possibly wish for. But, her happiness was short-lived and her life took a dramatic turn. While she was still in hospital recuperating from the birth of her second daughter, her neighbours brought her news of her husband bringing home a new wife. Radhika was in a dilemma as to whether to believe them or not. Though she was distressed by the news, she chose to handle the matter with dignity and started planning in her head as to what she would do if her husband had indeed brought home another wife. Soon a young girl came to visit her in the hospital. She introduced herself as Radhika’s ‘younger sister’ meaning that she was her husband’s new wife. Radhika calmly told her that she had the choice of walking away that very moment for a better life or if she really wanted to stay she would have to adhere to Radhika’s conditions. Blinded by ‘love’, the new wife was willing to accept any conditions.

“Radhika’s determination and hard work paid off and her business proved to be successful. She was able to take care of her parents and send her two younger brothers to school.” Radhika’s condition was that the new wife would be responsible for taking care of the house, meals, the children and in-laws while Radhika focused on developing her skills and business. Strange as it might seem, this arrangement became the unwritten


law between them. Soon Radhika entrusted the new wife with all household responsibilities and focused on completing her studies and building up her new business, Radhika’s Handicraft. Radhika’s Handicraft promotes local products made by encouraging local artistic skills. An interesting aspect of her business is that she utilizes plastic waste to create beautiful and colourful baskets and decoration pieces. Along with her business, Radhika initiated Taleju saving and credit financial institution to encourage women to save and start their own businesses leading to financial independence. Radhika’s Handicrafts also provides skills development training to women and youth to enable them to become economically independent. The training programs vary from sewing, cooking, to driving and plumbing. Radhika is also a member of the Federation of Nepalese Chamber of Commerce’s women’s committee Itahari branch. Radhika’s organization further provides counselling services and shelter to battered women. An example of the support the organization is providing and the change that it has made possible can be found in the story of Sita*(name changed). Sita was abandoned by her traffic police husband after her health began to deteriorate. She herself believed that she would soon die. She reached out to Radhika for help where she received physical and emotional treatment regaining both her health and dignity. She further received microbus driver’s training and soon was driving public microbuses on the roads of Itahari. As fate would have it, Sita used to drive several times a day past

the traffic junction where her husband was on traffic duty. Sita’s new role drove her husband to ask for her forgiveness and to be back together with her. Radhika feels exasperated that Sita decided to go back to her husband!

“Through all the ups and downs in her life, Radhika doesn’t hesitate to break into a song or a dance whenever there is a celebration of any kind. ‘An open mind, a loving heart and a positive outlook are what keep life moving. I believe in solving problems amicably rather than by confrontation’, says Radhika.” Through all the ups and downs in her life, Radhika doesn’t hesitate to break into a song or a dance whenever there is a celebration of any kind. ‘An open mind, a loving heart and a positive outlook are what keep life moving. I believe in solving problems amicably rather than by confrontation’, says Radhika. She believes in and propagates economic independence as the key to women empowerment in Nepal.

Celebrating women


Laxmi Timilsina

Organic Farmer, Rayale Village, Kavre

he is recognized as a leader in the field of organic farming in Kavre. Out of the 13 groups that received training in organic farming in 2001 from Nari Chetan Kendra, she was the first one to implement her knowledge and skills and produce results. Her only exposure to education was at an adult literacy class. Today she trains farmers in IPM farming techniques teaching farmers ecologically friendly mediums on pest control including modification of cultural practices. She is busy mentoring environment, organic farming training and developmental activities. She further teaches them to test saplings and products especially focusing on organic wastes. She believes that economic empowerment earns you love and respect. She is Laxmi Timilsina from Rayale Village of Kavre District in East Nepal. Laxmi was married off at the age of 13 in exchange for her brother’s wife. At that time, it was the practice to exchange sons and daughters between two homes to avoid dowry that is common in Brahmin and Chettri families. Laxmi was the second youngest sibling of five children. Her family was quite comfortably off and the only responsibility she had was to take care of her younger sister as her parents and elder brothers went out to work in the fields. For Laxmi being married into a large family of 15 was the start of a difficult life. Laxmi soon discovered she was expected to do all the chores in the house. Laxmi’s husband, Arjun was the middle son among 3 brothers. Arjun’s brothers were educated and had jobs that brought in a regular salary whereas he depended on the small plot of land that the family owned that barely enabled him to eke out a living. Laxmi was thus given more household chores

and each day was a cycle of toil from early morning to late at night. Laxmi was never appreciated by her husband’s family despite rising with the dawn to complete cleaning, cooking, fetching water, searching for firewood and fodder for the cattle and tending the animals. Eventually her father-in-law divided the family property amongst his sons. Even in this matter Arjun had very little say and it was no surprise that when the property was being divided, Arjun and Laxmi were given the worst plot of land that was located on a cliff and subject to landslides. When Laxmi asked to be given something better, her father-in-law stated that women should not question decisions made by her elders. Laxmi, her husband and two small children were now forced to live on their own. They had an old house as shelter above their heads. It was difficult to survive as the small plot of literally useless land sustained the family for a mere three months. Arjun borrowed Rs. 25000 and went to India in search of work and in hope of a better life. He worked in a cable shop for a short while but fell ill and came back within ten months bringing back only Rs. 7,000/- with him. This too was immediately seized from him by the person who had lent him the money. Both Laxmi and Arjun had to toil for years to pay back the remaining amount. In the meantime, Laxmi had to fend for herself and her two young children from whatever she could grow on her small plot and forage for firewood in the forest both to cook and to sell. One day she noticed that the rice seedlings she had recently planted were yellow and wilting in the hot May sun. She went to a nearby shop to buy a kilo of urea that was commonly used to fertilize fields. The fertilizer cost Rs. 18 (18 cents) but Laxmi did not even have that much cash in

hand. The shop owner refused to give Laxmi the fertilizer and told her to come back when she had the cash. Laxmi was aghast that she did not even have Rs. 18 worth of credibility. Increasing expenses and lack of money to buy seed and fertilizer had been weighing heavily on Laxmi’s mind. The incident at the shop broke her completely and she contemplated committing suicide for three days in a row. Ultimately the thought of her young children stopped her from doing so. She resolved that she would do whatever she could to come out of this situation. Coincidentally, around that time the Women’s Awareness Centre (Naari Chetana Kendra) were visiting villages to invite women to join in training programs in organic vegetable farming methods. They eventually came to Rayale. It seemed as though Laxmi was being offered the opportunity of a lifetime. The initial training was held at the village itself that Laxmi attended with great fervor. She was further motivated to attend a training at the nearby town of Banepa. Since she had no money she walked two hours daily to Panuati and then took the bus to Banepa. Her youngest brother and parents supported her with the bus fare from Panuti to Banepa. At the end of the 24 days training,


Laxmi understood that she would no longer have to face another humiliating incident for not having cash. She learnt that she could prepare whatever fertilizer she needed from the waste materials around her home. The very first task she undertook was to cut bamboo to build small huts that would help in the preparation of composting. Cutting bamboo was considered a male domain and it was believed that misfortune would strike the household if a woman cut bamboo. Even Laxmi’s normally complacent husband rebuked her for daring to cut bamboo. But she went on about her business not responding to anyone or any reproach. Eventually he started helping her to carry the bamboo back to their land. In 2004, Nari Chetan Kendra carried out a survey on who had performed best from among the farmers they had trained in 12 districts. Laxmi’s name was among the top ten. When asked to vote for the best one, Laxmi was unanimously voted as the best performing farmer. As an incentive to her Nari Chetana Kendra installed a water tank in her house that was connected to a nearby water source. She was also asked to be an active member and trainer at the Krishi Bikas Karyalaya (Agriculture Development Office) through which she started giving agro related training and also started earning Rs. 75/per training. In 2006 she trained in IPM – Integrated Pest Management that emphasized the growth of a

healthy crop and encouraged natural pest control mechanisms. She got the chance to share her new found knowledge as a trainer not only within her own district but in other districts of Nepal too. The Vegetable farming techniques she learnt prepared her to propagate cauliflower seedlings. Cauliflowers had always been purchased from the nearby town of Bhaktapur and the rest of the village did not think it was possible to plant them on the kind of land they lived in. Laxmi decided that she would propagate and grow cauliflowers on her land. One day whilst she was preparing the seedlings, an elderly woman poked fun at her efforts and asked if Laxmi’s cauliflower would grow from the top or the roots. Laxmi who was determined to make a success of the cauliflower farming presented the first cauliflower that she grew complete with root and leaves to this woman who expressed her appreciation of Laxmi’s grit and determination. Moreover, as she had only used the organic farming method, Laxmi was able to sell her products for a higher price than of those from Bhaktapur. Thus began Laxmi’s path to success. She acquired skills in animal husbandry, smokeless stoves, alternative energy and cooperative management. Her trainings, skills and experiences in addition to her outgoing nature and ability to communicate helped her become a trainer and resource person. To date she has

trained 16 cooperative groups in IPM Farming techniques both in her own community and the surrounding areas of Sindhupalchowk, Makwanpur, Kavre and Kathmandu.

“Laxmi Timilsina has risen from the quagmire of poverty and humiliation to being the pride of her village. Today she is the champion of change leading through example.” Laxmi Timilsina has risen from the quagmire of poverty and humiliation to being the pride of her village. Today she is the champion of change leading through example. Vegetable farming has become popular and organic farming methods have been adopted by many of her community. The villagers’ share they are self-sustained for food and earn more enabling them to send their children to school. Laxmi’s vegetable farm is considered a model of success and visitors from Bhutan, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan have visited her farm to learn from her experiences and see the changes she has brought to her village. Today she is the Chairperson of 3 committees and organizations that include Rayale Women Development Committee and Champa Devi Community. She is an active member of 11 groups where she conducts regular training programs on IPM, organic farming and environmental conservation. She is also in the school management committee of the local Kusha Devi High School. Furthermore, she has received primary health care training from Red Cross which she practices and teaches to other members. At a personal level, her husband is now an active partner in farming. Her success enabled her to educate her children. She continues to inspire with her life and works.

Celebrating women

Gyani Shova Tuladhar


Founder/Principal, Namuna College of Fashion Technolog

opularly acknowledged as the first lady of fashion in Nepal, Gyani Shova Tuladhar’s professional and personal journey are both extraordinary. She believes in the fact that one’s profession or area of work should not categorize people as being great or small. There was a time in Nepal when stitching clothes was specifically considered the work of a specific (lower) caste. Gyani Shova had never imagined that this field would make her a household name and that she would create history. Gyani Shova was born and raised in a large extended family of simple means. Even as a child she wished to contribute towards the household income. Whilst in the 4th grade she picked and sold her neighbour’s spinach and green mustards for which she was paid a nominal amount. She made gundruk (a popular fermented Nepali greens) out of the leftover greens and sold it outside her house which earned her the name of gundruk maiya (girl selling gundruk). She learnt stitching from her mother and she would assist her mother and elder brother in stitching clothes while still in school. Gyani’s hometown Khichapokhari today boasts some of the biggest shops, department stores and malls in Nepal. It was completely different when she was a little girl. There was no running water in homes and the women had to fetch water from a local water tap waiting in line for a long time for their turn. Gyani used to place her pot in line asking her friends to push it forward as the line moved. She would then run to Juju Bhai Tailors, a nearby tailoring shop and help them to heat the

Tulsi Meher Shrestha encouraged her to study the subject. Upon his recommendation and efforts Gyani Shova joined the Zarapakar Tailoring College (Now Zarapkar College of Fashion) in Mumbai, India in 1969, under a scholarship awarded by the Indian Embassy. She excelled in the Specialization courses of male and female garment and earned her Merit in Art and Science of Tailoring and Cutting under the Board of Maharashtra.

iron with the use of charcoals and press clothes and sew buttons on shirts for which she would be paid some amount. She would then run back to the water tap just in time to fill her pot. Gyani Shova saved her earnings and at times gave it to poor students to buy school supplies. By the time she completed school she had mastered the art of sewing sari blouses. She started designing and stitching blouses, petticoats, frocks for the women and girls of her neighbourhood at a lesser price than others. Soon word about Gyani Shova’s skill in sewing blouses and other items that were stylish and comfortable to wear spread from word to mouth and she continued working from home as she began receiving orders. Gyani Shova’s primary clients were students of her college, Padma Kanya College who ordered fashionable sari blouses. She began to earn well and felt that her true calling lay in fashion designing. She started taking orders for dresses from all over town. Seeing her skill in designing and stitching, noted social worker of the time and an acquaintance, Late

“Even as a child she wished to contribute towards the household income.” Armed with her new knowledge and skills Gyani Shova formally opened a tailoring store in her home in 1971 with a single pair of scissors, cutting board, sewing machine, measuring tape and an iron. She later named the store “Namuna Silai” (Namuna meaning model, Silai meaning stitching) after her marriage. She shares that her husband was instrumental in choosing the name for her and the word “Namuna” would go on to become her synonym. During the 70’s only the royalty and the very rich wore designer clothes. These were ordered from Calcutta and Mumbai. When Gyani Shova started designing fashionable designer wear in Kathmandu, she attracted this group of clients to her shop which included members of the former royal family, high ranking diplomats, movie stars, celebrities, and the who’s who of Nepal. She also made it possible and affordable for the public to be able to dress in the latest fashion. Around a decade later she would


establish Vesh Vusha Boutique, another well known name in fashion in Nepal. Gyani Shova received her first break in movies as fashion/costume designer in the 1980’s Nepali blockbuster Sindoor. The Director of the film was Late Prakash Thapa who from then onwards hired Gyani Shova as the Costume Designer for almost all of his films. More than 75 Nepali movies have used her skills as a Costume Designer. She also assisted the Costume Designer for the Hollywood film “The Night Train to Kathmandu” and was the Costume Designer for the French production “Yeti – The Call of the Abominable Snow Man.” Her designs found place in Nepali, Pakistani and Bangladeshi joint venture films. She also designed uniforms for top banks, hotels, airlines and other organizations, participated in shows domestic and abroad, and received numerous awards and all these she withdrew into herself. honours. She was ultimately diagnosed with Ocular Myasthenia Gravis in 2000. “She made it possible and Working and interacting with people affordable for the public to started becoming extremely difficult for her; treatment for her condition was be able to dress in the expensive. But Gyani Shova did not give up. She shares how her belief latest fashion.” in the power of positivity kept her going and helped her overcome the As a strong believer in the situation. Her staff stood by her in beauty and power of sharing, she this hour of need and only took half would establish Namuna Institute their salary to enable her to undergo of Technology (NIT) in 1997, treatment. which is most probably Nepal’s first It was during this difficult period and professional training school to offer against all conventional thinking that career and employment oriented she decided on fulfilling her lifelong short term Diploma/Crash courses dream of establishing a fashion in various aspects of fashion and college in Nepal. She took out a clothing construction. This fulfilled her bank loan and endeavoured to start strong craving to share her knowledge a fashion college. Overcoming many and skills for the social and economic obstacles, she approached Purbanchal upliftment of others. Just when she University whose officials were very was feeling like she had it all, Gyani receptive towards her proposal Shova started developing symptoms of establishing a fashion college. of body swelling, dizziness and Thus, in 2002 Namuna College of heaviness of the eye. She could not Fashion Technology (NCFT), Nepal’s bear to look into bright light. Due to firstFashion College to offer Bachelors

education in Fashion came into being as an affiliate of Purbanchal University, Biratnagar, Nepal. From starting out with only seven students, the college currently has more than 300 students and has produced hundreds of fashion designers who are doing well for themselves nationally and internationally. The success/achievements of the college and its graduates over the years have consolidated its status as the veritable pioneer and the pre-eminent name in academic fashion education in the country. Amidst all her struggles, Gyani Shova faced another blow in the form of being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. She did not know if she would survive and pre-poned her son’s wedding before her surgery. She did not want to alarm her family and only informed her sister on the day of her surgery. She stayed calm and gave the impression of being all right to her children. After the surgery she was admitted to the Bharatpur Cancer Hospital for Radio Therapy. People from all walks of life came to the hospital and Gyani Shova interacted with the patients and their families helping those in need of emotional support. She taught poor families to make soup out of leaves and stalks of discarded vegetables. She also encouraged the patients to focus on the vibration of the word, ‘Om’ and work at self-healing through meditation. Gyani Shova further shared her belief in the power of concentrating in the red rays of the sun in the early hours of the morning and the rays of a full moon in the evening. Today Gyani Shova is not only a successful entrepreneur and Founder of the first and largest fashion college in Nepal but is a real life example of how one can face and overcome anything in life equipped with positive thoughts and actions. She is a truly inspirational woman.

Celebrating women

Chameli Waiba Social Mobilizer, Makwanpur and always spared two hours for the evening classes for six months no matter how tiring her daily schedule. She was a quick learner and within a short span of time was reading and writing with ease. The first books she got access to were religious scriptures. She used to carry her note book along with her even to the fields. Today, at 44 years old Chameli is a social worker, entrepreneur, educationist and community leader in Makwanpur. Had it not been for that one moment when she made the decision to step inside the adult literacy class; her life would probably have been spent in abject poverty and blaming fate and destiny for her misery. Belonging to an extremely poor family, Chameli’s entire childhood was spent in household chores and caring for her younger siblings. She never dreamt of going to school even though it was located nearby. No one around her gave much thought about educating girls and she also grew up thinking that education was not important for girls. She was married off at the age of 13 to a boy of her village but was abandoned by him the very next year. He took on another wife blaming Chameli’s lengthy recovery from injuries she had sustained from a fall when she slipped from a steep ledge. ne evening in 1994, 21 year old Chameli led a life of drudgery for almost ten years Chameli Waiba of Tashar village of after being abandoned. She describes that phase in Makwanpur was returning home from her life as being unclear and aimless like the nearby the nearby forest with fodder for the Tashar river in the monsoon. Through her newfound cattle. She saw a group of women awareness and confidence developed at the adult attending evening classes at the local village school. literacy class, Chameli felt motivated to change her life Chameli joined them the following evening out of for the better. She did not wish to do so for personal curiosity little realizing that the decision would forever change the course of her life. When the teacher wrote gains alone and wished to see change in the lives of women and children in her village. She started her name on the blackboard she understood how teaching others in the same classroom where she was her name should be spelt and what it meant. Up till once a student. She got to understand the importance that time she was used to be called ‘Chamili’. She of registering as a Nepali citizen. When she turned to understood the beauty of her own name ‘Chameli’ meaning jasmine, the fragrance spreading flower. She her in-laws for help they did not support her. So she returned to her maternal home from where she started was captivated by the magic of her own name and the new chapter of her life. wrote and rewrote her name all night long. She felt that if three Nepali alphabets could introduce her to the Education had changed Chameli’s world and she wished to share the benefits of education with others. meaning of her name, she would be able to find the She wished for the children of her village to have meaning of her life if she could get to know all the access to attend school. The river Tashar did not have letters. She felt highly motivated to continue learning



a bridge and this had been a major hurdle year after year for children to get to school on the other side of the river during the monsoon season. She saw the need to construct a bridge for the children to be able to attend school come hail or storm. When Chameli first discussed her idea about constructing a bridge upon Tashar, the villagers thought she was out of her mind and made fun of her. But Chameli stood firm on her convictions and laboriously started working step by step towards collecting the necessary equipment and funds. She approached each and every one that she knew for help. Slowly but surely, she was successful in collecting material and voluntary labour for the construction of the bridge. Chameli’s dream of building a bridge over the Tasar river came true and till today she cannot contain her joy at seeing children run across the river to school on the steel bridge of her dreams. Chameli’s grit and commitment set an example for all to believe that if they wished to see change they would have to take the steps that led towards change.

“Education makes life more meaningful, not beauty or property. Prior to the adult literacy class I had never seen life beyond poverty and difficulties. Education totally changed me and the way I live my life.” Building the bridge of her dreams was just the beginning of a long list of positive changes that Chameli brought into the village. Her dream of opening a public library in the village also came true. She initiated and popularized smokeless cooking stoves. Informal education classes were conducted in the village on a regular basis with more than 100 women gaining access to education. The women also get opportunities to attend skill development training programs. Chameli shares, “I forget my struggles and difficult times when I see women engaged in income generation activities and are able to finance homes for themselves and send their children to school.”

Chameli is highly regarded as a change leader, social worker and visionary of her village. She was the first choice for the position of Chief of the newly registered water and sanitation project. After taking additional training on animal husbandry, farming and tailoring, Chameli initiated training classes on the topic in her village. She initiated and promoted five women’s savings and cooperative. She has included every sector related to development such as education, health, cooperative, community forest development in her plan for progress. A strong believer of team work, Chameli credits Palunga Multi Cooperative Ltd for supporting her constantly in her endeavours. She is engaged in organic farming in Bajrabarahi and wishes to establish it as a model VDC. She wants to see every person in her village become literate. She is also a strong promoter of safe motherhood and health facilities to prevent infant mortality. The forty four year old lady also composes songs and often prefers to express herself through her songs.

“Chameli is highly regarded as a change leader, social worker and visionary of her village.” The struggles and difficulties she has gone through in life has led to her frail health. But her spirit remains rock solid and strong. She has forever concentrated on the well-being of others living on very meagre terms. She says, “Education makes life more meaningful, not beauty or property. Prior to the adult literacy class I had never seen life beyond poverty and difficulties. Education totally changed me and the way I live my life.”

Celebrating women

Renchin Yonjan


enchin Yonjan’s life is filled with creative plans and designs that include a vast sphere of activities that range from coaching and monitoring enterprise development for rural women in mid west Nepal; organizing an artistic memorialization event to share stories of women survivors of the decade long conflict in Nepal; designing home interiors and gardens as well as evaluating the impacts of projects in Nepal. At 67, Renchin exudes the passion and energy of a youngster who is just starting the journey of her life. She spent her formative years as a child with her maternal grandparents in Kalimpong, studying at the small town’s best school St. Joseph’s Convent. She completed her schooling in 1966 and interned as a kindergarten teacher in 1967. In November 1967 Renchin traveled to Kathmandu to meet her mother. Very quickly Renchin realized there were opportunities for those who had a convent education! Using her newly acquired teaching skills, she began teaching at St. Xavier’s school. Little did she realize that she was destined to meet her life partner on the very first day of her starting work at the school! Gopal Yonjan, a popular music composer was studying at Tribhuvan University and working part time as music teacher at St. Xavier’s. The young, good-looking composer fell in love with the beautiful 18 year old and quickly swept her off her feet by courting her with his poetry and music. Renchin and Gopal married less

Social Architect than a year later and Renchin soon learnt to balance marriage, motherhood and a career that she refused to give up. In January 1974 Renchin decided to change her career for a more challenging one and joined International Trekkers, a private company that organized trekking and expeditions in the Nepal Himalaya. Her childhood had been filled with weekend picnics and hunting expeditions with her grandfather who would pack off Renchin and her sister and cousins in his land rover to fish at the Teesta river or hunt for deer and wild boar. She experienced the thrill of adventure and learnt to appreciate silence when her grandfather and his friends’ cast their fishing lines or waited quietly in the dark for animals to come out of their lair. This childhood experience was to play a pivotal role in helping her to organize trips that clients would cherish.

“At 67, Renchin exudes the passion and energy of a youngster who is just starting the journey of her life.” Her work as Operations Manager at the trekking agency put her in touch with the developed world and their way of thinking, more remarkably their ability to ask

questions. In 1985 she established her own trekking company Treks & Expedition Services. Clients to this date remember the special trips she organized that offered opportunities to meet religious heads or writers, musicians and artists over dinner at her home. Women clients found themselves conversing with Nepali businesswomen or housewives. She seemed to have an eternal list of things clients could do in addition to the regular trekking, rafting or sightseeing that other travel agencies offered. In 1987 she joined a group of friends to establish WEAN (Women Entrepreneurs Association of Nepal). She became the first Vice President of the organization working closely with the President Yangzi Sherpa who was an incredible businesswoman. Renchin devoted her energies to coming up with creative trainings and activities to encourage women to participate in the process of industrialization. WEAN was followed by the establishment of WEAN Cooperative where Renchin played a significant role in training housewives to


make varieties of pickles that is to date marketed under the brand name Navaraas. This is the single product that helps to sustain WEAN Cooperative to this date. Renchin also introduced a range of other products including the packaging of Kwati, baby sweaters and clothing. Renchin further helped to develop Dhaka products utilizing the art of weaving from the villages of east Nepal. She designed and developed a product line of furnishings that included sheer curtains, tablecloths and table linen. This desire of housewives wanting to become entrepreneurs led to the realization that credit support was required for women who had no collateral other than her skills. At this stage it was decided to establish a microcredit program for which Renchin brought in the first financial support through the Women Entrepreneurs Development in Tourism project. The Micro Credit program has grown in strength and WEAN members are currently in the process of registering a Micro Finance Bank. Renchin constantly searched for new business opportunities. She remembers ordering a bouquet of lilies as a thank you gift for the then American ambassador Julia Chang. To her horror, the beautiful bouquet she had visualized turned out to be a few wilting flowers and junipers tied with string. She resolved to train women to set up florist shops around the city. To make this dream a reality, Renchin worked voluntarily with FAN (Floriculture Association of Nepal) to organize large scale exhibitions; participated in Trade Fairs to promote floriculture products and even demonstrated the art of floriculture of Nepal at Hana Ranman, an annual floricultural

event in Osaka, Japan. She was invited to become a member of USAID’s Economic Liberalization Project that comprised of economists and industrialists. She was responsible for promoting the benefits of competitive markets. During this period, she learnt the subtle differences in decision making by men and women. Renchin worked with her husband on several significant musical projects. Geet Manjari (Song Buds) a book of Nepali songs for 6 to 10 year old children is one notable example. Gopal’s death in 1997 led Renchin to question herself about the next phase of her life. At this critical juncture of her life she was asked by the Mayor of Kathmandu to join his team in building a new metropolis that was guided by the philosophy “My heritage, my pride, my Kathmandu.” Renchin delved into designing and creating small gardens in various parts of the city and the people of Kathmandu suffering from the effects of pollution and stinking piles of garbage on the streets welcomed this initiative. Renchin soon became a familiar figure that could be seen planting trees and flowers by the road. She cherishes the memory of a young man rushing to present her a thank you card for beautifying the city and another man who saluted her as he drove by one of the

gardens. To date people ask her when she is going to plant the next public garden. BABA (Children and Environment) city volunteers program, Chitika, the weekly environmental radio program and Sanjeevani – a radio program focusing on women empowerment and health are some of Renchin’s successful concepts to instill the passion and love for beautiful environments and encourage children to be part of the initiative. Renchin discovered a new career for herself as Cultural Consultant for Eco Himal from 2002 to 2005 and later the Embassy of Denmark from 2006 to 2012. During the course of this consultancy Renchin worked with filmmakers, painters, theatre actors, musicians, photographers, dancers and choreographers. This helped Renchin to rediscover her innate artistic abilities and passion for experimenting and design. She is currently working with Mahila Sahayatra Micro Finance Bank to develop enterprises in the mid-west region of Nepal. Renchin believes that creating beautiful environments is necessary to nurture creative and positive thinking. She credits her confidence and belief in herself to her upbringing where she never learnt the word impossible or faced gender discrimination as a girl.

Celebrating women

Afterword: One major challenge especially in Nepal and South Asia is that ‘women empowerment’ and ‘gender sensitivity’ are understood by the general public as terminologies or ‘toolkits’ to tackle gender based violence and issues related to it rather than the end result. Celebrating Womanhood targets to clarify the mis-conception via real life examples of positive change brought about by women. It is important to note and acknowledge that Celebrating Womanhood has re-defined the meaning of leadership. The identified women have touched all aspects of our lives; professionally, personally and socially. They have managed to break the myth of being the weaker sex. They have proven that despite being much less in number in key positions of power, women today can bring about social, political and economic change. Their exemplary stories have the power to impact the way we view women empowerment and can be taken as guidelines to design future strategies for women’s personal and professional development at local, national, regional and international levels. The general practice in approaching women’s issues is focused on identifying problems, creating a data base on the problems identified and advocating the need for change. The different aspects and elements of change are not identified or highlighted further in the form of achievable actions and outcomes but are more of recommendations and amendments especially targeted to concerned authorities and organizations. One major component that seems to be left out is highlighting outcomes and changes at the ground level. Yes, the various women’s movements and acts are to be credited with the change brought about in policies and awareness level regarding gender equality. The time has come to build on the impacts of activism and advocacy and shift the focus to implementing plans and programs. In the process of presenting these stories, crucial factors such as social surroundings, cultural beliefs, economic and geographical factors play a pivotal role. The role of family and community members, particularly male members play a key role in some of the women’s lives. We believe that these inspiring stories represent the changing faces and roles of the South Asian women. These women are real life examples of change that has been advocated by national and international organizations working for women and human rights. While being indicators of positive change, their examples can guide us on what further steps need to be taken. The stories bulid upon the previous work by Sara and Kay, whereby they supported 30 women being interviewed as part of a link they had with Padman Kanta campus. The women were interviewed based on suggestions from locals with many of them being identified as the first women to achieve a goal, such as the district development officer or the first female tempo driver. Others were identified for the contributions they were making to a number of areas from running orphanages or old people’s homes to being inspirational journalists. These inteviews can be see by clicking on the image below:



Renchin Yonjan: Chanda Bista: Cheyenne Hansen: Ahimsa Yonjan: Rajan Parajuli: Radio Nepal

Interviews in Nepali: Chanda Bista: Haridevi Koirala, Laxmi Timilsina, Maya Thakuri, Ramdevi Tamang, Nisha Sharma Pokhrel, Chameli Waiba Ramkala Khadka: Indira Rana Magar, Keshari Thapa Rana, Sarita Mishra, Tripta Lungeli Magar, Sita Pokhrel Durga Lamichhane: Doma Poudyal, Sumitra Manandhar Gurung, Kalpana Karki Laxmi Bhandari: Gyani Shova Tuladhar, Menuka Thapa, Gulab Devi Ram Laxmi Basnet: Pema Sherpa, Zubeda Khatun Loksari Kunwar: Nirmala Bagchand Coordination and Follow-up Interviews: Shrijana Singh Yonjan Audio interviews: Chanda Bista – Ajaka Nari Photo Source: Private archive of the featured female heroes/Celebrating Womanhood Photo Editor: Rajiv Shrestha Layout Design: Cheyenne Hansen Linked radio clips: Radio Nepal

SSY Creations has partnered with Liverpool John Moore University (LJMU) to compile and present these powerful and motivational stories as study material for interested institutions across the globe.

Inspiring positive change through real life inspirational stories

Š ssy creations

Celebrating women who inspire positive change  
Celebrating women who inspire positive change  

An online book to highlight work being done by inspirational women in Nepal by Sara Parker and Shrijana Singh Yonjan (2018)