In July 2021, Lily Katuwal, co-Founder of our Kathmandu-based social enterprise, Lily's Leaves, visited Sarlahi District. This is one of the eight Districts that lie within our main operational area of Province 2, southeast Nepal. Sarlahi can feel like a very different part of Nepal - shockingly so - to an outsider, including to a visitor from Kathmandu valley, like Lily.
Sarlahi has a population of around 770,000, its main economic claims to fame being growing tomatoes and producing sugar from sugar cane. The District's principal religions are Hindu (85%), Islam (10%) and Buddhism (3%). Interestingly, only 12% of the population speaks Nepali as a first language, with 49% speaking Bajjika and 21% Maithili. Some 36% speak Hindi as their second language and 21% Nepali. This is one reason why Lily's visit is so important, as she was identifying vulnerable young women who could benefit from six months' residential training on a Lily's Leaves basic tailoring course in Kathmandu. With language and citizenship limitations, these women would have no chance of accessing high-quality vocational training at other Kathmandu valley centres.
Lily was intrigued on one hand, stunned on the other. Her perspective, shared with me by e-mail was as follows:
"There's no proper school and actually there's no education system for girls. There's no toilet, no safety for girls, there's no rights for girls. Even for this training their family decide if they will go for it or not. Girls have no right to decide their own life. There's no proper food, no proper clothes, no education even where they are doing farming that land does not belong to them. I don't think children who grow up here have a good future, they haven't seen anything and they have no idea where Kathmandu is. I really want to learn more about this community and why these things are happening."
It is small wonder that these girls and women are so vulnerable to Gender-Based-Violence (GBV), including rape, and to being trafficked across the open border into India.
A Province 2 social worker, Mr Pachu Mahji, accompanied Lily, using his close knowledge of the community to help Lily identify suitable candidates. The response from the women was enthusiastic, particularly so now that suspicions have been allayed by the knowledge that some women from Province 2 have already successfully completed the course earlier this year. In fact, at least two of them wish to return to Lily's Leaves for the follow-on six months' advanced tailoring course.
Lily had hoped to find ten new students to start next week, to join the ten students from Kathmandu valley itself who started training this week. In the end, 14 women from Sarlahi have asked to be considered, meaning that we will need to create extra bed spaces and purchase additional sewing machines and materials. Quite possibly, this number might reduce over the coming few days, but we are keen to give them all a chance.
Residential training for one young woman for six months costs the following in Nepalese rupees:
- Return travel = 10,000 - including for a mid-term break at the 3-month point
- Clothes = 3,000 - women will need warm/culturally appropriate clothing for Kathmandu
- Medical care = 6,000
- Travel and recreation = 1,500 - this includes outings within Kathmandu to explore this exciting city
- Stipend and training allowance = 30,000 - we empower women during training with a training allowance for living expenses
- Training materials = 15,000
- Sewing machine = 12,500 - that the trainee keeps on completion of training so that they can earn an income upon returning to their village
- Rent = 15,000
- Operating cost of women's hostel = 6,500
- Staff salary of training = 15,000
- Bedding = 18,000
This comes to a total of NPR132,500 which is approximately £850.
During the visit, Lily distributed 158 packs of five "dignity-pads" (reusable sanitary pads) to girls and young women that will help them live their lives and reduce absenteeism/drop-outs from school. As a win-win outcome, these pads are being made by women who are producing these at Lily's Leaves. But Lily observed that women from these communities even lack any clothes, so we will see how we can address this need in the future. The answer seems to be to train the future trainers who can operate a satellite tailoring training/production centre in Province 2 itself. This will be a much more cost-effective approach to training girls and women in these poor communities. At present, the necessary trainer skills just can't be sourced locally. But let's hope we can launch this project next year.
Finally, if you can help us with meeting the costs of one woman for six months, do let us know, as we are now faced with a need that exceeds our budget. Lily met with one 18-year-old woman from the extremely marginalised Musahar ("rat-eater") "untouchable" community whose mother was particularly keen that she seize this opportunity towards independent living. The woman had to drop out of school at Class 3 level, due to the financial and other reasons that conspire against girls' prospects in south Nepal. We can do something about that. If you can become a sponsor we would be very happy to keep you informed on her progress. Just email me if you would like to know more.