10 years ago, Lal Maya Tamang says, she could not have imagined her life today, as a respected elder stateswoman of a local women’s group. From her mud brick patio, she points out the view of her rainbow-colored vegetable plot where she grows leafy greens, squash, oranges, and corn.
And there on the hillside below her one-room thatched-roof cottage, she keeps her 4 goats. The first 2 were purchased with a loan she has repaid.
A group of 19 women, the Kurilo Women’s Society, sit on woven mats listening to Lal Maya speak about the importance of savings. Lal Maya proudly hands over her monthly savings to the group’s treasurer, her neighbor, who records the amount in a book: 50 Nepalese Rupees, around 75 cents. This is the average amount they save each month.
Lal Maya, 54, lives with her husband and their 9 year-old son in Nuwakot, an hour’s drive from Kathmandu. She and her husband moved here 10 years ago. Their job was to build retaining walls.
One day the contractor abandoned them owing them months of back pay. They were stranded. They settled by the side of the road, taking other meagerly paying jobs to survive.
But life for Lal Maya is no longer about mere survival. For the last 3 years, Lal Maya and the 19 women in the Kurilo Women’s Society have been providing each other with small loans to invest in income-generating activities.
Standard microfinance institutions usually exclude membership to women over 50, considering them not able-bodied enough. Her son, who was born with severe development delays, is completely dependent on her, as is her husband who was recently blinded by cataracts. Since the loan funds in Lal Maya’s group come completely from group members themselves, they set the rules; women like Lal Maya, who are the sole supporters of their families, are welcome to join.
The Kurilo Women’s Society also participated in ASHA’s sustainable agriculture training that includes free seeds and tree saplings to get members started. Their crop yields have been very good. They eat more nutritious food and sell the excess produce to a group of vendors who travel from Kathmandu. The women have also learned how to naturally preserve their own seeds, saving them costly treks to the city.
This year, the women pooled their money and purchased a plot of land. They requested, and received, a grant from the district council for a crop storage warehouse to facilitate wholesale marketing of their crops.
Lal Maya is longer dependent on an unscrupulous employer. She’s engaged in the community. She has an income, better food, and is better equipped to take care of her family. And with each passing month, she becomes an ever-savvier businesswoman. Lal Maya’s crops are thriving, and so is she.
Give to support groups like Lal Maya’s through March 27, 2009 and your donation will be matched. This year, 2 more groups are set to start their work.
An interesting project underway in Nepal is ASHA’s mushroom-growing initiative. Since mushrooms can be grown inside the home, mushroom-growing can be practiced by even landless farmers and older people who may not be physically able to grow other types of crops. After some small-scale farmers expressed interest in the project, ASHA organized a 3-day-long training in organic oyster mushroom production. 33 women farmers from 4 different groups participated in the training.
To sharpen farmers’ knowledge and understandings of mushroom farming, a day trip was organized to visit a mushroom farm in the nearby municipality of Banepa. All 33 women participated in the excursion where they had the opportunity to see mushroom farming in action and learn about different methods and techniques. The trip also provided a valuable opportunity for the participants to interact with the farmers and share their experiences. ASHA staff also advised the women on how to best market their products at the local market in Banepa.
ASHA also facilitated a 1-day training to 67 women members of 3 groups, including the mushroom farmers, on the importance of eating a balanced diet, especially for children and pregnant women, and the nutritional value of various crops and fruits. Mushrooms are a great crop for these small scale-scale farmers to grow because not only are they nutritious but they are profitable and relatively easy to grow.
ASHA recently sponsored a permaculture training for 28 lead farmers selected from 3 of the ASHA women groups. The training was facilitated by an expert on permaculture design, who followed findings from a feasibility study of permaculture principles in the Okarpauwa community. In addition to the formal training in Okharpauwa, the participants visited a model permaculture farm to sharpen their knowledge and understanding. Following the training, many women are practicing seed exchange, improving terrace, constructing run off channels, farmyard management (FYM), and other key permaculture principals.
Women from the ASHA-supported Kurilo Group inspired the formation of a new group!
Members of the Kurilo group traveled to the Padeni community in the Nuwakot district of Nepal to share their learning from ASHA trainings on group management, and, as a result, the women in Padeni decided to form their own group. With ASHA’s assistance, the Padeni Tamang Women’s Group is now up and running with 21 members, bringing the total number of ASHA-supported women to 91 in four groups.
As part of ASHA’s sustainable agriculture program they train women on how to make manure, collect animal urine, make herbal insecticides. They are given seeds and fruit saplings for their kitchen gardens. ASHA motivates them by sponsoring a vegetable exhibition twice a year at harvest time. The women bring their crops and a panel of judges (including ASHA staff and group leaders) decides which ones are the best. The winners from each group receive a prize (a trowel and watering can) and share their tips for good crop growing with the other women.
Many of the women were using pesticides and chemical fertilizers before joining the group. While it is true that they may have lower yields the first few years after switching to organics, the lower input costs make up for the lost income. Also, previously each woman had to travel to Kathmandu on her own to market her produce to an intermediary. Now, ASHA has helped find a vendor who comes to the village to buy the crops. By selling together, the women are able to get a better price than before, and they save the cost of travel to Kathmandu.
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Thanks to 77 donors like you, a total of $6,764 was raised for this project on GlobalGiving.
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IDEX Latin America Program Director