In January 2008 Yael Falicov, IDEX’s Director of Programs, met with the 70 members of three of ASHA women’s groups in Okarpauwa municipality, a hilly area about 45 minutes northwest of Kathmandu. This is her report from that meeting.
Most people here, like the majority of Nepalis, are subsistence farmers. Some had walked for two hours to come to the meeting.
They greeted us sitting in a circle on mats in the mud-baked patio of a woman's home. The women spoke at length about the improvements to their crop yields they have achieved with sustainable agriculture training provided by ASHA, and the links to the market they have made as a group. They can sell collectively in bulk more effectively than trying to sell the 5 or 10 pounds each one produces separately. And now, for the first time, a vendor comes up the road every week to collect the crops, where before they would have to trek to the city to sell at the market.
Some of the women brought out their seeds and showed me how they have learned to protect them from moths by using jars lined with local herbs and ash, whereas before they hung them in handkerchiefs which would get eaten by the moths. Through more effective seed saving, they keep funds previously used to travel to the city and buy seeds at the market. Similarly, they told me how they used to buy insecticides, even though they couldn't read the directions on the bottles. Now they know how to use herbal preparations to fight common pests, and they are happy that their children eat pesticide-free.
In addition to the agriculture activities, each group has started a small savings and loan fund. The women each give a put 75 cents a month into the fund. This money is used to provide loans to members to improve their income. Each group currently has a savings fund of $500 - $1000. This is entirely from their own earnings, so they owe no institution or moneylender. They use the fund to take out three-month loans to buy a goat, or pay school fees, or lease land. When I asked they said it hasn't been hard for them to both collect their savings quota and pay back their loans. They have learned to plan ahead, but if they fall short one month they might go work for a few hours as a wage laborer, or borrow the amount from a friend or two.
With support from ASHA professionals, the women went to the municipal office for the first time to present a proposal handwritten on their official community letterhead requesting support for the construction of the stall, which will double as their group meeting space and area to receive visitors. Thanks to this effort, the municipality has pledged 10,000 Rupees (about US$150) towards the construction.