Train 25 women to sell Tiger bags in Nepal

by The Advocacy Project
Train 25 women to sell Tiger bags in Nepal
Train 25 women to sell Tiger bags in Nepal
Train 25 women to sell Tiger bags in Nepal
Train 25 women to sell Tiger bags in Nepal
Train 25 women to sell Tiger bags in Nepal
Train 25 women to sell Tiger bags in Nepal
Train 25 women to sell Tiger bags in Nepal
Train 25 women to sell Tiger bags in Nepal
Train 25 women to sell Tiger bags in Nepal
Train 25 women to sell Tiger bags in Nepal
Train 25 women to sell Tiger bags in Nepal
Train 25 women to sell Tiger bags in Nepal
Train 25 women to sell Tiger bags in Nepal
Train 25 women to sell Tiger bags in Nepal
Train 25 women to sell Tiger bags in Nepal
Train 25 women to sell Tiger bags in Nepal
Train 25 women to sell Tiger bags in Nepal
Train 25 women to sell Tiger bags in Nepal
Train 25 women to sell Tiger bags in Nepal
Train 25 women to sell Tiger bags in Nepal
Train 25 women to sell Tiger bags in Nepal
Train 25 women to sell Tiger bags in Nepal
Kushma and Sarita sell Tiger bags before COVID-19
Kushma and Sarita sell Tiger bags before COVID-19

This update is being sent to friends who have kindly donated to our appeals on behalf of family members of the disappeared in Nepal since 2015.

Over the last four years, with your help, we have channeled over $15,000 to a group of 28 courageous women and girls in western Nepal who lost relatives during Nepal’s long conflict. When we last reported to you in February, they were on the point of launching a new business to make and sell their special brand of Tiger bags. They were also preparing to join a new campaign by their national movement, the Network of Families of the Disappeared in Nepal (NEFAD), to demand justice for their lost loved ones.

The women live in the western state of Bardiya, which suffered more disappearances than any other district during the war. In spite of this grim past, there was a mood of optimism and even excitement. Helped by our Peace Fellows and your donations, the women had formed a cooperative, told their story through two wonderful memorial quilts (one of which was shown at the UN); and developed a handsome and sturdy tote bag carrying the motif of a tiger. We had brought samples of their bags to the US and received several commissions.

Things were looking up in Nepal and the US. We recruited two very capable Peace Fellows from The Fletcher School (Tufts) and Georgetown to serve at NEFAD and help the Bardiya cooperative to pursue their twin goals - building up their business and securing a system of transitional justice that addresses their needs.

And then came the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since early March, it has been a struggle every step of the way. As with countless other community initiatives, the Bardiya bag project was put on hold. The cooperative had rented a shop near the Bardiya National Park in the hope of selling bags to tourists, but the shop closed. Members were unable to meet in person – an unbearable prospect for women who rely on each other’s company. The sewing machines fell silent.

The cooperative members looked for other ways to help in their communities. Using a small grant from AP, they made 200 face masks at home for local medical centers. This was useful, but masks are no longer needed because there is a glut of masks on the market. The cooperative will have to find other solutions if it is to stay together.

Sarita and her friends have responded by adopting a bold strategy that could carry lessons for others facing the same predicament. Instead of surrendering to the pandemic, they have decided to exploit the opportunities it offers for a new approach.

Their first goal is to increase their stock of tiger bags. They will rent a new room nearer to their homes and take turns to work the sewing machines (and social distance) while the lockdown gradually eases. They had made over 40 bags when the pandemic struck and hope to make 100 by the end of the year. That will give them a cushion for when sales resume.

The cooperative will also use innovative branding as part of a new marketing strategy. Each bag will carry a small woven signature by the bag-maker to link it to her own unique story. Back in the US, the AP team will post photos of the bag-makers with their bags and hopefully drive sales when life gets back to normal.

AP is fielding an accomplished team this summer, and we want partners like NEFAD to take advantage of this to expand their market and their networks. One of our assistants, Grace, who studies at the Walk Whitman High School here in Washington, is reaching out to tiger conservation groups. Another, Taylor, at Elon University in North Carolina, will be posting regularly to our five social media platforms. We have also invited our friends at NEFAD to post blogs on our website. We hope to Zoom with bag-makers like Alina, 17 and Kushma, seen in the photos.

Last, and most important, we are not forgetting the core issue of traditional justice. Peace Fellow Beth from the Fletcher School at Tufts, is working with Ram, the founder of NEFAD, to produce a report for the United Nations on transitional justice. The report will help the UN Human Rights Council to assess Nepal's human rights record in Geneva next year.

In other words, there's a lot going on! This has given us a morale boost, in Nepal and the US, after some grim months. It also suggests a new beginning. As a result, we have decided to close this appeal and start afresh with a 3-month microproject ro raise seed money for the Tiger bags on July 15 – GlobalGiving’s matching day. We want the Bardiya cooperative to be prepared when markets open and travel resumes.

To all of you who have supported our work with NEFAD through these five years, thank you! We hope you can continue to support Sarita and her remarkable team.

And to you all - stay safe.

In gratitude,

The NEFAD and AP teams

Sarita works on a new bag in Bardiya, 2019
Sarita works on a new bag in Bardiya, 2019
Top on the line: Sarita with two of the new bags
Top on the line: Sarita with two of the new bags
Sarita making masks
Sarita making masks
AP Zooms with Ram and Sarita (below) in Nepal
AP Zooms with Ram and Sarita (below) in Nepal
We're inviting Alina, 17, to be an AP e-pal!!
We're inviting Alina, 17, to be an AP e-pal!!

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Making tiger bags in Bardiya
Making tiger bags in Bardiya

This update is being sent to friends who have kindly donated to our appeals on behalf of family members of the disappeared in Nepal since 2015.

To recap:

Nepalis are still struggling to recover from the wounds of a long conflict (1996-2006). The worst-affected by far are the relatives of more than 2,500 Nepalis who were seized and have never reappeared. Working through the Network of Family-members of the Disappeared (NEFAD) we have developed a close relationship with a cooperative of around 30 family members in the western district of Bardiya, where more disappearances occurred than in any other district in Nepal.

So far, with your help, we have raised $15,142.66 for the Bardiya cooperative.

We began in 2016 by working through Peace Fellows to help the women commemorate their lost loved ones through embroidery, as we have done with many other partners in the Global South. By the end of 2018, they had produced over 40 embroidered squares.

As we wrote in previous reports, we asked Bobbi, an expert quilter and member of our board of directors, to visit Nepal in April 2019 and help the cooperative members assemble two quilts. The quilts and artists are profiled on our website. You might also like this video of Bobbi’s reaction to working with these brave women.

We then turned to using the quilts to advocate for justice. Sarita, the head of the cooperative, kept one of the quilts in Nepal. Iain showed the second quilt to the United Nations Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances in Geneva (photo). This is in line with NEFAD's strategy of persuading the UN human rights bodies to engage more actively in Nepal. We plan to deploy two experienced Peace Fellows in Nepal this coming summer to produce studies on the disappeared and reparations, which will then be submitted to the UN.

Our second approach is to move from story-telling to income-generation. During her trip to Nepal, Bobbi helped Sarita and her team to design new Tiger bags. We purchased two sewing machines and material. Kushma rented an office. Sima agreed to act as the cooperative treasurer. Kancham – one of the best artists in the cooperative (photo) – began making new designs.

As of now, the Nepali bag-makers have produced 35 bags and hope to reach 50 by the time our Peace Fellows arrive in the summer to collect the bags and assess progress. Meanwhile, our Washington team is exploring the possibility of auctioning the bags online, or selling them through retail. One way or another, the fight for transitional justice will continue –  in Nepal and here in the US.

In gratitude

The AP team

Kancham is the best artist in the cooperative
Kancham is the best artist in the cooperative
Binita's block commemorates her lost husband
Binita's block commemorates her lost husband
Bobbi and Sarita with the first tiger bag
Bobbi and Sarita with the first tiger bag
The Bardiya memorial quilt at the United Nations
The Bardiya memorial quilt at the United Nations
Tiger tiger! New bags from the Bardiya cooperative
Tiger tiger! New bags from the Bardiya cooperative
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Sarita, hard at work on a new tiger bag
Sarita, hard at work on a new tiger bag

This update is being sent to friends who have kindly donated to our appeals on behalf of family members of the disappeared in Nepal since 2015

In our last report, in May, we wrote to you about the visit of Bobbi, an American quilter, to the western district of Bardiya, Nepal. Bobbi worked with 25 members of the Bardiya cooperative, who all lost relatives during the conflict (1996-2006).

Bobbi’s main objective was to help the women turn their embroidered squares into two memorial quilts. As we wrote in our May report, she achieved this with flair and efficiency! We have tried to capture the flavor of Bobbi’s trip in a recent video film, A Quilter’s Journey, which describes how working with the women helped Bobbi to move past her own personal losses. We have also described the making of the quilts in new pages on our website. The Bardiya cooperative members are profiled here.

Of the two memorial quilts produced in Bardiya, one has remained in Nepal. It was shown on August 30 when hundreds of family members marked International Day of the Disappeared in Kathmandu. The second quilt was brought to the US around the same time by Prabal, our field officer in Nepal, when he made a presentation before the annual meeting of The International Coalition of Sites of Conscience and the American Association of State and Local History in Philadelphia (photo). Prabal answered many questions about the quilt, and its importance as a tool of memorialization.

The purpose of advocacy quilts, of course, is to support advocacy. We hope to show one of the Bardiya quilts later this month when Iain from AP will give testimony to the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances in Geneva on behalf of family members in Nepal.

Our second objective this year has been to help the Bardiya cooperative produce tote bags for sale. We have written about this endeavor in past updates. After learning how to embroider memorial squares, the Bardiya ladies wanted to use their skills to earn money. They decided to produce bags in honor of the tigers who live in the nearby Bardiya National Park.

Their first samples were lively, but have failed to sell. As a result, Bobbi worked with Sarita, the head of the cooperative, to produce a new design that has met with wide approval. AP has commissioned 100 bags from the Bardiya cooperative and we hope to start selling them in early 2020. A percentage of the profit will go to a tiger conservation project, yet to be selected. If you would like to order a bag, please send an email to dcoffice@advocacynet.org.

We are pleased with the way this project is helping the Bardiya women achieve three important goals: commemorate their lost relatives; develop a bag-making business; and demand transitional justice that addresses their needs.

None of this is easy. As time passes most Nepalis want to put the conflict behind them, and move on. Not so these family members from Bardiya. They will continue to grieve until they know how their loved ones died and can lay them to rest. Having just observed another anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the US, we can sympathize. We are certainly in for the long haul.

In gratitude,

The AP Team.

Tough sell: The old tiger designs aren't selling
Tough sell: The old tiger designs aren't selling
Bobbi, Prabal and Sarita review new designs
Bobbi, Prabal and Sarita review new designs
Sarita with finished tiger bags
Sarita with finished tiger bags
Prabal shows the Bardiya quilt in Philadelphia
Prabal shows the Bardiya quilt in Philadelphia
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The first Bardiya memorial quilt
The first Bardiya memorial quilt

We contacted you earlier this year with the news that Bobbi, a well-known American quilter and AP Board member, was heading to Bardiya in western Nepal to work with women who lost family-members during the conflict (1996-2006). You are one of 186 friends who have donated to these women since we launched our first appeal on their behalf in 2015. So let’s begin with a huge thanks!

In this email we report back on Bobbi’s recent visit to Nepal. This was a first for AP. As you may know, we ask American quilters to assemble advocacy quilts from embroidery made by our partners in the Global South. We then exhibit the quilts at events in the US to promote the partner.

But this was the first time we have asked one of our quilting friends to visit a partner in the South and work side by side with the artists.

Bobbi was perfect for the job. She was going through a rough patch and looking for a worthwhile way to use her talents. In addition, Bobbi knows AP and advocacy quilting after assembling several Tiger quilts for the Bardiya cooperative (named after the tigers that live in the Bardiya National Park).

But even this did not prepare Bobbi for a hectic two weeks. She began in Kathmandu by teaming up with Sarita, the inspiring leader of the Bardiya cooperative, and shopping for material. Accompanied by Iain from AP and Prabal, our project coordinator in Nepal, Bobbi then headed off on a 17-hour bus trip to Bardiya and ten days of creative training. The women had already produced the squares, describing the arrest of their relatives in grim detail. Bobbi helped to turn the squares into something that they could cherish.

This produced deep friendships and plenty of reflection. The women are still deeply affected by the loss of their relatives and we have tried to capture this in profiles. Older cooperative members like Belmati, who lost a son and two daughters in law, rarely smile. Even the younger women like Kancham and Kushma, who were too young to really remember their lost relatives see the effect on their mothers every day. Many of the families were driven into poverty by the loss of their breadwinners.

The Bardiya training lifted their spirits and produced more laughter than tears. The artists were amazed that Bobbi could show such energy at the age of 71, and she was bowled over by their talent and affection for each other. By the end of the week they had finished one striking quilt, which will stay in Nepal and be exhibited on August 30 (International Day of the Disappeared). A second quilt will be housed at AP in Washington and exhibited in the US. There were smiles and hugs all round before Bobbi and Prabal set off on their return trip to Kathmandu.

Bobbi performed a second service for the Bardiya cooperative by helping Sarita to design Tiger bags for western consumers. AP has commissioned 100 bags and will let you know when they come on the market!

So much good came out of Bobbi’s trip that it’s hard to pinpoint anything in particular. Our Nepali partner NEFAD (The Network of Families of the Disappeared) plans to use the quilt, and our new web pages, to argue that those responsible for the disappearances should be brought to justice. Sarita and her cooperative hope to earn money from selling tiger bags. We at AP hope that Bobbi’s trip will inspire more American quilters to travel south and provide technical assistance with a difference!

But as we suggest in our profile of Bobbi, the greatest impact may be personal. The Bardiya women have a new friend and know that Americans want to help - and this is is huge. As for Bobbi, she has a sense of achievement and a deeper understanding of the resilience of women - in Nepal and the US.

We will report back to you on the Tiger bags. Thank you for making it all happen!

Iain and the AP team

Bobbi and Sarita in Kathmandu
Bobbi and Sarita in Kathmandu
Hunting for fabric
Hunting for fabric
Cooperative endeavor
Cooperative endeavor
Remembering the disappeared
Remembering the disappeared
Sarita, Bobbi and their new tiger bag
Sarita, Bobbi and their new tiger bag

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Kancham, proud of her tiger bag!
Kancham, proud of her tiger bag!

This report is offered to friends of The Advocacy Project who have donated to one of five appeals we have launched on GlobalGiving on behalf of 35 remarkable women in western Nepal. The fifth appeal was posted late last year and is still active.

All 35 women lost loved ones to the disappearances during the conflict in Nepal (1996-2006). It is not surprising that they are still haunted by the memory. The group’s coordinator, Sarita, lost her father after he was falsely accused of Maoist sympathies by a relative. Sarita and her mother were then driven from the village. Sarita's husband died from a snakebite shortly afterwards. Poojah saw her father taken away by the army, never to return, and is still demanding an explanation - even though she is married to a soldier. Most older members of the group work in the fields for a pittance. They need justice. They also need money.

The women live in the district of Bardiya. AP began to support them through Global Giving in 2015. So far, our appeals have raised $15,735 from 259 generous donors.

AP was set up to support community-based associations like the Bardiya cooperative that are led by determined survivors of abuse like Sarita. But we – and the women – also understand that it will take more than determination to produce sustained benefits for the group members.

And this is why they are making bags.

They began in 2016 by using embroidery to describe the disappearance of their loved ones, often in graphic detail. The following year they turned from human rights to the environment, and made squares about the tigers that live in the nearby Bardiya National Park. AP brought the squares to the US where they were assembled into three delightful quilts by Bobbi, a talented quilter from North Carolina.

The women of Bardiya then decided to go into business. They commissioned several shops in Kathmandu to turn their Tiger squares into bags, but were dissatisfied by the result. So they turned to Sarita, who made 30 sample bags at the end of 2018.

And this is where we now stand.

There is no doubt that this project has empowered these brave women. We pay $20 for each piece of embroidery, which puts money in the pockets of the women and gives them the chance to work together and learn new skills. They have shown discipline in sharing out their income at the end of the year. Helped by a new sewing machine, Sarita has become an excellent seamstress and teacher. She dreams of opening a store at the Bardiya National Park where her friends can sell tiger bags to tourists.

This dream, however, will only be realized if the group can sell bags, and this is proving difficult. We do not know why. It could be the quality of the bags, or the cost of production (which includes the $20 paid to artists), or simple competition in a country where every trekker and tourist owns a bag.

It is hard for AP to help from Washington, so we have decided that Bobbi the quilter and Iain from AP will visit Bardiya in April. Bobbi will help the women assemble their commemorative squares into an advocacy quilt to be exhibited in Nepal and the US. She will also advise Sarita on her bag-making – the first time (to our knowledge) that an American quilter has visited the Global South to provide such technical assistance. Iain will seek out markets at tourist lodges and shops in Kathmandu, help the cooperative to design a new business plan, and profile the group on the AP website. Whatever we raise on Global Giving will go to the cooperative.

AP is committed to these women and to their vision. If they can launch a successful business they could influence the national debate in Nepal over how to compensate family-members of the disappeared, which has reached an angry stalemate. But we also understand the importance of investing your donations wisely. Right now, it hangs on finding a market.

Are we on the right track? We would love to hear from you!

In the meantime, know that the ladies of Bardiya are deeply grateful for your support.

We’ll keep you posted!

The AP team

Sarita gives embroidery training in Bardiya
Sarita gives embroidery training in Bardiya
Bobbi is heading to Nepal to help make Tiger bags
Bobbi is heading to Nepal to help make Tiger bags
Still missing her father
Still missing her father
Peace Fellows Vicky and Kirstin (2017) in Bardiya
Peace Fellows Vicky and Kirstin (2017) in Bardiya
Sarita hopes to sell Tiger bags to tourists
Sarita hopes to sell Tiger bags to tourists
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Organization Information

The Advocacy Project

Location: Washington, DC - USA
Website:
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Twitter: @AdvocacyProject
Project Leader:
Iain Guest
Washington, DC United States

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Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.
   

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