SISTEER Nepal Day 9: Namaste Community Foundation (NCF) Engagement

23rd May (Day 9) - Namaste Community Foundation (NCF) Engagement

On Day 9 (23rd May), We visited the NCF’s women empowerment headquarters to learn more about what NCF trains their women in. Through our visit, we learnt that they train them in mainly agriculture and sewing. The NCF women headquarters was located in Ghachowk, a village about an hour and a half drive from Pokhara. The headquarters was situated nearer to the village side in order to make the centre more accessible to the village women who were attending training in the centre.

We visited the sewing room of the Women Empowerment Project, where there were at that point in time fifteen women receiving training in sewing. It was almost the end of their 3 month course where they learnt the basic skills of sewing commonly worn clothes and simple entrepreneurship concepts. The things they sewed include school uniforms, recycle bags amongst many other items. The ladies had the option of staying in the building itself if they lived far away, during the course of their training. These training sessions run three times a year. About three months into establishment of their businesses, NCF would follow-up with the women on how they are doing, provide the necessary advice, and encourage them to come for another three month course which would teach them advance sewing skills for product differentiation and to further equip them with the necessary skills to handle more tasks.

NCF also offers a micro-financing programme where they loan a certain sum to women for them to start their businesses, and only start collecting the loan’s repayment one year later, when they have generated sufficient profit.

Upon asking Alisha, the person-in-charge of the project, about the response of the husbands to such a programme for their wives, she commented that most of the husbands are supportive if not neutral of their wives going for such programmes. Another concern we had was that the sewing market may potentially be too saturated (as suggested by Bikas Udhyami), as there seemed to be many small business selling clothes and other sewing services. However, Alisha made a point that the women were from different villages and they were each a niche in their respective areas, thus there was little or no competition for their sewing services as we had perceived, thus no pressing need for product differentiation.

After seeing the women in action during their sewing class, we followed Alisha and walked through the beautiful corn fields planted by women who were being trained in agriculture. We then reached a house owned by a woman who has benefited from the agriculture training program by NCF. Another beneficiary showed us her chicken farm which started off with 200 chickens. The numbers have declined since then as some chickens died. This was followed by a tour of her house. We found what NCF was doing to be very helpful as their training was free and they are able to self-sustain themselves through their own farm or finding other means of employment. However, many of us shared many concerns about the maintenance of these facilities: if the spaces where the chickens were housed were sufficiently equipped with lights to warm them at night, and if antibiotics in their feed was a good enough defense against diseases like bird flu which could spread very fast and wipe out the livestock. It was interesting to note that many women preferred being trained in sewing to agriculture since dabbling in agriculture requires working long hours under the sun and involves much manual labour, according to Alisha.

In addition, we felt that with regards to women empowerment, there was the phenomenon of the 'Many Helping Hands Approach' (Lien Foundation) present. Many organizations we visited were doing something about women empowerment and training them in seemingly the same few skills. Some of us asked Alisha if there were plans to educate women instead of only training them in vocational skills, but Alisha made the point that women were not educated from young and it would be an arduous task to attempt bringing education to them. Moreover, it was hard for them to enter businesses as employees as many business in Nepal are small family enterprises. In response, some of us wondered if there could be measures in place to consolidate the individual efforts of all these organizations so that women empowerment campaigns or initiatives can be coordinated and efficiency can be increased.

Nonetheless, we recognize that the government has been constantly changing only until recent years, and unlike Singapore, Nepal is a huge country. We appreciate and acknowledge the efforts of NCF, and they indubitably are doing something very meaningful for women and enabling them to be more financially independent. On the macro scale, it is heartening to see NCF’s efforts in tackling the social economic issues that single women face in Nepal, envisioning to empower them with the ability to survive independently.

Written by Angeline and Hui Xin
Edited by Stella