‘I will do anything to educate my children,’ Niru Kumasi Bisunke said during the first minute of our conversation high up in the mountain village of Deupur, Nepal. Her eyes tired, anxiety etched all over her face.
This is the story of Niru and how “a hand up” from us (not a hand out!) has changed her prospects.
What is our raison d’etre?
‘A hand up not a hand out’, giving back self – esteem, dignity and independence through livelihood recovery and income generating projects.
Recovery takes time and each vulnerable family we help is carefully selected and taken through a careful process to identify the type of livelihood that is most suitable for them, taking into consideration their education level, skill set, physical strength as well as the market opportunity and possibility of a long term sustainable income.
Like many of the people we have assisted with livelihood recovery in the past 6 weeks we were encouraged to meet this lady by one of the trusted leaders in the community, the Vice Principal of Deb Bal Bad Ra Primary School, Mr Chiran-Jivi.
Who is Niru and what happened to her?
Niru is a tall, slender 26 year old, her husband Sajan 27yrs old works ad hoc as a daily labourer repairing homes and assisting in road construction whenever the opportunity arises. They have a 6yr old boy Simon and a 5 yr old girl Sandhya. They are from the Sarki caste.
The day the first big earthquake hit Niru was with her two children in Bhaktapur, an ancient medieval town 90 minutes by bus from her home in Deuper. She had gone just for the day to look for work.
But Bhaktapur was not the place to be on April 25 th 2015 – situated at only 30 miles from the epicenter of 7.9 magnitude earthquake – it was badly hit.
‘My children and I were inside the house when the walls started to sway, shelves and cupboards came crashing down around us. Screaming we ran outside into the heavy rain and really strong winds, the tall trees were moving as easily as blades of grass being blown backwards and forwards. It was chaos, people screaming and crying, buildings crumpled like matchboxes burying people alive’, Niru face held a haunted stare.
That fateful night Niru slept outside in the freezing cold, too scared to take shelter anywhere. The aftershocks kept coming. For 4 days she remained like this, with no communication, no way to find out if her husband was dead or alive, the only food for her children, a handful of biscuits.
After 4 days she was able to return to Deupur. She found her village destroyed, 95% of the homes had completely collapsed, including hers. Her husband had survived he had been outside on the road working when the quake hit, not all had been so lucky, 25 residents of Deupur died, trapped in their homes and 50 were seriously injured.
Using whatever they could find Niru and her husband constructed a temporary shelter in front of their damaged home, – some wood, bamboo, zinc sheets, plastic and tarpaulin. ‘We only built the house seven years ago. We lived in a two-storey house,” explained Niru, “but shared on the ground floor with our cattle, so when the building fell down in the earthquake they were buried alive. Just one of our young goats and one buffalo survived’.
It was here that we met this brave resilient woman and started the process of finding out how best we could give her and her family have a sustainable ‘hand up’.
A day in the life of Niru
Niru has very busy days. She gets up at 5am and cleans the house. She makes breakfast, which consists of a simple cup of chai (tea with boiled milk and sugar). She then goes to the jungle to collect food for the buffalo. Twice a day, morning and evening she milks the buffalo and sells the milk at the collecting point in the village. By 9am she takes the children to school. Her next task is off to wash the families’ clothes at the spring, then takes care of her vegetable patch and rice paddy before she prepares the lunch, the countries staple, dal bhat (rice and lentil soup).
Niru then seeks work as either a porter carrying bricks or stones using a strap, or namlo, placed over the front of her head. Her income depends on the weight she carries, for a weight of 30 kg she could earn up to 400 rupees per day or as a labourer in the fields approx 350 rupees a day for 6 hours.
Her husband also seeks work each day in construction – he can earn 600 rupees if he is lucky enough to get work.
For Niru to be able to cover all of her monthly costs – basic daily food, rice, oil, school fees and to save some money for the doctor in case of sickness – the total she requires is 10,000 rupees the equivalent of $94.
So what was her new business idea and is there a long term market?
Yes. A chronic problem in Nepal is power cuts, for almost 16 hours a day there is no electricity. This problem was there 16 years ago when I first visited Nepal in the year 2000 and it is still the same. The government hopes that in 5 years time or so the situation will be different – but no-one is holding their breath.
Niru’s shrewd and brilliant new business idea was to make candles – a secure, in demand product. She had done her research and identified the most popular size to make and the profit she could turnover.
Could she fit this activity into her already packed day?
Candle-making only needed her attention for a few hours at the beginning and end of each day. A simple process of boiling the wax, putting into moulds with the wick then leaving it to cool.
What is the investment, how much would the equipment cost?
We helped Niru to do the calculations. The total cost of the equipment, moulds, wick and wax was only $114 and she could collect the firewood to boil the wax for free from the jungle.
The return on investment was good Niru could make a 10” candle for 6 rupees and sell to the local town for 10 rupees. A 4 rupee profit per candle.
‘A hand up’ project that is bringing her family out of darkness.
Our local Nepali team went straight to the nearby town to buy all of the necessary equipment and Niru’s candle-making business was started. Within 10 days Niru had made 450 candles.
When I asked her if she liked her new business the answer was reflected in her broad smile. ‘What will you do with the profit?’, I asked. ‘Plough it back into the business’, she said, ‘and pay for the school fees’.
‘And what is your dream for your family?’, I asked, ‘That my son will become a doctor and my daughter a nurse’ she said with a mothers look that said it all, that dreams do come true.
Recovery takes time and your donations are carefully allocated into livelihood recovery projects to the most vulnerable families that gives independence through a sustainable return.
‘A hand up not a hand out’.
(Thanks to Adam Gerrard of the Mirror for this picture!)