On the occasion of International Women’s Day 2021, SOCHAI recognized 7 grass-root female entrepreneurs as POSHAN (Nutrition) HEROES. When the COVID-19 pandemic started and the entire country went under lockdown, most of the small local businesses lost their source of income and means to feed their families. However, the resilience and strength during such challenging times of our local female entrepreneurs such as vegetable vendors, corn barbeque vendors, Yomari shop owners, tiffin delivery service owner etc. set an example for all as they broke the societal norms by independently leading small businesses to sustain themselves and their families. We are proud to highlight the powerful stories of our Poshan Heroes.
SHANTA BASNET…..”Never lose hope, never give up”
At times, we easily give up on life even when we have privileges and opportunities ahead of us. And then there are those who despite of several barriers, are hopeful and persistent towards pursuing a happy life and thriving every day to survive. This is a story of SHANTA BASNET who has had so many challenges in her life, and yet she chose to persist and face the challenges life had thrown at her. Shanda didi became the sole bread earner of her family after her husband had an accident that severely fractured both of his legs. The difficulties doubled when her eldest daughter got a serious brain-related illness. Her daughter’s treatment is currently ongoing at the neuro hospital. Along with this, she has the added responsibility of taking care of two other younger kids. Her daily routine involves hospital visits and daily household activities. In the evening, she sells delicious and nutritious roasted corns at Ghattekulo chowk to pay the bills. Shanta didi’s family was already going through financial crisis and the covid lockdown make it worse. The people in the neighborhood helped her in those difficult times. However, she says she can’t always be dependent on others for help. Shanta didi, who stands throughout the evening every day to roast the corn has her own health issues. The doctor had advised her to use crutches for walking because of her knee problem but she believes she can manage without it for now. Shanta didi strongly believes in never giving up. She hopes to open a shop someday when her financial situation gets better. She says “If I could keep moving forward despite of being uneducated and having so many challenges in life, so can others.” She hopes that her story inspires others to not lose hope and not give up on life. Please visit Shanta didi’s ‘Poleko Makai’ stall in the evening at Ghattekulo Chowk. Your stomach will be full but your heart will be even fuller.
SABITRA TOLANGE…..’Changing challenge to opportunity’
Long duration of the lockdown have posed economic challenges to many families. Many people who heavily relied on daily wage work struggle to meet their basic needs. Similar was the story of SABITRA TOLANGE. Her husband used to work as a painter and she used to work as a house help but due to lockdown both of them lost their jobs. Having 3 children to look after, house rent to pay and manage household expenses, her husband initially started selling leafy green vegetables. Once the lockdown eased, Sabitra didi’s husband resumed his painting job while she took over the vegetable selling. Sabitra didi chose this job to support her family. Side by side, she also continued working as house help in the day time doing laundry and cleaning dishes. She prefers selling spinach over other jobs because she feels she is in charge in this job unlike other jobs that are unstable as unexpected situations such a as lockdown could lead to unemployment. Sabitra didi also has the daily responsibility to look after kids and do household chores. Her husband supports her by preparing lunch when he is free. She strongly believes that education is very important. She does not want her children to suffer and struggle in life because of lack of education. She says, “Just giving birth to a child is not enough. It’s a parent’s responsibility to take good care and educate their children. I want my kids to study well and get a good job so they do not have to struggle like I did. I will continue to sell vegetables to support my children’s education.” Another reason for her to continue her this small business is because she wants to have some financial independence and not heavily depend on husband’s income. She also feels empowered as she is able to manage minor expenses and provide her children with lunch money. She feels happy and determined to continue her business. “Selling Saag might sound simple but it is not an easy job” she says. Some of the challenges she faces are dealing with very rude customers and people claiming pricing to be too expensive. Once, the people nearby did not allow her to sell the vegetables in the streets and called the police. For her, not being able to sell enough and having to walk long distance to get the vegetables are some of the additional difficulties she deals with on a regular basis. During the initial days of the business, she used to feel uncomfortable selling the spinach on the roadside. However, now she is receiving support from people nearby. She hopes to expand her business and open a shop in future if her current business flourishes. Visit Sabitra Didi’s roadside Saag pasal infront of Asian Superstore in Ghattekulo chowk.
BISHNU MAYA NAGARKOTI…..’Bishnu Didi’s All Women’s Team’
There is a quote by W.E.B Dubois, “there is no force equal to a woman determined to rise” and Bishnu Maya Nagarkoti’s story is a true example of this. Bishnu didi is a 68 year old woman who sells vegetable to financially support her family. She started her business after her younger son passed away due to jaundice. She did not have a single penny to organize his funeral. All the money was spent while treating him in the hospital for two months. The ward office and neighbors collected money to help her family to organize funeral and purchase a cart for didi to sell the vegetables. She says that was a very difficult time for her family. The financial crisis was at its peak as she had to pay back the loan she took for her sick son’s treatment. She says “we should not lose hope, life is like this.” She continued, “I lost my husband when my elder daughter was just 8 years old. I worked as daily wage worker to raise my children. Then I got severely ill and my daughter had to leave school to earn money to treat me. I left smoking and drinking after that. I also lost my elder son to jaundice. Our family has suffered a lot of challenges and loss in life.” Bishnu didi’s family is an all-female member family and all the women in her family contribute financially to run the household. Her younger daughter in law, and two daughters also work to make the ends meet, pay the loans and pay school fee of her grandchildren. The COVID lockdown was another blow to her difficult life. Bishnu didi’s family had no source of income as they lost their jobs. At that time, some people who knew about the realities of her family came to support her. However, the neighbors were unhappy and questioned how Didi’s family were getting the support. Bishnu didi feels, maybe because we are an all women family, people are skeptic and curious about how we earn the money, but they never really care about the challenges and struggles that we face. Bishnu Didi’s family resumed the business after the lockdown was over. Currently the sales is average. Sometimes she only earns 300 rupees a day which is not enough to buy vegetables for the next day. At present she sells tomatoes, spinach and coriander. Her elder daughter supports her business by sourcing and collecting the vegetables. In the favorable season, she earns a profit of rupees 500 per day. One time, when she was selling vegetables, the people from municipality came and all the sellers started running away. She was not able to push or pull her cart because of her old age and lack of physical strength. While she was panicking about what to do, men from nearby motorcycle workshop helped her. They hid her cart inside the workshop till the people from municipality left. They still continue to help her on similar situations. Bishnu didi hopes to continue to selling vegetables in the cart as long as she can. She does not want to own a shop because she cannot afford it. Though she might not have big dreams, she has high hopes and support for her daughter. “My eldest daughter she wants to open a hotel” proudly she says with a twinkle in her eye.
BINA MAHARJAN…..”My limitation is my strength”
“No job is big or small, work is work” says Bina Maharjan. Bina didi started working since 2057 after her husband lost his job. She initially worked as a kitchen assistant in an office and helped chop vegetables and prepare roti, noodles, vegetables, samosa etc. She also made packed lunches including burgers, samosa, barfi etc. for college programs. She also started making tukra nimki packets and pickles of tomato, ginger and garlic and pack them into bottles and sell them. After her office shifted to Balaju she got laid off from her job because the office was not doing well financially. Her employer told her that they would contact her if there is any vacancy in future. She was unemployed for one and half year. One lady contacted her for a house keeping job at a hostel. She worked there for 10 years but wasn’t able to become permanent staff because she didn’t meet the age criteria. She learned sewing but wasn’t able to continue it because of financial constraint. She also tried farming for some time but it was an unsuccessful venture. She took loan to start a shop but that also didn’t go well. She worked as a gardener for five years and then joined her current office where she has been working for almost 11 years. Initially she used to work 4 times a month. Now she works full day in her current office. She makes roti, vegetable, yomari, achar, chatamari, and sometimes she makes bara and potatoes for office lunch and meetings. She also delivers her food items to other offices on days she receives an order. To run this small side business of hers, she used to take loans from her office to prepare food. She stated that she had to pay more interest that the loan she initially took because she paid it in small amounts. However, by now she had paid back all of her loans, Bina didi proudly shares. She adds, “Our hardships never end and everybody has to deal with their own challenges in life. I finished paying back the loan I took to build my house, now I worry about whether to take another burden of loan to repair my tin roof. But the thing that worries me the most are my sons. They are currently unemployed. Nevertheless, I also strongly believe without struggles and hardships, we won’t be able to understand true sense of happiness.” Bina didi hopes that her sons find a job soon. In future she wishes to open a Newari food shop. She added that she does not want to own a big business as it would be hard to manage staff and run the business alone. Bina didi has a hearing difficulty. She recalls the day when she was travelling somewhere and a big truck carrying rocks had its tire punctured. Due to the weight of the rocks, there was a loud noise and she along with driver and his younger son were not able to hear anything all day. For days there were times when she didn’t realize that the person next to her was talking to her. Later, she became aware about her hearing problem. However, she denies to agree that her hard of hearing problem makes her weak because inspite of her limitations, she has bravely faced all the challenges life has thrown to her. She also believes that having support system and encouragement from her office has motivated her to keep moving forward. As we part, she shares her most valuable lesson, ‘No work is big or small, we must all keep working hard with determination because no matter rich or poor we must all face our own challenges.’
SUBHA TANDUKAR…..’Shubha Didi bringing farm to your fingers’
The doorbell rings in Sanepa Lalitpur and the lady of the house asks, “Who is on the door?” “Tarkari” Shubha didi replies with a big bright smile. Subha Tandukar is a 68 year old farmer who carries basket of freshly picked spinach and mustards greens vegetables twice a week to doorsteps of her customers. Didi has been farming since her childhood. ‘It’s what my parents did, and it is what I do. In 2077, Subha didi marked her golden jubilee as it has been 50 years since she got engaged in farming business. She says she chose this job because it was the only skill she knew. She has not received any kind of formal education and does not know how to speak Nepali fluently. Didi lost her mother when she was 12 years old and the she had to take upon the responsibility to look after her younger siblings. Therefore, she was not able to attend school. She was married off when she was only 14 years old. Working in her in-law’s home as a young girl was difficult. She says it is comparatively much easier to work as a woman than it used to be 40-50 years ago. At that time, women had to multiple works, they would have to wake up at night to work in the field and fetch water for household. These days, farmable fertile lands have been occupied by concrete houses and people have stopped farming. She also recalls an incident, where she had planted rice but couldn’t even yield 2 pathis, neither could she earn by selling hay. This year, situation got worse because her cultivable land was flooded with water. Due to the concrete structure around her land, there is no exit for collected water.Subha didi works alone most of the time. Her sons and daughter-in-laws can only help her in the field once a month because they have their own jobs. Her sons neither encourage nor stop her from working on the field. She expressed that working in the farm was sometimes easy and other times hard. She said, “It is hard for me to plough the field by myself. Sometimes it doesn’t rain and crops dries up, other times the crops rot due to excess water. Last time it was time to harvest pumpkin shoots but due to rain, she was unable to do so. ‘It was a waste of money’, she says. She adds, ‘The seeds are also very costly to purchase. Spinach seeds costs Rs. 800, 200 grams of turnip seeds cost Rs. 350, onion seeds and carrot seeds cost Rs. 500 per pao. There are times when seeds don’t grow although I have to pay so much.” Lockdown was really hard for Subha didi. She could not go and work in her farm. On days she tried to go to her field, police chased her and asked if her money was more important than her life. She suffered a loss of Rs. 20,000 during the lockdown. She was not able to harvest and sell the vegetables she planted. Currently she has planted onion, garlic, chili, ladyfinger, brinjal, spinach, radish and turnip. She plants vegetables according to the seasons. Farming allows her to be financially independent. Selling the vegetables helps her to earn around 300 to 400 a day. When asked her about her future plans, Subha didi wishes to continue farming as long as the land is there. As she is using currently farming on a government owned land, she plans to start roof top farming if the government takes it back. However, with the roof top farming, the production will be limited and she won’t be able to sell the vegetables commercially. She worries that she will not have any source of income if that happens. Till date, she hasn’t asked for money from her sons and hopes she won’t have to in the coming days. Subha didi who is already 68 years old chooses to be financially independent and is determined to continue working as long as her health will allow her.
SHARDA NAPIT…..’Sharada Yomari Ghar’
Sharda Napit didi’s small eatery in Chabahil is famous for its yummy and nutritious Yomari. Didi started her business after her husband had major heart surgery and was in bedrest. Didi recalls her husband’s illness as one of the major crises in her life. Just like how every cloud has a silver lining, she found motivation to start her own shop in this moment of crises. Sharada didi loves to feed people, it’s what makes her happy. So, she decided to turn her passion and skill to a business. Didi started with basic Newari food items such as Samaybaji, Bara, Achar etc. in her shop. Her husband who was patiently listening to our conversation adds ‘usle pakako ta je pani mitho huncha (everything she cooks is yummy)’.Sharada didi felt that there was nothing unique in her shop’s menu. All the items were available in almost all the restaurants in the area. So, she wanted to add Yomari as it was not very common and most of her customers had not tasted it. People started getting curious about Yomari once she started selling it. After tasting, her customers used to love it and would come back again and again for both Chaku and Khuwa Yomari. As yomari started to become the bestseller, she did not have enough time to prepare other foods such as Samaybaji. Currently, she serves egg bara, plain bara, aalu and Yomari in her restaurants. She happily shares that her customers are really content with her food. She gets most of the orders from hospitals, schools and colleges. She runs the business by herself and says “mero buda lai ta kei pakauna aaudaina.” However, her husband assists her packing and delivering the food to nearby locations. Sharada didi has always had the passion to cook and serve others. She remembers the days when she used to make lame excuses at home to go and assist her friends in preparing Newari bhoj. Prior to selling yomari, Sharada didi used to be engaged in farming. After her husband’s illness, she started renting a small room in her maternal home and started her business. Sharada didi used to feel very shy and awkward during the initial days of starting the business. People used to criticize her for opening the shop. So, she hid under her small stall when her acquaintances passed by. Her husband shared, “we have now earned a very good reputation from this business.” Sharda didi proudly adds, “we are one of the first shops who sell yomari in the valley”. After witnessing her business flourish, other people started opening yomari shops in various places. She remembers that someone in Sukedhara had opened a shop with same name as hers ‘Sharada Yomari Ghar’. She shared an incident were someone else opened similar shop in her name. One of her customers thought Sharda didi had opened another branch but they were able to figure out through its taste that it was not Sharada didi’s special yomari. The customer came to her and informed her about it. He also made her aware about why it was wrong and what possible harms it could it bring to her business. Didi didn’t feel bad about it, she was rather happy that someone was inspired by her to start something similar. She adds with a laughter that the same customer deigned, printed and hung a banner (with her photo of holding a yomari on it) outside her shop without her knowledge. It has already been 5 years since she opened the shop and during this time, she was even able to export her frozen yomari to UK. She is happy that the business is going well.During the lockdown the shop was closed. There were times when she was in the verge of closing her business but her customer encouraged her not to quit. People would call her and order food via telephone. Her motivation to continue hustling rooted from her desire to serve her customers. These days, people have even started coming to her shop to learn to make yomaris. She has already trained a lot of people including youth to make yomaris.Sharada didi doesn’t like to talk much about sad and challenging moments. She had to struggle a lot after marriage as her mother-in-law passed away when her sister-in-law was just 2 months old. She raised her sister-in-law along with her own daughter. She also had the two other children to look after. She shares, “after seeing my husband in hospital bed, the thought that ate me up was how will I take care of the family? How will I pay the bills and run the house hold? How will I manage the festivals? Looking at my miserable state, my mother who is 90 years old gave me the hope and strength to carry on. She always taught me to stand up and keep fighting back when the difficult times pull you down. That’s what I did. That’s why I am here now.” Location map for Sharada Didi’s Yomari Shop https://g.co/kgs/z9LqzU (Nearby Pushpa Lal College in Chabahil)
LHAMU SHERPA…..’Lhamu Sherpa’s priority: EducationEvery morning’
Lhamu Sherpa’s priority: EducationEvery morning, Lhamu Sherpa decorates her small nanglo shop with seasonal fruits on the streets of Jamal (infront of Naachghar). It’s the month of March, so today she has she put out delicious looking strawberries for her customers. Throughout the year, she sells Kaafal, Amala and variety of other local nutritious fruits depending on the season. Lhamu is originally from Sankhuwasabha. She moved to Kathmandu 12 years ago in search of better opportunities. Ten years ago, she started looking over the fruit selling business of her mother-in-law. Besides the street stall, Lhamu had previously taken a risk to open a proper fruit shop but it was not successful. It was difficult to pay the rent in time due to limited sales. Sometimes, people would take the products in credit and not pay money in time. Sometimes they would borrow cash and never return back. She was forced to close down and return back to the streets with her nanglo pasal. “Currently the business is average but sometimes there is no sales at all” she said. Lhamu finds it comparatively easier to sell fruits in the street stall than in a rented shop. The major challenge she currently faces as a street vendor is being chased by the people from municipality. Sometimes they even take away all the fruits.Lhamu’s is running this street shop primarily to support her family and educate her two daughters. She hopes her daughters will not have a difficult life like hers if they are well educated. She says, “I did not get a chance to continue my studies in the village because I had to work in the farm and assist the family. So, I want my daughters to have all the opportunities in life. ”