On their way to becoming self-reliant once again

Kathmandu

The old bamboo-mud shelter in Kirtipur was abuzz with female voices. The sight was vibrant too. With knitting needles in each hand, these Haku women were knitting socks from colourful yarns. Some had knit a few inches, while some were learning to cast on and a few’s work had taken shape. Two women of Kolpa Traders — that promotes and produces Nepali handmade crafts — teach the art of knitting and 26 women are embracing this new skill. Interlocking loops of wool one after another, women who hail from Haku in Rasuwa and living in Kathmandu for the last six months are learning to knit, making themselves self-sufficient through their new skill of knitting and of weaving bakhu, patuki, pangden, and angden, among others.

Initiated by Trekking Experts’ Dinesh Tamang (who is also from Haku), and Tsering Gyaljen Sherpa, who have been with the Haku people since their rescue days in project Healing Haku, the one-week training is to make the men and women of Haku self-reliant through the skills learnt here. The training, that started from November 19 will go on till 26, is focused on what skill a woman has. It will be followed by another round of training in Dhunche. When each woman from each household is being taught knitting and weaving skills, training on weaving bamboo has been designed for men.

When the earthquake struck on April 25, 751 families in nine wards of Haku with a population of 3,200, Haku people became homeless. It saw 58 deaths. With 90 per cent of the houses destroyed, flood risks and blocked roads in the monsoon, people relocated to other places. With a large part of Haku unsuitable to live in and some living in overpopulated Dhunche, camps were set up in Nuwakot, Shantibazaar and Kathmandu. And 45 big families came to Kathmandu.

Teaching Fishing

Following the old adage — give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime, they have initiated the training in an anticipation that these people become economically independent through the training they receive.

“Haku doesn’t fall in the tourism radar and there is no alternative source of income for its people. Out of the total population, 95 per cent of people are uneducated. They were dependent on farming and now that land is barren. They have no means of income. Giving donations like rice to them is not enough. So, we are teaching them how to fish instead of giving fish which is not possible always,” Dinesh, CEO of Trekking Experts, pointed out about their project. “This programme will identify their skill and enhance those skills for income generation. We will be providing them with raw materials initially and buy their products which will be sold to individuals (clients and partners) and the local market.”

Hoping to motivate these people of Haku, social business is what they are looking forward to in the future.

With skills in hand, women and men of Haku would have something productive to do instead of wasting their time in drinking and gambling. This is how the income generating concept started.

Dinesh informed, “In the monsoon, people had nothing to do and they started drinking and gambling in the camps. Women trafficking was also prevailing. As idle brain is the devil’s workshop, we looked out for ways to keep them busy.”

Haku Women’s skills

Norche Tamang, 32, had come for the training from Matathirtha “hoping to learn the skill that would help to earn money in the future”. From ward 3 of Haku, she with her family of seven have been living in Kathmandu since May. With her was a colourful jhola (bag).

That bag is her skill that she learnt when she was young out of interest. And the programme aims to enhance that.

Another skill that most of these women now have — is to make their traditional costumes like bakhu and other parts of their attire like patuki, topi and pangden. Chewang Tamang, Dawa Bhuti Tamang and Pasang Tamang in their 40s are some of them, while there were others wearing their products like angden and woollen patuki.

“In our villages, our older generations like our mothers used to make these things. We learnt from them. And we used to make our own bakhus and others and used to wear them but our children don’t wear them as they say they are itchy. So, I left making them,” shares Dawa who is living in Kirtipur after the quake.

Enjoying the new skill of knitting with other women, she adds, “I am enjoying it. I can knit anywhere I go unlike making bakhu which requires loom and a lot of hard work with the thread.”

For her knowing a skill means, “you don’t have to carry loads (labour work) and it could be a source

of income”.

Redirecting their craft

The Haku women have the skills. All they need is a way and guidance and this is being provided by Kolpa Traders.

“We are into making marketable products by using Nepali authentic raw materials and resources. And these women have the ability to work on the loom to come up with authentic costumes that have cultural values and likes of patuki and jhola,” Rabi Malla, Proprietor of Kolpa Traders said about the skill of Haku women.

As per him, they will help enhance their skills and products to another level. They will teach them colour combination, design, sizes which are in demand to come up with marketable products.

“We could also incorporate their skills to make new products like laptop cases or guitar straps and use their skilful hands to craft blankets, coats from loom,” he adds.

Along with enhancing their skills, the women are also adding some new skills. And skill developing training will help guide women in knitting and crocheting and to make anything using knitting needles and crochet hooks to which Malla says, “These women seem to know crochet also.

But only some of them know how to use knitting needles. As knitted woollen products are marketable in Kathmandu’s setting, we are training them to work with knitting needles.”