Sudha Basnet reuses old newspapers and scrap — wrappers and cloth — to make pencils in order to help women empower themselves
We read the newspaper today and tomorrow it is of no use except maybe to wrap something or in cleaning around the house. We usually wait for the men who shout: ‘Khali sisi, purano kaagaz (Empty bottles, old papers)’ to get rid of the old newspapers. This is the end of newspapers for many of us. But not for Sudha Basnet, Founder Chairperson of Women’s Dreams Beauty and Multi Service, Baluwatar, who has been reusing old newspapers to make pencils and earning quite a handsome income at same time and also giving employment to women.
Basnet is not only reusing newspapers but also pieces of cloth, wrappers of biscuits and noodles in making pencils, baskets, cushions, dustbins, among others. She is also working with Damberkumari Kapada — a kind of soft traditional clothing material — making vests, shawls, cushion covers, among others.
There are varieties of colourful pencils on the tables inside Basnet’s office at Baluwatar. There is a machine on the side to roll paper into a cylindrical shape to give it the form of a pencil. Some of these pencils are just rolled, some are sharpened, and some are packed and ready to be delivered. While many paper pen stands are filled with such paper pencils, there are numerous other colourful pencils on the table. “These paper pencils are handmade,” explains Basnet. The machine is used in rolling, cutting and drying. “But 80 per cent of the work is done by hand,” she adds.
Explaining making of the paper pencil, Basnet says, “The newspapers are cut into pieces. Then the lead imported from China is pasted with glue and is rolled in those paper pieces. Then the paper is rolled with the lead in the machine to roll it further giving it a cylindrical shape. The glue in the machine helps in rolling and giving the shape. It is then kept in the shade for a day and kept under the sun for two days so as to dry the glue. After the pencils are dried, they are cut in sizes of seven inches and sharpened.”
The pencils are then decorated. Such decoration is done as per the order of customers. “Some prefer to decorate the pencils with lokta paper, while some want to decorate it with colourful papers. Shrink wrapping is done so as to save it from getting wet,” Basnet adds.
However, at times the pencils can get soft. In such a case, one needs to dry them in the sun so as to use it again.
Varieties of cloth pieces are used to make cushions. “Women here knew the technique to weave cushions and mats from corn husks and as the same technique is used to weave them, we are making them too,” she explains. Not only cloth pieces but baskets, file folders, dustbins are also woven from papers. Paper bags too are the other items that they have made.
The concept behind making the pencils has a long story. Basnet who was born on March 15, 1966 had a normal life after her marriage. The writer of short story collection Aajhai Dailo Ugharai Chha and Mayalu Pidaharu and the collection of songs Chhayasangai Hidchhu Ma Ta was interested in writing since her school days at Bhanubhakta Memorial Higher Secondary School, Panipokhari. Writing became a medium for her to express the issues of women. She was occupied in her home as she had children to take care of. Yet she didn’t stop writing. She started writing articles related to women’s issues. She started writing short stories too. Writing became a medium to express herself. And she used to write with pencils. Using pencil was easier. It helped her to erase the things that she didn’t like and also helped her in correction. But such helpful material wasn’t made in the country. “I started thinking why isn’t pencil made in Nepal? As I was writing articles about women and was seeking a change in their lives, I thought writing will not bring change in the status of women. I felt that I must work. So, I came up with the idea to empower women while helping them economically. This is why along with 14 other women I started with the training of stitching, weaving pote (glass beads) among others. So as to do something extra and to take the market and help women, the idea of paper pencils was developed,” she explains.
After registering her company in 2012, she has been helping women.
The initial days of making paper pencils were not easy. “We learned making paper pencils watching YouTube. Fifty per cent went to waste then,” she added. The cost of pencils was comparatively higher and they were not able to compete with the pencils in the market. Yet the determined team didn’t deter. Slowly and gradually the team went on working. Basnet and her team are able to produce 70,000 paper pencils each month these days. And the product is exported to Japan, Romania, Sweden, Thailand and Malaysia. In addition, online shopping is available in UK, Germany and Australia. The pencils are available in Pilgrims, Summit Book House at Thamel and Shop with a Story at Baber Mahal Revisited in Kathmandu.
Basnet has been able to empower women by developing skills and helping them earn so that they are not dependent economically on anyone else. Currently 55 women are working with her. The idea of reusing materials was not only to develop the status of women. It was also to utilise the materials which were being wasted. Millions of trees are cut down worldwide to make pencils and making pencils from newspapers would help preserve trees. “This is why we have been doing a little from our side to save trees,” she added.
Besides that they have also been reusing wrappers of biscuits and noodles to make dustbins, file folders. “I feel reusing such materials help in protecting the environment,” she adds.
However, the April 25, 2015 earthquake destroyed their machine in Sitapaila and the production is halted there. The team has been working on a small machine in Baluwatar hoping to make a change in the life of women while preserving nature.
A version of this article appears in print on August 27, 2016 of The Himalayan Times.