Nepal is a developing nation situated between India and China partially straddling the Himalayan Mountains, with a population of approximately 28 million people. While it is a beautiful and well-known tourist destination it has had a tumultuous recent history. 2006 marked the end of a decade-long civil war and more recently, in April 2015, Nepal suffered a devastating earthquake that killed over 8,000 people. Unfortunately, it also suffers from rural depopulation as youth migrate to work in India and the Gulf states in search of paying work, as there is not enough employment in Nepal.
Despite this Nepal is well-known as a trekking and tourist destination. Global MapAid aims to support and boost the local economy of Nepal, by helping our local partners, the Nepal Economic Forum and the Kathmandu Living Labs, make maps that clearly show how and where local industry and business is located and where resources are limited. These maps aim to identify to social enterprise providers — such as vocational colleges, microfinance institutions and NGOs, as well as their areas of influence — where gaps exist.
The critical need for business opportunities in Nepal was noted in a 2015 BBC news article – some of the key points:
“More than three-and-a-half million Nepalis – that’s well over 10% of the population of this mountainous, underdeveloped country – have left to work abroad over the past 20 years. “No young men – they’re all in Malaysia, Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Dubai – everywhere but here.”
“It’s not only about the money,” says Sabin, who is back home from his job in Qatar for the first time in two years. “So many of the men have gone away there’s no-one left here now to repair the earthquake damage and build the houses. No-one to do the pipes, the electricity – they’re all gone.”
It’s easy to spot the new recruits – they’re the ones in the smart clothes, looking more like teenagers going on holiday than labourers bound for building sites in the Gulf. On average, more than 1,500 leave every day.
Nepalis working abroad have a tough time of it, particularly those who leave the cool air of their mountain villages to labour in the heat of the Gulf states where summer temperatures can top 40C for days on end. “Many who go to the Gulf find they can’t exist in the conditions there,” says Sabin.”Some die because it’s too hot. But some die of cold – after hours working in the heat the labourers take a break. They often go into an air-conditioned place and then fall asleep. And they never wake up. We call it the killing room.”
Remittances from workers overseas are vital for Nepal’s economy. Most people live on less than $2 a day. The country’s struggle to fight its way out of poverty has been difficult.”
7 December 2015, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-35008255
Sustainable Enterprise Stories: Meet Ramita Maharjan
“Namaste” as we say in Nepal, meaning “Happy Greetings” !
My name is Ramita Maharjan, I am a married woman living in Kathmandu, Nepal and the mother of a girl and boy. My son is at junior school and is very energetic and lively, my daughter recently began senior school and is very studious.
Here in Nepal most married women are dependent on their husbands and if he is the eldest of his brothers, or an only child – as my husband is – she is given extra responsibility to look after his parents. Like many young Nepalese women now, I am trying to be more independent, but it is a struggle in our patriarchal society.
I have employed four people and undertaken work at Mr Shrestha’s factory, in the Kathmandu neighbourhood that I grew up in, where we have been able to borrow sewing machines and use a power generator. Most businesses in Kathmandu run generators – Nepal has suffered daily cuts to its electricity since 2008 when the country came out of a civil war.
Together, the team typify Nepalese society’s contrast of close family ties and wide ethnic diversity. Mr Shrestha and I are both Newar – we are distant cousins. There are just over a million Newar people in Nepal, and we are descended from the tribe who historically occupied the Kathmandu valley and surrounding region. We are Hindu, but celebrate festivals differently to other Hindus, have our own traditional costume and even have our own calendar. We speak our own Newar language, also known as Nepal Bhasa, which has it’s own ancient script. Neither are taught in schools and few of us can read the script now – Newar is very different from the official Nepalese language.
The factory was built on land that was a quiet paddy field twenty years ago, and was then located on the edge of the city in sight of the sacred Hindu temple of Swayambhunath. A Buddhist monastery founded by Tibetan exiles now sits on top of the next hill, but these can’t be seen – they are obscured by many tall apartments that cover the neighbourhood, which is now within the central area of the city. Within a few decades Kathmandu has grown to fill most of its wide valley. Very few fields remain around the edge, close to the mountain forests that are home to wild leopards.
Two of our workers, the Ansaris, are a husband and wife from the Terai region (the Southern, low-land area of Nepal bordering India). They live in rented accommodation with their two sons, both university students. For the Ansaris and many other Kathmandu inhabitants, life, education and work in the city is seen as a temporary thing. The place they refer to as “home” is a remote village where there are few opportunities for work, but where they hope to retire when their parents reach the age when they can’t look after themselves. They save up to buy land and build a house in their home village. Cutting and sewing at the factory is the Ansaris’ livelihood and hopes for the future depend on it.
In South Asian society it is common to have strong family ties within the work-place. Zahid is Mr Ansari’s cousin and is from Hetauda, the town in the Terai that is situated closest to Kathmandu – 133km away by road. Once the town was directly linked to Kathmandu by a impressive American-built cableway, which was dedicated to carrying supplies into the centre of the city, but the route crossed remote mountains and there were few skilled workers to maintain it. During the civil war it fell into disrepair.
Our last employee is Purnima Lama. She is a Kathmandu local, but isn’t Newari, nor Hindu; she is Buddhist. Her husband emigrated to Malaysia where he works as a labourer. When he can return, he will bring the money he has been saving up. He was away when their house was destroyed by the big April earthquake. Purnima has no children, so she has to cope with this difficult situation alone and must work very hard to survive. We try to be like family for her in the factory.
I often make spicy potato or mixed veg’ curry to take into work and buy some beaten rice to share with all of the team for our tiffin. We look after each other, but we also have the protection of a security guard – Mr Khairee. He is a handsome brown mongrel who especially enjoys our shared meals together.
Global MapAid came to Nepal after the April 2015 earthquake and began designing map programmes to help find and fix the big problems that our businesses, workers and the unemployed faced at this difficult time. GMA have helped me start my new business, giving me my first big project – making laptop covers made of local hand-woven fabrics.
We are proud to be able to help Global MapAid fund their good work, promoting sustainable development around the world. With colourful traditional weaves of natural yarns, we hope you like our laptop covers !
Nepal says Namaste to the whole world 🙂