It was an email with a difference. A cousin, who is working with TECH Outreach Malaysia, sent me an email which detailed her trip to Kathmandu and made a request for donations to help empower women in Kathmandu. Usually, I respond to such requests with pledging a certain amount of money and not giving it another thought, hoping against hope that this small gesture of mine will benefit someone in need.
However, this time, the cause tugged at my heart for unknown reasons and my curiosity and interest was aroused. I was not content with merely pledging a sum of money. I wanted to know more and took the bold step of asking if I could accompany the TECH Outreach team on their next visit to Nepal. The god’s were benevolent and lo-behold, my request was accepted! That marked the start of a very enriching and meaningful experience to Kathmandu and the remote outlying villages of Sinduli in Nepal from the 11th -19th November 2013.
I met my fellow travel companions on the 11th November – Shashi (Vice-President) , Yen Yee (Executive Secretary), Michael (photographer), and of course my cousin, Randhir Kaur (Head, Women in Need, Klang). Through conversations with them, I learnt more about the work of TECH Outreach Malaysia. It was introduced in Malaysia in 2004 by Dr Selvamalar Ayadurai, an Entreprenuership consultant, who has worked closely with women in the war torn zone in the North East of Sri Lanka. It not only helps disadvantaged women in Malaysia but has also extended its aid to women in other parts of the world that require socio-economic and technological development.
Helping disadvantaged Nepali women represents another one of TECH Outreach’s global initiatives beyond Malaysia’s shores.
Replicating the TECH Outreach Model with the Rural Women’s Network in Nepal (RUWON), the Project Nepal Team, led by Thana, (Project Leader), interviewed disadvantaged women to select candidates who qualified for micro loans.
Aid is provided to women based on the Grameen model of micro financing. It is based on the model devised by Professor Mohammad Yunus (Banker to the Poor). Aiming to transform lives and communities by providing loans to single women [married but abandoned women, divorced or widowed] The TECH outreach model charges NO interest on the loan and repayment schedules are closely monitored. The latter helps to ensure ownership and accountability for the loans provided. Repaid loans contribute to a revolving fund , which is then tapped on to help more women in need. Women are the target audience as the Grameen mode has proven to rake in better results with women rather than men. Moreover, when women are empowered, whole families benefit and it sets the stage for long term improvements.
After the selection of women in need by Thana’s team, loans were disbursed to women in August 2013.
I had the benefit of experiencing first-hand the work of TECH Outreach in partnership with RUWON. On the first day, RUWON representatives [Dhruba and Basanta] gave us a brief overview of the progress of the women who had been given the loan.
Accountability and responsibility to donors
I learnt that the Nepali on site representatives serve as the runners and ‘debt collectors’. They also make checks on the women to ensure that the loan has been used for the required purposes (eg setting up a tea shop, grocery shop or to buy sewing machines, etc). The RUWON representatives assured us that most women were on track in loan repayments and also provided the financial records, tracking the loan repayments schedules /adherence levels for each woman. They were frank enough to admit that the last 2 months had seen many Nepali festivals and so some women had asked for leeway in repayment.
What struck me about the process was the great importance given to issues of accountability and responsibility to donors. I have always had much concern about donations given and wondered if the money was meaningfully employed. Here, I was seeing first-hand the work of TECH Outreach – checking mechanisms in place, support structures in Kathmandu itself [ in the form of RUWON representatives] which ensured that loans were not frittered away but used meaningfully.
My faith in the work done by TECH outreach was further cemented when we visited (or rather did a ‘progress’ check) on 3 women who had been given a loan in August. All 3 women have set up little businesses and repeatedly voiced heartfelt gratitude to the TECH members for the loan. It was very heartening to see women who have managed to become economically independent. From the profits generated, all 3 women managed to provide for their children’s education, a decent place to stay, save for the future and also some extras for buying new clothes during festivals. I was very inspired by what I saw and heard and very glad to be on the scene to be able to witness these “success” stories. Some details of these women are given below.
Rupa Chanda Singh
- A war widow was given a loan of NRP 30,000 (USD300) and a 18month repayment period.
- She has used the loan meaningfully. She runs a small self-contained grocery shop selling snacks, a variety of daily necessities and has a good business going.
- Is on track in loan repayment and even showed us evidence of saving (her savings book with a credit and saving cooperative)
Context: had been abandoned by her husband.
A tailor, she was given a NRP 30,000 loan to buy a sewing machine (NPR15,000) and 3 month’s rental (NPR 5,000 per month)
- She has used the money to buy a sewing machine (the team saw the machine) and she has also bought another machine (for doing the edges of fabrics)
- She said business is good. She sews clothes (said business was very good during the festival time), does alterations and also charges for doing the “edges” of fabrics. She also makes and sells small bags.
- She is on track for loan repayment.
Context: very difficult circumstances, abandoned by her husband, was a construction worker (work was seasonal) and was unable to even make enough money to feed her children. In July, she looked very depressive and sad.
- Given loan of NPR 50,000 (USD500)
- Has used the loan to set up a tea shop cum hotel. It is very furnished with the necessary tables and chairs. She also sells Nepali noodles and alcohol.
- Now looked very confident and happy.
- Opens the shop from 4am to 9pm. Is willing to work hard as she says that it has improved her life and she now has no difficulty looking after her children and putting food on the table.
- Business is good; she admitted to being able to pay her bills and even save. She saves with a saving cooperative
- The team met her children (2 daughters and one son). The children looked well groomed, happy and healthy.
The Sinduli experience and interviews.
Aim of this trip was to check on the progress of women who had received the loans and also conduct a feasibility study of extending loans to women in the remote, outlying regions. These regions are usually by passed by NGOs due to accessibility issues. The main activity in Sinduli is agricultural. The women of Sinduli are hard workers and I saw them doing manual work of ploughing, carry heavy bags of dung and working hard in the fields.
RUWON representatives had identified the Sinduli region (appx 9 hours drive from Kathmandu) as the target area for help. They provided good support to the TECH Outreach team in terms of ensuring proper transport and accommodation for the team and also sourcing for translators to help facilitate the interview process.
When we arrived at Vimal village on the day of the 1st interview, there were about 60 women waiting to be interviewed.
In the next day, we made our way to 2 more outlying villages. It was a challenge making our way to these outlying villages as they are inaccessible by road. The team had to walk for at least 45 minutes and had to trudge through mud tracks, 3 streams (it was a great challenge as the pebbly streams were very slippery , filled with frogs and fish) and fields of long grass . Interviewing under a banyan tree, seated on boulders is an experience I will never forget.
The interview and selection process
Tech Outreach in Nepal has stringent interview processes which identify the needs of women and their ability to repay the loans. I studied the interview forms, which captured details of the candidate, family details (to ascertain the needs of the women, did they have any support structures) loan required, breakdown of details of how it would be used. The purpose of the loan and repayment schedules were also explained to the women by the Vice-President (Shashi) and its member (Rani). I also sat in and helped with some interviews.
Sitting in on the interviews and listening to the women’s circumstances and lives is a draining process. It is by no means for the faint hearted. Every woman has a story to tell, a story that tugs at the heart: many are abandoned by husbands, widowed with no support or divorced and left single to tend for children. Their physical appearance was a grim testimony to their hard lives: weather beaten, wrinkled faces and hands, clothes that were dirty and soiled. One young woman had an aura of sadness envelop her. As she told her story, I discovered that her husband had abandoned her after a few months of marriage and she was left to look after a daughter (whom the husband has not seen at all). Daughters who are married off cannot go back to their maternal homes as it is seen as a great source of shame for the parents. They thus, have to find means to support themselves.
Yet, the Sinduli women also carried themselves with dignity, spoke of dreams of expanding their livestock business or set up some other business so as to improve their lives. They, too, have dreams (though simple) like any other woman. After a few interviews, a similar pattern emerged. Many single women run households with only bare necessities for sustenance. Whilst they may own land, they can only make enough for survival. Whilst many have of dreams and even plans for a better life, banks offer them no loans and even if they obtain a loan, they are charged high rates of interest (10%). They are caught in no man’s land. The local moneylenders charge even higher rates of interest, binding women in a cycle of poverty.
This is where TECH outreach and its offer of interest free loans held out hope to the single women. I heard over and over, women’s desires to buy more goats, ox, buffaloes, cows (I learnt so much about the livestock business and how much a buffalo, ox etc costs) to rear so that they could sell it at a profit. I heard of plans for expansion of existing business eg tea houses. These wishes and dreams seem so simple, yet, they are out of the reach of the women due to the lack of access to loans. Women came to the interviewing team with much hope in their eyes….I wish all could be given the help, but am aware of the reality of limited funds. To help more women, lots more funds are needed.
The selection process
After each day of interviews, the TECH Outreach members met to discuss each candidate’s needs and suitability for a loan. Tough and difficult decisions had to be made, as there is are limited resources. Discussions also centred around choice of an on-site representative to oversee the proper use of resources and collection of loans.
What was reassuring for me was the time and effort taken by the TECH Outreach members to study and discuss each loan application and take into consideration risk factors, suitability for loan, repayment schedules, the need to be flexible in the context of loans given for livestock rearing (as repayment can only start only after a period of time). Whilst being stringent, I was glad to notice that the TECH team was also very aware of the need to make a difference in the lives of those in dire need .Thus, 4 women were selected for the loan as they met the criteria, are the “poorest of the poor” (ie in dire need of help) and have asked for very manageable sums of money (ranging from NRP 10-20K – between USD100-200)
You can make a difference with your donations
I am sharing this write-up with you (thank you for the patience in reading to the end) hoping that in the season of giving and year-end bonuses, you will spare a thought for these women.
Based on my experience, most women interviewed asked for a loan of about NPR 30,000 (USD300). This would be the cost of buying about 3 goats that they want to rear and sell for a profit. A buffalo, I discovered cost twice as much!
I would be very grateful if you could make a donation to help these women. Helping just one woman can make a difference. A small amount, any amount can go a long way.
I had gone to Sinduli hoping to help the disadvantaged women of Sinduli. Yet, they ended up being my teachers and I became the student. I had so much to learn from these women. Their stoic acceptance of their circumstances and simple dreams for a loan for a better life moved and touched me. I returned with a resolve to help these women. Most of us have been blessed in countless ways and are in a position to make a difference by helping these women. We can all make a difference.
To make a donation, you can visit the TECH outreach website www.mytechoutreach.org or go directly to this page http://www.simplygiving.com/malar or contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanking you in advance for your donation.
Watch the video for snapshots of this trip…