Tell me about you.
I was born in Tipling, a spread of 9 villages that lie between Langtang and Manaslu, overlooking Ganish Himal. We were a farming family, poor, so my parents had to work in the fields – or on the hillsides. Often they were gone many days. I looked after my brothers and sisters and the goats. Then, as is tradition, I was married early, at 10, to a stranger from another village. For a dowry of $20. I ran away.
Why did you create Steps, and what do you do?
Steps is a frame for the work that came naturally from my work as a Health Worker in the villages. I was sad and very angry that girls married early to men they did not know, that they gave birth at too early an age, had poor food and had to do hard work, and look after the growing family. I was sad, yes, angry, that no one respected menstruation – we girls were made to feel shame, feel we were guilty of a sin! We were UNCLEAN. I realized that this important natural cycle was used it to keep women ‘in their place.’
Yes: I was angry.
I started by educating myself, then my patients, then my friends, about different subjects, and saw knowledge led to awareness that led to better hygiene, and this led to better health and better family life. Originally it was a vague path I followed, but in hind-sight it is obvious.
What do I do?
Hmmmm, I started Beni Handicrafts to secure my own income for me and my two children, but all along I felt I could help others to do the same. With a little security, I could train women in handicrafts, so they could find employment, that gave them a degree of independence, and a better life.
What is the biggest thing you have overcome?
Ignorance and bigotry. I was hungry for facts, for knowledge. But only attended school a few days. We girls did not need school, as we only needed to cook and look after animals!! Only boys needed schooling!!
To learn basic English and Nepali (we girls only spoke Tamang) in three months was a victory. Yes, to challenge and overcome outdated and inhumane traditions was the biggest obstacle.
What is your proudest moment?
As a Buddhist I try to avoid the feeling of pride. What is my happiest moment is much easier to answer. Haaaa! Many. The birth of my children, see them grow, sharing food with family, seeing a smile when someone buys one of my re-cycle designs (yes, that is the sin of pride, but that is ok sometimes). To wake my husband David with coffee in bed in a morning, to see the sun rise and to see it set. Receive a chicken from my Mother and Father. To hug them. To watch my children quarrel, be angry with them, but see them sleep in each others arms, that is good too. All a bit minor in the big picture, but all are big for me.
Tell me a funny story.
In our society it is a tradition and an honor to give an egg to a guest. David always says NO, as he feels he is taking from those who have little. One day we had to helicopter to Tipling, and used the opportunity to fly my sister down for a hospital visit, so we took my Mother and Father too. When we got to Kathmandu, in the taxi we felt something moving. It was Charley the Chicken. My Father had carried him in his jacket instead of an egg. Charlie flew for the first time in his life, by helicopter! We put him on the balcony but he got out and in the morning he was in our bedroom. So we made a house for him, tied his leg and fed him. Problem was that four crows wanted to eat him, but Charley fought back. He met a sad end, but tasted very good.
Who and what are your inspiration?
The village women of Tipling, they are strong, they are wonderful people. My Mother.
Do you have plans for the future?
Yes, I sold some land and bought some more with David. We plan to build a multi-functional center, with a factory for Beni Handicrafts, and a culture and education center Steps can use. On top of this we will build a flat where we can live, just outside Kathmandu. Today we pay high rent for a factory in a private house that is not ideal, and for our flat, that is also used for Steps meetings. We have little private life, with meetings and teachings, and often ten people sleeping on our floor. Here we can have all aspects of our life in one place. Plans, yes, to build the center, create a stronger Beni/business, expand Steps outside Kathmandu, to watch my children grow, and to make coffee for David.
-Interview conducted by Mathilde Chapal