Starting an enterprise has not only given Muna Odh a lifeline out of poverty, but also hardened her resolve to help others from the Dalit community in her area break free of the rigid hold of the caste system

Muna Odh was determined to not let the longstanding barriers of caste and discrimination cast a shadow on her dreams. A resident of the Dashrathchand municipality in Baitadi, she had spent most of her life working for others, starting with a stint as a household helper, a profession that many generations of her family—belonging to the marginalized Dalit community—had been confined to. “The work was hard and the pay meagre, and people didn’t treat us very well,” she says. “I wanted to break out of this cycle and do something else.”

Muna went on to try her hand at different jobs. “I tried everything—I even transported goods for people for three years, but it didn’t pay enough for me to sustain my family,” she says. Fortunately, it wasn’t long before she came upon a training opportunity—UNDP’s Micro-Enterprise Development Programme (MEDEP) was conducting a week-long Start and Improve Your Business (SIYB) workshop in the area, and as soon as she heard about it, Muna enlisted. “I had a good feeling about it.”

Seeing potential for vegetable farming as an enterprise, Muna decided that was what she would focus on at the workshop. She worked hard on learning the ropes and acquiring the necessary skills, and once the training was complete, MEDEP provided her the financial and technical support needed to establish the Manakamana Vegetable Production Group. “I felt hopeful after such a long time,” she says. “And I was ready to do whatever it took to make it work.”

The Manakamana Group produces a range of seasonal and off-season vegetables that are sold in local markets. And business has been booming: the group now has fixed assets worth Rs. 150,000 and current assets amounting to Rs. 60,000. Each member makes a profit of Rs. 32,000 a month. But Muna doesn’t want to stop there. “I want to expand the business so that we can produce ten quintals of vegetables,” she says.

Now that her circumstances have improved, Muna is able to support her family and send her kids to school—as well as employ members of her family in the enterprise. But apart from a change in her financial state, Muna says the experience has also had a considerable impact on her self-worth and her sense of ambition.

This was one of the reasons she had made up her mind to contest in the recently-held local elections as a candidate for the Dalit quota in the municipality. Although she did not get the seat, she says she’s happy to try again. “It’s only if people like me are able to enter these kinds of decision-making positions that we can finally break free of the hold of the caste system and reach our true potential,” she says. 

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