A carpet-making enterprise started by 25 women in Darchula supported by UNDP has proven their ticket to improved livelihoods, strengthened confidence and the preservation of an age-old craft
Darchula in Nepal’s far west boasts a rich tradition in woolen handicrafts, particularly carpets and knitwear, known for their intricate designs and soft texture. And keeping that tradition alive is the Koseli House in Khalanga, where one can find a variety of locally-made woolen products.
It was in 2011 that 25 women came together to establish Koseli House. These women, all hailing from marginalized ethnic communities living in the area, had been encouraged to start an enterprise after participating in an entrepreneurship development training being offered by UNDP’s Micro-Enterprise Development Programme.
Most of the entrepreneurs already had some experience in weaving. One of them, Puja Tankari, for instance, had been in the third grade when she first started making carpets. “Within two years or so, I was already selling my wares for around Rs. 2,500 a piece,” she says.
But without information about and access to proper markets, and given the amount of effort that went into the work, it was simply not a sustainable means of earning a living for most. And so, like many other traditional crafts, carpet-making in Darchula was seeing fewer and fewer takers over the years, threatened even more by the general trend of young, able-bodied people migrating to other places in the country or overseas in pursuit of more lucrative employment opportunities.
MEDEP’s training, however, turned things around. Not only did it serve to reinforce the women’s existing skills, but also helped them incorporate new technologies in their craft, as well as offering them much-needed direction in terms of marketing—culminating in the impetus to open their own enterprise. Today, Koseli House makes carpets worth Rs. 15 lakhs in just over six months’ time, significantly boosting the women’s livelihoods.
“I made a profit of around Rs. 100,000 over the past winter selling my woolen sweaters through Koseli House,” Puja says. “It’s far more than I would’ve earned on my own.” The improvement in earnings has eased her financial circumstances considerably, she says, and enabled her to give her children a good education, something she is very proud of.
Over the years, MEDEP has continued to support Koseli House in other ways. The project contributed a steel hand loom to the enterprise, which the women say have simplified their work a great deal. “It’s so much easier to make different patterns now,” says Rupa Atwal, a single mother and another of the micro-entrepreneurs at Koseli House. “I’m earning around Rs. 25,000 monthly from selling the carpets, and I also buy woolen products from other weavers and sell them for a profit.”
And in a bid to help them acquire some new skills and improve the quality of their carpets, MEDEP also brought the women to Kathmandu to take part in a training where they learned to mix colors and make more detailed designs. The trip also helped the group gain valuable exposure. While Urti Bohara got her photo published in a calendar featuring micro-entrepreneurs, Sudha Bohara was interviewed and given the opportunity to visit Bangladesh. Rukma Atwal, meanwhile, has taken part in a number of exhibitions and fairs all over Nepal. “We’re so much more confident than we used to be in the past,” she says. “We feel like our horizons have widened beyond anything we could expect when we first started out.”