UNDP's COVID Response initiatives implemented in partnership with local govts are creating income opportunities for the affected people.

She lost her husband four years ago. Father is chronically ill. Daughter is only six. Mother, 47, worked for a hotel about three hours walk from home earning 12,000 rupees a month and was the main breadwinner till before COVID-19 broke out in the first quarter of 2020.

Caught off guard, the government of Nepal imposed nationwide lockdown in March 2020. Businesses pulled down shutters. Workers headed back home, tens of thousands of them on foot. Her mother returned, too.

This is the story of Sajina Bika, 25, and her family of four.

As Nepal plunged into a state of total lockdown, breadwinners came back home with difficulty, only to find themselves and their families in more difficult situations.

But some were luckier than others. Amidst protracted lockdown, someone in the family would have availed of training opportunities acquiring some "hard" skills to generate some income. Sajina was among them.

There was a 10-day sewing-cutting training (advanced level) available, practically next door and she would not have to pay a dime for it. Mina mam, who started a women's cooperative way back in 1998 with 25 members, each contributing 50 rupees per month, had identified 10 "needy" women and offered them to join the training run by the local women's cooperative and savings group, Milijuli, meaning 'coming around, together'.

"I wanted to learn sewing-cutting so I could make some money to support the family financially," Sajina said. "To learn sewing, I needed training but my family would not be able to pay for it."

"I could not have let this bag-making training pass me by."

All 10, including Sajina, joined the training. Her mother was out of job, the daily chores did not pay and the family needed hard cash to buy medicines for her father.

"At the end of the training, four of them turned out to be the best," chuckled Mina Shrestha, 47, the cooperative chair. "Six others did show potential but couldn't go that far. Typical household issues that hold an average Nepali woman back came their way too," she explained. "Handling the daily household chores, taking care of young children, feeding goats, chicks and cows. But the good thing is they too have told me, with the newly acquired training skills, they intend to start their own business."

Sristi Shrestha, 28, is one of them. "I couldn't carry on after the training because I have to raise two kids," she said. Her elder daughter is 7 while her son just completed his first birthday.

The "perfect four", as Mina calls them flashing a pleasant smile, work 10-5, six days a week at Milijuli's newly created venture: Making hand bags, product diversification and scaling up production.

For now, Milijuli has contracted four trainees to stitch bags and other products. A semi-trained designer – locally known as Master – has been hired for a monthly wage of 25,000 rupees. Shankar Nepali, 34, who worked for an enterprise that made backpacks for travelers in Kathmandu's tourist hub of Thamel, lost his job and returned home. Now the Master, Shankar designs bags and cuts materials into different shapes and sizes. He can cut up to 300 school bags a month.

The trainees stitch the bags for a remuneration of 80 rupees per piece. "Four women can stitch up to 80 school bags a day."

The Sahakari sells those bags to the local vendors for 500 rupees for a net profit of 50 rupees per piece. The market price is 590 rupees.

The cooperative chair has a post-pandemic plan and strategy on her mind. "We plan to sell the school bags locally," she said. "We are also contacting local bodies, including the municipalities and non-governmental organisations working in and around Sindhupalchowk, to begin with," she said. "They have agreed to help."

According to her, Chautara Sangachowkgadi Municipality's all nine wards have pledged to allocate part of their budget for purchase and distribution of school bags to the poor and underprivileged children residing on the fringes of the municipality.

At the moment, Mina and Milijuli are going a bit slow though. Some 300 school bags are in stock because of the lockdown. "We have also started making ladies' bags, purses and shoulder bags for shopping," Mina said. "We look forward to bringing the costs down and introducing more products in the coming months," she said. "Let's see how things go as the COVID-19 situation improves," Mina added optimistically as she traveled down the memory lane. "Guess, at the heart of the business plan lies the 10-day training." A profound sense of content reflects on her face as she added "I hope the venture and the plan will succeed."

"If it does, we will succeed in creating a women-led enterprise and increased income generating opportunities for the Sindhupalchowk women locally."

[For business inquiries with the women's group, contact Mina Shrestha at +977-9851206080 | For more details about the programme, contact UNDP Nepal]

[This initiative is part of UNDP's ongoing COVID Response. Read more about UNDP's evolving COVID Response in Nepal]

Footnotes
Co-funded by the Royal Thai Government, UNDP and local governments, this is part of UNDP's COVID Response implemented in partnership with local NGOs. Photo story by UNDP Nepal.

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