By Malini Manjoly
The eight well-functioning cooperatives of Navjyoti, a non-governmental organization of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth have changed the lives of many people especially women and children in Surkhet, West Nepal.
The cooperatives are solely managed by its 1375 shareholders. They avail loans on the basis of their savings in their cooperative or on the collateral of their land holdings on 15 to 6 per cent interest depending on the purpose of the loan.
For income generation activities six per cent interest is charged. Shareholders carry on businesses individually or in groups such as poultry farming, goat rearing, fancy and hardware shops, to pay the travel expenses for foreign employment, buying three wheelers (tempo), four wheelers, construction of houses, purchase of land, education of children, medical treatment, etc.
In 2000, Sister Rosita Kavilpurayidathil, a member of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth moved to Surkhet, a small town in West Nepal with a population of 52,137 in 12,045 households. Well versed in Nepali with over two decades of working experience in Kathmandu and Dharan in East Nepal, she quickly won the hearts of simple women and children. Seeing the good works the women did in groups, the men also formed their own groups.
Sister Rosita said, “People were so very poor and illiterate that it was easy for me to convince them to form self-help groups for savings and credit.” She further said that motivating the unskilled illiterate women to attend the literacy class was not difficult. Each one was interested to learn to keep account of the meager Nepali rupees 10 or 30 they saved in their groups.
Not having any opportunities for regular employment, people migrated to India for work. Therefore the women were eager to attend skills training in cutting and tailoring. Sister Rosita also introduced ‘integrated pest management’, and methods in multi-cropping.
The women also undertook up some community services. The income generating activities were not sustainable for lack of availability of funds.
The groups increased to 22 with 453 women within seven years. Sister Rosita encouraged some of the educated men and women to register their groups into a cooperative for easy access to loans among the shareholders.
Twenty women and five men registered the first cooperative, ‘Shree Navjyoti Savings and Credit Cooperative Ltd. (SNSCC) in March 2007 with Nepali rupees 12,500 under the Division Cooperative in Surkhet. It is recognized by the government of Nepal.
It was a new dawn for the petty farmers. More and more groups also formed themselves into cooperatives that now Navjyoti has five credit cooperatives and three agricultural cooperatives with 1373 shareholders of which 1050 are women.
A forty year old Sushila Thapa was the first chairperson of the first cooperative and she continues to be so. She said: “I was shy and afraid to speak in front of people. I had no say in any of the decisions that mattered to me or my children. In 2012, I borrowed from SNSCC, Nepali rupees two hundred thousand on 16 per cent annual interest to start a fancy shop in the town. I paid back the loan in two years’ time. Now I have an annual income of 1.5 million a year. We have invested around 5 million in property and housing. Through training and exposures, Navjyoti empowered and motivated women like me to stand on our feet and shake off our shame of enduring domestic violence, without a word. I am a confident woman now that I travel alone to Kathmandu for the purchase of supplies for my store. My husband, Ganesh Thapa and I make decisions together in my family. I believe, if the women like me get proper guidance and training they will be transformed persons like me to make their homes and society a better place.”
In talking about the transformation that came through SNSCC, Sabitri Dhakal, a class IV school dropout said, “We have a profit of around six hundred thousand Nepali rupees from over three thousand kilograms of mushroom produced annually. We also earn around five hundred thousand rupees a year from the sale of honey. My husband, Nilaram Dhakal, a class V dropout and I were migrant workers in Mumbai, India. In 2005, we sold our property and livestock in the upper regions of the Himalayas, for US dollars 160 and settled in Surkhet with our two children. My husband continued to work in India and I reared livestock for a living from a rented room. When I heard about the various trainings that Navjyoti conducted, I joined one of their self-help groups at Upper Padampur village in 2008 and attended the six-month skills training program at Navjyoti. It helped me to gain self-confidence and I learnt many skills. I took a loan of Rs. 13,000 on an interest of twelve per cent from Navjyoti Cooperative to start a grocery shop in my house. From then, we were fortunate to purchase a piece of land. My husband stopped going for work in India. In managing the shop, I also took up bee-keeping and I taught my husband its techniques. He learnt new methods of mushroom cultivation from the agricultural department which he taught me. Now my husband is involved with bee keeping and my son and I take care of the mushrooms. The income from the shop, honey and mushrooms helped us to purchase more land and build a two-storey house. My husband is the vice president of the farmer’s organization in Surkhet, now the Mid-West Province. He trains other farmers how to cultivate mushrooms. He received the best farmer award for the innovative farming from the president of Nepal in 2015.”
Geeta Yogi, Sunita Yogi, Ranjana Thappa, and Varsha Choudhary who completed the six-month skills training at Navjyoti, said, “we, collectively took a loan of sixty thousand from the Navjyoti cooperative to purchase our own sewing machines to start cutting and tailoring. We get a lot of business now and earn around Rs.16 to 17 thousand a month to add to our family income. We also helped the women in our village to form a self-help group and brought them under the Navjyoti cooperative. Every household manages our own wastes and the village is litter free. We also promote organic vegetable cultivation using compost from the home wastes. We have been successful in stopping domestic violence in our homes and in the village.”
A sixty-five- year Sapiyun Bibi said, “I have given an interview on BBC radio about the positive changes of Muslim women in my Bhelghari Basti. In joining the Navjyoti cooperative, we learnt new techniques in vegetable cultivation and integrated pest management. We also attended trainings in leadership, business plan, health and sanitation. Now five women started shops in our Basti and many women began income generating activities either in the village or in the town. We have a child and youth club and a few men’s self-help groups in our Basti. Every child is enrolled in schools. Gender gap is reduced that both boys and men contribute to the family income and share responsibilities. Before our transformation, we were aloof and women watched television during their spare time. Many men used to migrate to India for work. Navjyoti trained me to be a health volunteer in my village. Each child is immunized and women get regular checkups both antenatal and postnatal and I make sure all women have safe deliveries. I have been instrumental in reducing domestic violence and minimizing child marriages. Our village is litter free and clean. I joined the Navjyoti cooperative in 2010 and became the first Muslim woman to take a loan of rupees ten thousand to open a general store in my house. Now I have built a big store in front of my house and I have an annual income of rupees sixty thousand after meeting all family expenses. If this help had come to me earlier, what I would have been now.”
Shanti Choudhary said, “I quickly realized my dream of having a house and an income generating project to educate my five-old son in an English medium school. Coming in contact with the Navjyoti cooperative, I attended empowerment training in planning for new enterprises, leadership, savings & credit, vegetable cultivation, integrated pest management and rearing livestock. With the first loan of rupees sixty-thousand, I had a poultry farm and made a mud house and both were washed away in front of my own eyes in the August 2014 flood. I took two more loans to restart the poultry farm and to buy a small piece of land adjacent to my house to cultivate vegetables. I make over sixty thousand rupees from selling vegetables and over 75 thousand from the poultry. My son is at Navjyoti English Medium School, the same school as the children of the landlord where her husband was a servant. I have a happy family and my dream is fulfilled. If not for Navjyoti cooperative, I would be living in penury.”
In sharing her story Asha Choudhary said, “Through Navjyoti’s support, I am freed from domestic violence and my dignity is restored. I am the second of wife of Balram. Balram was childless. After my marriage, his first wife and I also had children. I lived separately in the house Balram built for me. I became a literate by attending the literacy classes in the village and I kept the books of all the transactions of the women’s group which infuriated my husband and his first wife who emotionally and physically abused me. Not only did my husband never share his monthly salary from working as a guard at the police station with me but he also took away my earnings from the field. When I no longer withstand my daughter being abused, Sister Rosita encouraged me to report the violence at the police station. As I reported my case, my daughter and I were placed at a shelter home and my husband went underground. The police intervened and my husband agreed to treat us fairly. My daughter wanted her father to render a public apology and he obliged. Since then, my husband is a changed man, a good father and husband. It was a reckoning for other abusive men like Balram in the village.
Naratapar Cooperative at Korke is the second cooperative started in 2007 by Navjyoti. The two hundred and twelve shareholders produce high value vegetable crops in season and out of season. We also rear high milk yielding livestock. We had no irrigational facility and most able bodied men and women of the village migrated to India for work. Navjyoti encouraged the women to attend the six-month skills training. The fifteen of us who took the ‘integrated pest management’ training for vegetable cultivation registered our cooperative in 2007. Our savings is over 8 million Nepali rupees. We have laid 700 hundred meters of irrigational pipes and we have a common motorized tiller. Both men and women sit together to make decisions in our cooperative which was not a norm before we came together as a group.
Navjyoti NGO and its cooperatives have been recognized by the officials of Surkhet as the best one in the district for a number of years consecutively, said Sister Rosita.
The 1,373 shareholders of Navjyoti have deposits over 46 million Nepali rupees in shares, savings and loans. Navjyoti not only has touched the lives of many women, men, youth and children in various ways through their five savings and credit and three agricultural cooperatives, skills training, awareness outreach programs it also has met many of the indices of human development such as reducing poverty, hunger, achieving food security, promoting sustainable agriculture, promoting lifelong learning and quality education, moving towards gender equality, empowering women and girls for just and inclusive societies, ensuring clean drinking water and sanitation. Navjyoti promotes inclusive and sustainable economic growth and employment, sustainably manage forests to care for the environment and globally partner for sustainable development for all.