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Man Kumari Sapkota, 35, lives with her four children and husband in Pakhathar, Baglung, Nepal. Married at the age of 18, her past is full of tales of misery and scarcity. Educated until grade five, while at the house of her father, she notes, "Because of the burden of housework, I couldn't study. While my brother went to school, I headed to the forest to collect firewood." Not unlike the common Nepali parents for whom a daughter is no more than a burden to be dispensed of, Man Kumari's Father found a groom for her: Narayan Prasad Sapkota.
Marriage brought a turning point in her life. Being a daughter-in-law in a staunch, patriarchal society is not easy. Even during labor, she was subjected to constant drudgery. She had to face criticism and disregard of her in-laws when she couldn't bear a son for the family. "When I gave birth to a girl for the third time, I prayed to God to let me die. When my husband got the news, he went to the office without even looking at the baby," she said. With their humble means, it was difficult to feed three mouths, but because of the son preference, there was no alternative but to try again. Much to the relief of Man Kumari and her in-laws, her fourth child was a son, but their problems were not over yet. Their only source of income was the money her husband sent home from work in India. With that, she couldn't even manage day-to-day expenditures, let alone educate her children.
In 2005 when Man Kumari decided to join Srijanshil Women's Group in Pakhathar, her husband strongly objected. She had to sneak out of the house to attend the meetings. After a year, she received two goats as gifts from Heifer. By that time, her husband was outside the country and Man Kumari began to actively participate in group work. Soon she was able to buy a buffalo from the earnings from the goats. Encouraged with the success, she ventured into vegetable farming with the help of the group and by the end of the year, made a profit of 266 dollars. "I was amazed at myself. I hadn't thought that I could do so much by myself," she said. When her husband returned home, he was surprised to see how Man Kumari had sent their children to school and managed the entire household through the income from her work. He was still more surprised to see how she had changed from being a timid housewife to an active community worker.
"I was surprised to see how everything had changed in the village. The women had built the roads and were looking after the school. My house was also not the same," said her husband. "I had no faith in this group of theirs. Only after my wife stared earning and we were able to send our children to school, I started believing in their work," he added.
Just as Narayan has noted, Man Kumari is no more the timid housewife who stood helpless before her in-laws and husband. "After I became involved in the group work, my confidence grew and I started believing in my capabilities. Before, I thought women like me could do nothing. Now, I feel I can do anything," she remarked. Apart from vegetable farming and tending to the buffalo, Man kumari is also involved in community work. She is a member of the School Management Committee and routinely participates in all development efforts initiated by her women's group. Recently, she was also elected as the Baglung president for the All Nepal Women's Association.