Man Kumari Chaudhary has seen many ups and downs in her life and has grown wiser with the experiences that come with it. Married at the tender age of 14, she never had the opportunity to attend school.
She and her husband Jit Bahadur Chaudhary live in a small home with their three children—two daughters and a son. Her husband’s main occupation is farming, but he used to have to work part-time as a construction laborer because his farm didn’t produce enough to food to sustain the family of five year-round.
But not having enough to eat wasn’t the only struggle for this family. Jit Bahadur’s poor health and constant medical bills pushed his family into a never-ending cycle of debt. With no access to credit, their only option was to borrow from a local lender who charged them high interest rates each month. Unsure of their future, the family lived in misery, taking life one day at a time.
In January 2008, Heifer Nepal launched the Rapti Women Empowerment Project. The project is implemented in Phattepur Village Development Committee (VDC), Ward 9, where its members are empowered to tackle socio-economic issues and trained to improve their families’ nutrition. When the 109 original project families received 218 goats and five breeding bucks, the Chaudhary family was among them.
They received two goats; vegetable, fodder and pulse seedlings; and saplings, as well as training on Heifer’s 12 Cornerstones for Just and Sustainable Development. They also received training in self-help group (SHG) management, improved animal management, gender justice, reproductive health and HIV/AIDS awareness, improved cooking stoves, kitchen gardening, and cooperative preparation.
"Because I had never raised goats before joining Heifer’s SHG, I was very confused and anxious when we were asked to select the goats,” Man Kumari said. “All the other members selected their picks and I was the last one left. So I picked the one which looked very mature. My goats have always given me two to three kids per kidding. The income from goats has helped us pay back our debt. The more we take care of them, the more they give back.” Just nine months after receiving the goats, she was able to pass on two goats and provide a school uniform to a child from a broken home.
From her original goat duo, Man Kumari has sold 35 offspring in five years. Her kitchen garden ably grows cucumbers, pumpkins, okra, bottle gourd, potatoes and onions. It provides a nutritious diet and additional income for her family. Man Kumari and Jit Bahadur have combined income from the garden with a loan from the group fund to open a grocery shop.
This hand up from Heifer gave the family they boost they needed to get out of the cycle of poverty. Jit Bahadur has adapted well to his new role as shopkeeper. Besides groceries, shop patrons can also have their bicycles repaired, as Jit Bahadur is a skilled bicycle maintenance technician.
In the next four years, Man Kumari wants to build a new sturdy house. She and her husband have been saving for this dream through the Naya Srijansil Social Entrepreneur Women’s (SEW) Cooperative, of which Man Kumari is a share member. This has been a profitable connection. Heifer’s SEW Cooperative membership comprises Man Kumari’s group and other SHGs in the VDC. The cooperative links smallholder farmers directly to the market, ensuring them a fair share for their produce.
Man Kumari’s children have opportunities that she never had growing up. The additional income from goats and the grocery shop has made it easier to send her children to school. She no longer has to decide between her husband’s health and her children’s education. For the first time in her life, she knows that there is a future for her and her family.
Empower a woman to change her world.
Story and Photos by Alina Karki, Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Temp, Heifer Nepal