A Fruitful and Dignified Life: The Story of Chumaya in Nepal

Chumaya, garment worker, NepalOnce, it might have been impossible to see Chumaya as anything but poor, disabled and helpless. But within the Women's Skill Development Organization in Pokhara, Nepal, Chumaya is an artisan whose skills are admired and whose products are sold in developed countries.

More than seven years ago, Chumaya came to WSDO with her friend Indrakala. Both were from a village in the nearby Myagdi district, and both had physical disabilities. In her village, Chumaya had lived a life of discrimination and deprival due to her physical disability. She felt constantly neglected and left out by the people in her community. Because polio had left her unable to walk, nobody—not even her family members—thought that she should attend school like other neighbourhood children. Chumaya had begun to feel that her life was fruitless and she craved the dignified life she knew she deserved.

She learned about WSDO from an activist working on disability issues who agreed to take Chumaya and Indrakala to Pokhara to meet with organizational representatives. Right away, WSDO decided to take both women on as intern trainees. Because Chumaya had taken some previous sewing and cutting training, she could immediately go to work by observing others and then making the products that were ordered. Her supervisors say she has a natural aptitude towards handiwork.Chumaya, Garment Worker from Nepal

However, she has limitations. She cannot use sewing machines with foot pedals, but she is happy making bags and soft toys, which can only be done by hand. She is employed on a daily wage basis at WSDO, but also takes some work home, which is paid on a piece rate basis. Her monthly income, while variable, usually ranges between Nepali Rupees 3,500 to 5,000. In addition she is given a Dashin festive bonus and a pair of kurtha every year.

Chumaya, who today shares a room in Pokahara with her friend Indrakala, has found the dignified and fruitful life she sought through belonging to one of the WSDO’s affiliated groups, the Bajhapatan group. She believes being in a group protects her and she says it provides an immense sense of security. She especially likes that she gets to share and learn a lot with the other women in her group. Members of the WSDO satellite groups discuss and advise on the training needs of the women, participate in fixing wages and price per piece for the products with the management of WSDO, and have a voice in the organization's governance.

WSDO was a partner organization in WIEGO's Women Organizing for Fair Trade project. 

Today, Chumaya is very content with her work, and she has become even more than a valued producer in a global economic chain—she is also a teacher of 5-10 pupils. Chumaya is proud that she earns for herself. She used to feel bored, dependent and depressed while she was in the village. Now, she dreams of returning to her village later in her life, to train local women on sewing and have her own little home and business.

Read an article about Chu Maya in a May 2013 issue of The Nepali Times: “Rising through the cracks” by Sahina Shrestha 

Meet Chu Maya and other women from groups within the HomeNet Nepal network in this video: Ripple of Change