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Nepal: Deepa, Pushpa, Sita and Maiya

31-03-2009 Article, Nepali Times

Deepa Pandey lives in Surkhet, Pushpa Chaudhary is from Kailali, Sita Thapa is in Rautahat and Maiya Mijar lives in Dhading. What they have in common is that they are all women in their mid-20s who suffered during the war and are now running small businesses to take care of their families.

This article was first published in the Nepali Times and is reproduced here with the newspaper's kind permission.    

  © ICRC/C. Von Toggenburg/v-p-np-e-00116    
  Sunamati, whose husband is missing since the war.    
    It was mostly non-combatants who were affected by the conflict, and above all women. Tens of thousands of families were displaced and many ended up being women-headed because they lost their husbands. Many families also now have disabled breadwinners, and have the added medical burden of taking care of them.

Deepa was caught in a crossfire in 2003 and a bullet hit her back, turning her into a paraplegic. Her husband took a second wife two years later, and she now has to take care of her children and extended family. Pushpa's husband was killed in 2002, and she lives with six other family members including two children. She is a landless kamaiya but has some unregistered land. Sita's husband disappeared after being arrested five years ago, she now depends on her parents for support. Maiya's son is missing and she has to meet the medical expenses of her husband who was injured in the neck during an attack on their village in 2003.

All four women are now beneficiaries of an initiative by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Nepal Red Cross Society to help women whose livelihoods have been severely affected by the war with income-generating activities. The effort gives the women back some lost dignity by restoring household incomes so that the entire family benefits.

Under this initiative women-headed households first get an in-kind grant valued at Rs 10,000, which serves as start-up capital so the families can meet basic needs. The grant can fund livestock, small-scale farming, trade or vocational training. The beneficiaries include households of the missing and killed, disabled, children affected by war, the internally displaced and returnees. Households facing serious difficulties to meet their basic needs get priority.

Since ICRC and NRS launched the initiative in November 2006 women in 23 districts have benefited and 12 more will be added soon. Some 2,500 families, most of them women-headed households, have had help to restart their lives.

With the seed grant, Deepa started a shop in Surkhet and sits on her bed selling grocery items. She earns Rs 1,000 a month and her business is growing and can send her daughter to school. She has also got a wheelchair now and is more mobile.

Pushpa has done so well with her shop that her backers are extending her another Rs 10,000 grant. In Rautahat, Sita now has some goats and runs a shop so she can take care of her family. Maiya in Dhading bought a buffalo with her grant and took another to buy a buffalo calf. She now makes enough money to pay for her husband's medical treatment.

There are thousands of Sitas, Deepas, Pushpas and Maiyas all over Nepal. Many are widows who have the responsibility of supporting their families as well as the burdens of grief and bereavement. But these four women have shown that with very little help they can rebuild their lives and begin looking towards the future.

 Moheindu Chemjong and Govinda Dahal