Sangita is from Gaikhur VDC in Gorkha district, NW of Kathmandu, the only daughter in a family of four boys. An ordinary young girl she attended the local village primary school with her brothers. One evening, when she was 7 years old, she looked up to watch some lightning in the sky, but tripped on one of the ploughed ridges in the field, landing awkwardly on her left shoulder.
Villagers believe that witches ride on the back of lightning and thought the injury was a curse. Her grandparents looked for a traditional healer to lift the curse, but after three days her elbow was still swollen and painful so her family paid a neighbour to carry her to the nearest hospital, a day’s walk away, in a head strap basket.
In those days, taking x-rays was a new and infrequent procedure, and since the doctor diagnosed that Sangita had dislocated her shoulder, they thought they knew what the problem was. They put her elbow in a cast, telling her mum to bring her back in three months.
By the time the family brought her back, Sangita’s fingers no longer worked properly and she was in a lot of pain. When the hospital saw the cast they realised at once they had given the wrong treatment and tried various things to try and repair her shoulder. However there was no improvement and the hospital even offered to sponsor her schooling as compensation. But Sangita’s family didn’t accept this and her father returned from working in India to take her to a bigger hospital in Kathmandu.
The hospital doctor in Kathmandu was angry at the mess that was made of her shoulder, and Sangita stayed at the hospital with her uncle whilst they tried to improve it, but it was irreparable. After a month they gave up and her dad once again returned from India to take her home to Gorkha, though she had missed almost a full school year.
She successfully completed primary school and wanted to go to the nearest high school, 2 hours walk away. Sangita’s mum was reluctant to let her go in case she fell, but also because villagers thought educating girls was a waste of time, especially a disabled girl. But Sangita was frustrated about staying at home and insisted on going, though some days the pain from carrying her school bag caused her to miss school.
However she passed her School Leaving Certificate in the first division, something none of her brothers had done. She managed to persuade her parents to let her come to Kathmandu to stay with her brother and study for her Intermediate Level of Studies in Commerce.
Sangita passed her IComm with excellent grades and signed up for different government handcrafts and microenterprise courses whilst looking for a job. But a year later she still hadn’t found one and felt uncomfortable staying with her brother and his young family when she could not contribute, so she returned to her village.
About a year later Sangita got admission for a Bachelors in Sociology in Kathmandu through the government’s quota for disabled students. With class in the morning, she looked for a job for the afternoons. She left her CV at a private school founded by women from Sikkim and they called her for interview and offered her a teaching position. She taught for nearly three weeks before they noticed she didn’t have full use of her arm, and told her that parents would remove their children if they found out they were being taught by a disabled person. Not only did they ask her to leave, they also did not pay her for the work days she had taught!
Sangita’s confidence was totally knocked by this incident, the discrimination left her depressed and affected her studies. It took her five years to complete her Bachelors. Whilst waiting for her results, Sangita found a job with a leprosy INGO and quickly rose to a supervisor position organising handicrafts training and looking after the finances. Four years later she was head hunted by a national disability organisation, but soon after starting work there, some senior members left abruptly following some financial mismanagement. This gave Sangita the opportunity to lead the organisation as she thought best, managing the centre for three years before she applied and was selected for a training opportunity in Japan in the summer of 2008.
This experience really boosted her confidence and, saving the generous allowance provided, she came back and founded EPSA in 2009, renting a plot of land in Mitranagar that is now the EPSA centre. Sangita has so far helped over 300 women through EPSA, providing training and employment as well as building their confidence and providing a safe place to make friends.
"I want to be able to give employment to as many girls who are in need as possible. They are coming every day looking for work”
EPSA’s supporters come from all backgrounds and experiences, which proved critical after the centre was damaged in the 2015 earthquake. Nepali expats, the local community and overseas customers responded with cash and help in kind to make the centre safe for the girls to return. Media coverage and regular sales at local handicraft markets means that more and more people are becoming aware of EPSA’s work and are interested to support them.
Sangita and the EPSA ladies are currently inundated with orders for socks, paper bags and reusable sanitary pads. They need more space to be able to employ more girls, provide more training and fill these orders.
Sangita’s current goal is the establishment of a permanent EPSA centre on their own land. Revenue from EPSA’s handicrafts activities plus donations from many supporters means that preliminary work has now begun at their new plot in Purano Guheshori. Therefore Sangita says all attention is now on earning money to build an access road, connect water and electricity and build the centre of her dreams.
But Sangita is still taking each day as it comes. Despite ongoing experiences of discrimination, whether looking for land or catching taxis, she is determined to make life better for others.
3.2016 / 4.2072
"I was at home, feeling depressed and having suicidal thoughts."
Shanti Maharjan is a shy 25 year old from a village in Kathmandu district. She has been partially deaf since birth which meant that she struggled to keep up with her studies at her village primary school. Although Shanti got her first hearing aid as a child, it did not fit properly and was painful to wear. The school staff did not have the training or experience to teach her and beat her in their frustration. As a result she gave up going to school when she was in Class III, but remained upset that her younger brother and sister were able to study, while she was not.
Shanti tended the family goats and other people's cattle, roaming the village in silence. Stuck at home with limited ability to communicate with others, she became depressed and thought about taking her own life.
But four years ago a friend of the family met one of EPSA's staff and she has been coming to the centre ever since. Shanti knows how to make all the felt products and the EPSA staff say that the quality and finishing of her products is very good.
She was previously reluctant to join the sewing machine training since she felt she would not understand and would be a burden to the group. But now Shanti is keen to attend the training with other disabled EPSA ladies with whom she feels more comfortable.
Shanti has opened a bank account to save the money she makes from working at EPSA. She has bought clothes for herself and sends money to her mum for food and to help pay for her sister and brother's college fees.
She was given a new hearing aid by one of EPSA's supporters but the batteries are expensive and she is not used to having the noise of all the ladies chatting in her head all the time.
One of the EPSA staff has been teaching her some sign language and she is trying to study from a book, but with only Class II education, it is a struggle. Shanti would be interested to learn sign language properly so she can communicate with the other deaf EPSA clients and the staff, but says she would only feel comfortable if it could be held at the EPSA centre, with people she knows.
When asked what hopes she has for the future, Shanti is clear that she is not interested in getting married. She has seen many families in her village where the husbands get drunk and beat their wives. She doesn't want that kind of life.
4.2015 / 12.2071
Saraswati is a bright young woman, with plenty of drive to make the best of her life despite the challenges that she has already faced. Her family is originally from Makwanpur, a hill district south of Kathmandu, but they moved to Kathmandu when she was young. The eldest of four children she had typhoid as a baby and the untreated fever affected the physical development of her legs and she never learned to walk. Saraswati recognises that her mother, who had never been to school, probably did not realise how risky the fever was and so didn't seek medical help.
Her father also has a physical disability and so encouraged her to attend school and she did well till Class VIII when she had the opportunity to have an operation. This enabled her to bend her knees and ankles, making it much easier to walk, but still difficult to go to school when there was no bus.
She missed quite a few years of school but returned and did well until Class XII when she failed and was ashamed to tell her parents. The rules meant that she could not retake her exams straight away so Saraswati joined a sewing training course and came to hear about EPSA. She came to visit EPSA but it wasn't until they contacted her a few months later to say they had a spare bed that she finally told her parents. They tried to discourage her from moving to EPSA, but Saraswati was keen to become more independent and learn whatever skills she can.
Even though she does her physiotherapy exercises by herself everyday, she is not ale to stand for long periods so does not make the felt balls. Her weak legs mean she also cannot use the treadle sewing machines, but she likes knitting socks and gloves. Saraswati likes working with the other ladies and has taken on the role as one of EPSA's main craft fair salespeople. She likes working on the stalls and meeting people.
Saraswati is very conscious of how the lack of education affected her mother's life options, whilst her father, despite his disability continues to work though he can hardly walk.
She has applied to retake her Class XII exams again this year but is worried about the English exam. Although she gets high scores in all her other subjects, she keeps failing in English and so wants to save her EPSA salary to get extra tutoring.
"I want to learn as much as possible from here
and then go back home and train the other disabled and uneducated people in the village."
"Seeing sisters who are more disabled than me gives me strength. And helping my friends makes me feels good."
Krishna Maya is 24 years old and from Dolakha, a mountainous istrict in Central Nepal. She is a little person with a misshapen spine. She's been coming to EPSA for nearly two years but became a resident about five months ago. She went to school till Class V when her father passed away, and tradition dictated that she and her middle brother stop attending. But after the year of mourning had passed, she didn't return to school.
She lived at home until her mum came to Kathmandu for medical treatment after an accident, and her brother and sister-in-law starting treating her badly. Krishna Maya managed to borrow some money for the bus to come to the city and found her mum with help from a cousin. She held various casual jobs working as a waitress or in restaurant kitchens, but they were poorly paid and the heavy work gave her back pain.
It was while she was in Kathmandou that she met her husband who was working in a dance bar. After a short period of courting, they married and moved in together. But her husband usually worked at night and often came home drunk or not at all. He did not give her money for food and she sometimes went to sleep on an empty stomach. Krishna Maya also remembers being evicted from her rooms because they had no money for rent.
She met Sangita on a bus and started coming to EPSA, enabling her to buy food with the money she earned. At this time she was pregnant, but due to her poor diet, the child, a baby girl died only five days after she was born. Remembering that time brings tears to her eyes.
Through EPSA she was gifted Rs10,000 (USD $100) and started selling traditional street snacks with her husband. But one day, when he was drunk, he sold all their equipment. After that she decided there was no point staying with him anymore since he provided no security. Her own mother's situation had shown her first hand how difficult old age could be without a partner. So she came to stay at EPSA in mid 2014. When he's drunk her husband sometimes calls her and asks her for money or to come back to him, but he never visits her here.
At EPSA she helps to keep the rooms clean and cooks for the other ladies. She has been learning to drive the donated EPSA scooty and has already dropped some EPSA ladies home for festivals and to craft fairs, much more convenient than taking taxis, who often don't want to stop and take the girls with their wheelchairs.
Krishna Maya is very conscious about her financial security and saves her EPSA earnings. She never wants to be kicked out of a place because she can't pay her rent. Traditional dancing is a common profession for little people in Nepal and Krishna Maya would like to learn to dance if she can save enough for lessons.
"I used to ask my mother why I wasn't growing, why I was different from everyone else."
"I'd like to be married again someday, so that when I die someone will take care of my funeral."
"I hope I will be able to earn a living with the skills I am learning at EPSA. I want to be able to repay my family."
Phulmaya is 35 years old. She is one of eight children in a subsistence farming family from Ramechhap, a hill and mountain district in Central Nepal, in the Janakpur Zone.
Although some of her brothers completed a few years of primary school, neither she nor her sisters were able to go due to the cost.
When she was around 9 years old, Phulmaya's body stopped growing normally. Her back muscles began to spasm and the muscles of her legs started to waste away. Even with the donation of a wheelchair she was not able to move around the hilly terrain without help.
So Phulmaya spent a lot of time at home, only able to help with tasks which could be done whilst she was sitting. With no education and limited mobility, she was not able to find any paid employment to contribute to the family's income.
She stayed at an NGO hostel in Kirtipur for a while, but they only provided support for 6 months and she had to return to Ramechhap.
About 5 months ago her family had to borrow money to pay for her to have a hysterectomy, because a fibroid in her uterus was causing excessive bleeding. Although the bleeding has stopped, she feels pain and discomfort during cold weather or when lifting heavy things.
Phulmaya feels she is a burden to her family, even her brother who, as a policeman, is the most successful family member. She wants to be able to contribute financially and help repay the loan they took.
She was living at home in Ramechhap when her sister-in-law attended a tailoring training event at EPSA. Her sister-in-law told her about EPSA and they applied for a residential place.
Phulmaya has now been living at EPSA for about a month. She has started learning how to make some of the products. Cutting the patterns and using the sewing machine is difficult, but she would like to be able to make her own clothes one day.
Today she is preparing balls from pink felt, which will be used to make bags, mats and key rings. Phulmaya hopes that with the skills she is learning at EPSA she will be able to earn a living, but also says she has already made good friends here.
Her brother and sister-in-law come and visit her at EPSA.
"When I was stuck at home, I was sad and felt like crying all the time. Here at EPSA,
seeing other people like me, gives me a lot of comfort."
"I want to travel to other countries and be financially successful."
Kamala is 33 years old and lives with her parents, her brother and sister-in-law in Narayathan. Though she is full of energy and dreams for her future, Kamala does not want to give her real name as she is uneasy about people knowing her full story.
Her family is originally from Nuwakot, a rural district just north of Kathmandu. When she was only 9 days old, she got typhoid. With no health post in her village, she was not treated and the fever damaged her brain affecting her motor and intellectual development. She has some difficulty speaking and controlling her muscles steadily. Though she attended school, she was not able to keep up with her studies after Class III.
With limited education she struggled to find work. She joined some other villagers, twisting the fringes for pashmina shawls, but the pay was poor and the work hard. Her brother did not like her being out of the house or coming home ‘late’ since she is unmarried, but also begrudged giving her money though they didn’t want her to work. It was after one such incident when her brother refused to give her 20 rupees (US 20 cents) that she became determined to find herself a better job.
She had been working in Lainchaur as a househelp for 2 years when she heard about EPSA. Her work day was long, leaving home at 5am and not getting back till after 7pm, often in the dark. Sangita Pant had just started EPSA, also took the same bus and told Kamala about the centre. Kamala visited the centre and started coming regularly, learning to make candles, soap, knitting and felt products. She shared her skills with ladies in her village, teaching them how to make their own candles.
As well as these new skills she gained confidence and determination to make her life better.
Kamala stayed with EPSA for four years, since the income was good and it was paid on time. But she says the best thing was the love from the other EPSA ladies.
She was good at saving her money and bought herself new clothes and shoes for the first time. She has opened a bank account and is very happy when she remembers buying her first mobile phone.
Kamala got a salaried job with a small women’s economic empowerment INGO in 2012. She gets a monthly wage of over Rs5000 (US$50). She leaves home at 9am and is home by 6pm.
Although her family still don’t give her much cash or buy her clothes, they treat her with more respect than before.
Kamala says she is ready to look for a better paying job and has dreams about travelling out of Nepal and being financially successful.
She says maybe she will start her own NGO like EPSA one day.
2.2015 / 11.2071
"The best thing about working at EPSA is the love from the other sisters."
"I haven't studied, what job would I find?"
Sundari is a proud mother of two growing boys aged 11 and 13. She is from Rautahat district, in Nepal’s tropical terai, but now lives in Boudha.
When she was 18 years old she was involved in an accident with a bus whilst cycling to the market. She had to be brought to Kathmandu for treatment and was hospitalised for 3 months. She lost her left leg below the knee and had to learn to use a crutch to get around.
Sundari only got fitted for her first prosthesis at a free health camp when she was 26, after her children had been born.
She married her sweetheart soon after she was discharged from hospital, and never completed school.
Sundari and her children moved to Kathmandu in 2013 a few months after her husband started a new job here. But her husband’s drinking means that money for school, rent and food is often not enough.
When he drinks he sometimes beats her and though her eldest son is protective of her, without a job, she is not in a position to leave him.
A neighbour told her about EPSA and she came to see what they did. She has now been coming each day for two years. She already knew some basics of sewing but has since learnt how to cut patterns and uses the EPSA sewing machines confidently, as well as making the range of other handicrafts.
Through EPSA she found out about an Indian NGO running a prosthesis camp, and got a new leg in 2014.
In addition to payment for the products she makes, EPSA and their supporters have also helped with school supplies for her boys. In summer 2014 an Estonian doctor offered to sponsor them both for a year. Her eldest is in Class VI and his mum says he is a good student, whilst the younger one is in Class III.
Her husband tolerates her attending EPSA but is suspicious of her finding work elsewhere, so for now she is happy working here.
2.2015 / 11.2071
"What mother doesn't want the best for her children?"
"Without EPSA, I would be dead."
Renuka is 20 years old. She comes from Sankhuwa Sabha, a mountain district in North East Nepal, at the foot of Everest and the home of Mt Manaslu.
Renuka was a normal young girl attending her village school until she was around ten years old when she started to experience trouble with her legs and had difficulty walking around the hilly village. Her elder sister suffers from the same problem.
As she got older her parents began to show open hostility towards her, beating her and saying they wanted her to leave the house.
A local woman in the village who, though also disabled, travelled regularly to Kathmandu, came to know of her situation.
The woman saved enough money to pay Renuka’s bus fare to the capital and enrolled her in a NGO supported hostel where she continued to attend school. Renuka completed Class X, but when she failed her SLC, the NGO support also ended.
It was at this time that Renuka met one of the EPSA staff who brought her to the centre for a visit. She moved to EPSA within two weeks of her first visit.
"They were more disabled than me. I thought, if they are working and doing something useful, then I can do something too."
She has been a resident at EPSA for two years. She knows how to make all the different products and helps new arrivals, explaining the techniques. She particularly likes to make felt flowers and small fish for the key chains.
Renuka says the main reason she loves being at EPSA is being together with the other women.
At the moment she doesn’t think she is ready to move out, but hopes she will feel strong enough to do so one day.
Recently she was taken ill and admitted to hospital.
EPSA and their supporters provided financial and moral support. When Renuka called her parents, they hung up and though they knew she was seriously ill, no one came to visit. She gets upset recalling that time. She has since been discharged from the hospital but recently ran out of her outpatient prescription. EPSA paid for her medicine and she is taking it again.
Although her family know where she is no one has been in touch.
Renuka thinks that her sister would also benefit from EPSA’s support, but she says sadly, “I’m not able to bring her here”.
2.2015 / 11.2071