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Get Local, Go Local Going To New Heights With Danfe

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The trend of fair-trade has turned out to become a booming business for the Nepalese market. Businesses are coming out with products that are organic, handmade and Nepal-made, and people are loving it. When businesses like these employ women as a philanthropic endeavour, the magical touch amplifies.

Danfe is one such social enterprise that was initiated by SAATH, a non-profit organization that started out as a project to support women and children living with HIV & AIDS. Their prime focus has been on enriching the women affected by the 2015 earthquake with tailoring skills in order to produce locally made garments for purchase.

We caught up with Kritishma Karki (Executive Director) Ramila Maharjan Shrestha (Project Coordinator) and Bijeysh Ranjit (Director – Development and Administration) to hear the story behind the enterprise named after our national bird.

HOW DID IT START?

Back in 2004, we were studying Social Work and we would have various field placements for our practical part of
the subject. With that, we got a lot of experience from working with women and children living with HIV/AIDS.
From that, we were motivated to do something to support them and improve their livelihoods. Soon enough, we put together a SAATH Fund-raiser, which was very successful. We were able to raise awareness for HIV/AIDS and the misuse of drugs while raising funds. This was very motivating for us 11 founding members, so in 2006, we established SAATH as an organization. What we really wanted to do was something that was action oriented and at the same time also get a first hand experience of what we were learning in our books. We were still students at the time, so we were making mistakes and learning from them along the way. Once we got registered and started to take this initiative seriously, we put together events focusing and advocating the contemporary social issues.

In this time frame, however, most of our founding members went abroad for their further studies. Yet, we were able to put together a team consisting of members from other colleges. We put together further more events and even ran an advocacy program called Woman’s Face in Kantipur FM for 4 years.

Then towards the end of 2012, most
of the founding members came back
to Nepal and SAATH had to start from scratch. The first program we initiated, and it’s still going on, was called “Hakuna Matata”. We started out with 8 children who were infected and affected by HIV/AIDS, and now the number has gone up to 40.

During the earthquake, we were providing relief to the affected areas. But, the thing that really triggered us was whether what we were doing was sustainable or not. We go there for a day and distribute rations and that’s pretty much about it. What about the sisters whose lives had been brought down?

We started a pilot program in July 2015 with 5 girls from districts like Chitwan, Rasuwa, Dolakha and Makwanpur.
They were trained for 5 to 6 months and it exponentially raised their capacity. Having learned a new income generating skill, we were really impressed with what they were able to make. We were then convinced that they can look after themselves. We called this program Danfe.

In January 2016, we got financial support from a Canadian organization and got
to promote Danfe as a larger project with 30 beneficiaries. We rounded up 30 sisters from Sindhupalchok, Makwanpur and Kavre, and enrolled them into a 5 month long tailoring training program. They were then enrolled into an advanced training of 5 months and then further provided an employment phase for 2 months. By the end of the year, we were able to establish the Danfe Store and things have begun to take full swing.

WHY TRAIN JUST GIRLS?

The key factor, would be that these girls belong to a marginalized community. When we selected the candidates for
our training, we focused on the three districts mentioned previously. The reason for this was that these areas were very prone to trafficking. The girls there were in need of awareness as well. Profoundly distressing as it sounds,

in Sindhupalchok, family members themselves sell their daughters off. Furthermore, they are really hard working, but their strenuous labor is forced upon them. They are made to work on the farms without consideration. That is where we wanted to step in with Danfe. We wanted to provide
a sustainable alternative for their livelihood so that they can live a better life.

And this instills confidence in the girls. At least the girls will be able to boast that they know how to tailor. They may not go on to have a shop or a boutique of their own in the future, but if they know how to tailor, they can stay at home and stitch clothes and earn some money out of it. This will surely promote their self esteem, and we have seen this in our follow ups.

WHAT IS YOUR VIEW ON THE OVERALL CONTEMPORARY STATUS OF WOMEN IN NEPAL?

It is very important to remember our roots. We live in a society that was completely patriarchal. Girls had no part in decision making at all. Today, things are different. Women have a sonorous voice now, and to come to this point, it took a long time. I wouldn’t say that this is it. We are still climbing up the ladder and still have
a long way to go. Then again, we are definitely making good progress. When we go to the rural areas, we meet parents who are eager to send their daughters to a better place rather than just marrying them off. This goes to show that we are making progress and we should be happy about this.
But not satisfied. There’s more that can be done and should be done.

Also, with how things are going, something we like to call “over empowerment” seems to have taken place. For instance, a majority of women advocacy organizations’ staff are all women and are headed by women. There is no involvement of men and hence, the ideas generated from these bodies are one-dimensional. This goes on to ignite conflict between the two sexes and this is certainly a bad thing. Men and women need to go hand in hand.

WOMEN HAVE A SONOROUS VOICE NOW, AND TO COME TO THIS POINT, IT TOOK A LONG TIME.

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WHAT SORT OF OBSTACLES HAVE YOU FACED FROM THE GOVERNMENT AND THE PUBLIC?

The main issue of our government is with their reach. They have not been able to reach to the far off places and help the families who are dire need of help. Then again, the government is making efforts. We’re sure they are doing what they can. We all love to bash them for their negatives, but we seldom take a moment
to appreciate their positive endeavors. However, Nepal is not just Kathmandu, Pokhara and Biratnagar. We tend to see just the urban settings. We must come to terms that Nepal is more rural than urban.

The issue with the public in Nepal is that most of the things we get here are imported
and the buyers prefer that because domestic goods are a bit pricier. What most people don’t consider is that social enterprises like us consider the labor of the workers who make these products. People buy something from, say, Thailand and think that it’s cheap. In reality, the workers who make these goods are exploited and are living quite poorly. When you put in an extra NRs. 100, you are appreciating their hands,motivating them to bring out more products, and enabling them to grow.

WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR DANFE?

This is just the start
but we will be mainly focusing on the outlets and keep providing the necessary aids and workshops, employing women and help them
to make a business for themselves. Also when get to make more money for the organization,

we will use it to keep training women when funds run low. Events are something we hope to host soon enough. With adequate support from the Nepalese market, we also plan on moving on to the international market we’ve been keeping an eye on for so long.

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