The Human Development Re port of UNDP of 2002 ranked Nepal 142nd amongst 173 countries in terms of economic status, its endemic poverty arising due to a number of factors. Despite the disheartening figure of 38 percent of Nepal’s population in absolute poverty, individual citizens are showing exemplary signs of achievement through determination and courage. Acts of good faith displayed through small deeds do not comply with the cliché ‘much ado about nothing’. Instead they can act as catalysts for inspiration, guiding others towards the path of poverty alleviation.
In most of the rural areas of Nepal, the majority of women still suffer from abject poverty and discrimination. However, in the mountain regions of Nepal, tourism has been perceived as a speck of hope for those deprived women, to uplift their status from mere subordinates to economically capable beings.
Shovawati Devi Bishwokarma is a resident of Ekala 7, Ganabariya ward of Rupandehi district. She does not have any land of her own, lives in a small self-made hut, has three children to raise, and makes a living by selling julebi (traditional Nepali sweet dish). She used to wander from one place to another, with a makeshift teashop, to earn her daily bread. Poverty and her low caste status have been the major forces of difficulty in her life. She is excluded from and deprived of many facilities in the orthodox village of Ganabariya.
In spite of having enthusiasm for economic empowerment, she was unaware of her potential and the feasibility of business ventures. In December 2002, a UNDP program Tourism for Rural Poverty Alleviation Programme (TRPAP) conducted a six-day long APPA (Appreciative Participatory Planning and Action) and Development Wheel (a community self-assessment mechanism) program in Ganabariya. Shovawati participated, and along with other women in similar circumstances, got a chance to learn about the business potential of tourism. Shovawati came to know more about the behavioral aspects of tourists, their likes and dislikes, and how one can maximize benefits from tourism.
After completing the program, Shovawati wanted to start a permanent teashop, catering to both tourists and locals. In April 2003, with a micro credit loan of Rs.2000, she opened a shop, renting land at Shivagadhiya Chowk. In her business and her daily chores, sanitation and hygiene are given top priority. She and the other village women became more aware of the importance of sanitation and environmental conservation through the TRPAP training. The experience of these women underscores the idea that educating and providing resource to the women on a broad range of issues is a very effective means of development.
Shovawati’s success might not be grand, but it is a step towards development starting from the community level. And in her own way, she has proved that women can be partners in tourism to alleviate poverty. However small, it is a big achievement for Shovawati, who was able to write only her name a few years back.
Preservation of Culture and Forests in Briddim
In another story of success, flags of new hope are fluttering in the village of Briddim, in central Nepal.
Briddim is one of the VDCs of Rasuwa district, and also one of the working areas of UNDP/ TRPAP. It is a village of enchanting beauty and splendor and is considered very important in terms of culture and tourism. However, the locals of Briddim are uneducated and deprived in many respects, despite the tourism potential. The local capacity and the tourism resources have not been developed due to ignorance and lack of awareness. There are people of different ethnic castes and minority groups living in Briddim, e.g. Ghales, Tamangs, Gurungs, Lamas, Shresthas, yet Tamang and Tibetan culture remain predominant. As an effort to preserve the rich culture of Briddim, Losar, the Tibetan New year, is celebrated throughout the area in a very elaborate way. Prayer flags are changed during every Losar as they are believed to usher in good luck. Each Losar, local people used to cut trees to make wooden poles for the new prayer flags for every house. In the process of cultural preservation, the locals had been unaware of the issues of environmental conservation and deforestation. TRPAP provided trainings and orientation on the importance of environment and helped the people of Briddim recognize the problem of the prayer flag poles and deforestation. To solve the problem permanently, the TRPAP and Buffer Zone Management stepped in with financial help adding to community-collected money. The money was used to make permanent iron poles for the prayer flags. Today, every house in Briddim uses iron poles instead of wooden ones, lessening the impact on environment and their time, and preserving culture and tradition at the same time.
An Investment Paid Off
In another part of Nepal, called Rupandehi, Shanti Baniya lives in a family of seven members - with four sons, one daughter, and her husband. Shanti, a resident of Sonwal village of Aama VDC of Rupandehi, lives a tough and challenging life, but nonetheless has an inspiring and encouraging story to share.
Although Baniyas as an ethnic group are generally considered to be expert in business management, Shanti and her family are financially very poor. Due to lack of finance, they were not able to start any business for years. “However”, she says with a long sigh, “I did not lose hope. Gradually, I came to know about a program called Tourism for Rural Poverty Alleviation Programme (TRPAP), which was forming organizations and groups in our village, related to tourism. Hearing a lot about the program, I joined their Samuha (community organization formed by TRPAP to facilitate village development) out of anxiety and attended two meetings.” With more enthusiasm, Shanti narrates her simple story of success, saying, “In the two meetings I saved Rs.10 each. In my third meeting, I took a loan of Rs.500 from the Samuha at a very low rate of interest, which is a very rare thing in a village. With that loan, I bought vegetables from the village and sold them in the market. In this way, eventually, by the end of the month, I had made a profit of Rs.1500. A month after, I paid Rs.505 to the Samuha as the principal and the interest amount and was even able to invest in another transaction from the profit made. In the beginning, I could not believe that I was doing business but my small business went on prospering. The Tourism Program has done a commendable job in my village. In future, if the Samuha gives me bigger loans, I am thinking of starting poultry farming.”
Determination and Hope
Shanti Baniya tries to share her experience and give the message that one does not need self-developed capital to start a business, but more importantly courage and determination to take up challenges. Such activities can be replicated and can be a model approach in attaining businesses that are sustainable, sound and reliable.
Taramati Harijan, President of Jay Laxmi Handicraft production of Bhaisahiya of Rupandehi believes that activities like that of TRPAP have given confidence to women of her village. She says, “Before TRPAP brought programs, women would not even talk to the men of the same village. But after participating in TRPAP’s programs, women have come out of their shell. We have formed community organizations and functional groups of about 15- 20 members, with once in a month meetings. Now we know about benefits of tourism and how we can strengthen tourism in our village.”
TRPAP has designed many capacity enhancement packages for the rural populace such as English language training, Small hotel/lodge management training, cooking and bakery training, local trekking guide training, etc. which indirectly help in giving opportunities to start up business ventures. A group of TRPAP trainees have recently started a travel agency or the first time in Lumbini.
To achieve its goal of poverty alleviation through tourism, TRPAP is not necessarily forcing people to start tourism businesses or quit other businesses for involvement in tourism, but is teaching them how to make the most out of tourism with existing resources and potential. Tourism can be a driving force to start new ventures or to develop existing ones for the overall development of many villages, hence, a tool for poverty alleviation. TRPAP is also offering education to help ensure that tourism is responsibly developed to be compatible with or even encourage cultural and environmental preservation and improvements in the community.
Every penny a tourist spends can make a difference in the livelihood of the disadvantaged poor. (Needless to say, tourism should not just mean taking experiences of pleasure, but more importantly, sharing cultural experiences and values.)
Today, in the houses of Briddim and in the hearts of women like Shanti Baniya and Shovawati, there is new hope gradually changing their beliefs that poverty alleviation is possible.
Dechen Sherpa is a Gender and Communication Specialist working with UNDP/ TRPAP