She works hard for the money-less*

Goma Bhattarai is my kind of hero.

In 1991, she and a few other poor women in the small village of Gitanagar in Chitwan District, Nepal decided they wanted to start a women’s economic group, like men were forming. In those days, women couldn’t step outside their homes alone or talk to any man but their husband, they owned no property, and they were utterly dependent on their husbands for money – even to buy the tika red dye they wear on their foreheads.

When the women timidly approached the Ministry of Agriculture in the village to ask for a loan, they were told they had no assets and should come back with their husbands. Instead of that rejection crushing them, as Goma says, “It only fueled our determination.” Despite opposition from their husbands, 15 women joined together in secret meetings, each saving 25 rupees a month (that’s 30 cents). From that fund, every two months, they would buy 2 goats for a member, then start saving all over again.

Goma’s liberation army…

Give a girl a goat & she’ll thrive.

Goats were something the women knew how to raise, and it was acceptable women’s work in the village. Girls at marriage often bring livestock with them when they move to their husband’s house, and those are considered their possession (often their only possession). But saving up for two goats in two months was taking too long…

After a year, the women went to the District Livestock Office to try to register their group and met officer Mahendra Lohani – who happened to be in talks with Heifer to start programs in Nepal. After hearing the women talk about their struggle, their experiences and what they wanted to accomplish, Mahendra convinced Heifer to back the women, and in 1993 the Baruwa Goat Raising Project became Heifer’s first project in Nepal (and Mahendra quit his job and went to work for Heifer, where he’s now Vice President of Asia & South Pacific).

The women received 25 goats, and their visible success in raising and breeding the goats quickly convinced other village women to jump on board (and convinced most husbands that women earning an income was a good thing).  Soon 23 groups of women had formed, and in 5 years, 5 generations of goats from the original Heifer gift were passed on to families in need – but that wasn’t enough progress for Goma and her crew. It was taking too long for every women’s group to get goats; they wanted faster change.

In 1997 the women decided to form an NGO that could ramp up the pace of things. The Women’s Group Coordination Committee was born and in 14 years they’ve managed 13 projects for Heifer, formed 275 women’s groups, helped 7,622 families rise out of poverty, and started a 373-member women’s cooperative.

Goma & Saraswoti Mishra, president of WGCC

But here’s where it gets really interesting. Last year, WGCC had a conversation with Pierre Ferrari, the new CEO of Heifer saying, “Things are going too slow. We need faster change.” (Are you noticing a pattern here?)

The indefatigable WGCC Team

So now they’re working with the government, Heifer and other co-ops on an $18 million initiative to develop a value chain that will supply 30% of the 500,000 goats that Kathmandu consumes every year (now mostly imported from India) with cleaner, healthier, Nepalese-raised goats that will profit Nepalese rural families and enable them to feed their country. Genius!!

As a person who’s never stayed at the same task for long, I’m in awe of the steadfast 21-year commitment and creativity that Goma and her compatriots have shown, fighting an endless battle to liberate Nepalese women from poverty and helplessness.

Who they’re fighting for…

“Tolerance and patience are the key to achieving anything,” Goma says cheerfully – meaning I’m in deep, deep trouble. “We face the same resistance in every village, but we are pioneers. Women look at us and know we’ve been exactly  where they are and changed… and they can, too.”

Sisterhood is powerful.


* With love & R-E-S-P-E-C-T for Donna Summer, Eternal Queen of Disco.

Categories: Animals, Heifer International, Nepal, Photography, Poverty, Travel, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

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21 thoughts on “She works hard for the money-less*

  1. As always, Betty, you rock. Big time. WordPress has a new feature, in which bloggers can nominate other bloggers who they believe others should read. I immediately nominated you.

    • Renee — you are SO great to do that!! I am in Cameroon now and kinda groggy from going from the lush green south to the Sahel baked north (or Extreme Nord as the French like to say — so classy!) … but I am SUPER appreciative of the shout-out. Really… and if I’d known, of course, I would have nominated YOU!

  2. Oh, goodness, Betty, my idea of patience is to grow a watermelon–I have much to learn from these women!

    • Pattie Darling , I totally should have brought the gorgeous bourbon you got me — instead I left it behind and now am drinking some really bad pseudo Johnny Walker Red, which I bought in desperation after three nights of gigantic Export 33 beers … bleechhh! But the JWR imitation (complete with faded press on label and a taste like cheap bourbon) is really hitting the spot after a 15 hour day visiting the Far North chicken farms which are afflicted by Newcastle disease (and not the beer) …. My idea of patience is to EAT a watermelon so I think I need the lesson more than you, honey pie! Great to hear from you!!

      • Okay, here’s the deal. I’ll grow the watermelon, you come over to eat it with me in late summer. We’ll call that success. 🙂 Am looking forward to your next posts! By the way, I just called you my HERO in an interview.

      • No, for sure Goma is a hero but all I’m doing is observing and listening — that’s not the same as
        actually DOING something to change the situation of poverty & hunger. Actually, the Heifer folks on the
        ground are pretty heroic, too — you would not believe the hours they keep, the miles they travel and
        the work they do on behalf of families who literally don’t have enough food for two meals a day. It’s pretty
        extraordinary … and the people here in Cameroon are POOR. I’m seeing things you would not believe …
        but THANKS for the comment & save a slice for me, Pattie!!

  3. Betty, another great post, as usual…and that photo of the little girl in the yellow dress—SPECTACULAR! Such expression in her eyes…and I like the off-centeredness (is that even a word?). A truly beautiful shot of a truly beautiful young girl!

  4. Okay, it wasn’t off-centered that I meant….I think it was the every-so-slight tilt of her head…and the backlighting and her intense gaze…just beautiful!

  5. Liz Meitus

    How is it that EVERY-SINGLE-PERSON you photograph is the most beautiful person in the world?!! Just goes to show that their inner light and grace is healing their community, and way beyond. Thank you for that.

    • Lizzie .. I’m so glad you said that because — I THINK SO TOO! I really can’t believe when I get home every night from the projects and I’m so tired & beat and I download my photos & see these faces and I just am blown away by how beautiful the people are. It’s really so touching how open they are, and that is what makes their light shine — they are beautiful inside & it shows! Just like you …

  6. Nancy Boyken

    Sistas ARE doin’ it for themselves!!!! This is truly inspirational.

    • I think so, too — those Nepalese women are really FOCUSED. They remind me a lot of the Peruvian women — maybe living at high altitudes just makes you kinda rebellious and not willing to take too much crap. What do you think??

  7. Martha Radatz

    OK, from now on when I hear the word “liberation”, I am going to think “goats”. I love hearing these stories of beautiful, strong women and what they are accomplishing!

  8. Now, this is a great story. Sounds like these women figured out the basics of micro-finance on their own. That’s brilliant!

    • Hi Kathryn — Yes, I think they’ve basically figured out microfinance, AND NGO-status AND how to motivate their communities AND how to get their local governments off their butts, AND how to make use of every connection they have to make it possible for women to get out from under the oppression and vulnerability that is their given role. And they do it with a smile and a namaste — pretty amazing!!!

  9. Anne Orndahl

    Awesome blog, Betty! I love reading every one.

  10. This is an awesome story. Quite incredible and humbling.

    • My friend Pierre (head of Heifer) said that every time he hears her story, it makes him cry.
      When I hear that phrase, “We are standing on the shoulders of giants” I know that’s how Pierre thinks of Goma!

  11. Beautiful post… thanks for sharing! Having just been in Nepal this is such an emotional issue for me and you have really written a lovely tribute. The women in Nepal are phenomonal! Thanks and I wish you all the best on your journey 😀 B xo

  12. I totally agree, Bella — and I’m so happy that you felt the same admiration and awe for the Nepalese women. They really face so much discrimination in their culture — yet somehow, they were some of the strongest and most impassioned women I’ve met! It’s such a privilege to be able to share Goma’s story!

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