During our visit to Chaukori in the fall of 2013, we met with local women to talk about their lives. They described their severe economic hardship. Many of them had moved to the village so that their children could attend the Himalaya Public School, leaving behind their farms and animals.
These dedicated mothers were living in small rented rooms without any means of income and no land to grow food on. With no animals to take care of, they did not have to spend 6-7 hours a day gathering grass for their animals from the steep hillsides, leaving them with ample free time with nothing to do. All this sacrifice just so that their kids could have the chance to get a good education.
As they talked about having the time but no means of making money , we could not help but notice that all the women were busily knitting.
The local women of the Himalayas are amazing knitters. These women in Chaukori were making sweaters, hats, and socks for their families using intricate patterns with no pattern books or written instructions or even a tape measure! None of them had ever tried to sell their work but they were really interested when we proposed in the idea.
The women formed a self help coop, as an affiliate of Himalayan Education Foundation, and named it Himalayan Naari (“The Himalayan Woman”). HEF guides them in business decisions, design advice for the urban and Western markets, provides them with wool and also access to the Western market.
We have successfully marketed and sold the first batch of their beautifully crafted hats, scarves, socks and sweaters here in the US and are now starting work on evolving the program further.
The proceeds from the sale of goods will go toHimalayan Naari. This coop will create its own governance structure and evolve its business model as their profits grow. HEF is simply an enabler and we hope that soon Himalayan Naari would be able to operate independently.
We would like to extend heartfelt thanks to 2 people who live and work in this area – Tarun Mahara and Hemlata Mehra – without whom this would not have been possible. Tarun is an up and coming leader whose energy, entrepreneurship and compassion will be invaluable for years to come. Hemlata – a recent graduate of Himalaya Public School – is the link between the Naaris and HEF. She is truly a bi-cultural young local Pahadi woman whose ability to bridge the gap is key for the local women to build trust in us outsiders.
HEF also would like to thank our dear friend G. Rajkumar who, as always, does his work quietly with no fanfare Without Raj, HEF would not be able to gain insights into things such as the history and present state of sheep rearing, craft practices in the deep valleys and high mountains of Uttarakhand.
Also many thanks to Prakash Karki – the administrator of Himalaya Public School for always being there for guiding HEF and opening doors for us in the local community and connecting the dots for us!
We will keep you informed about Himalayan Naari as it evolves.
If you have interest in purchasing Himalayan Naari products, please contact us!