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“Peace starts at home”

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

On 15 May, Kesha Kumari Damini received the Norwegian Business for Peace Award in Oslo. In an interview with Marit Bakke, editor of Hamro Patrika (the Norway-Nepal Association’s newsletter), she talked about how she, as a Dalit woman, became a leader and about her devotion to empowering the poor and underprivileged in Nepal.

MB: How was it to become a leader in the Micro Entrepreneurs’ movement as President of the National Micro Entrepreneurs Federation of Nepal?

Kesha Kumari Damini: It was challenging because I knew the sincere work and devotion that people had at the local level. All suggested me as chairperson. I have six children, but my mother-in-law and husband gave me positive thinking and support, and encouraged me to work outside home. In 2006, I went to an orientation meeting in Kathmandu. The participants suggested me as the national chairperson – they said I was an honest person and that there was no anger in my face. I felt the pressure to serve, but because I was illiterate I thought it might be difficult to be a leader. And it would be expensive to go from Parbat to Kathmandu for meetings. First I said no, but agreed to be leader for six months. After six months, I started a little group in my VDC, and increasingly felt it my responsibility as a dalit and woman to continue as leader. At that time I did not know to read and write, and used my thumb as signature. Then I started learning the alphabet, beginning with my name. Today, I can almost read.

What is the greatest challenge when you train women in business skills?

The challenge is to change the mindset. It was difficult in the beginning, particularly during the conflict. I went, and still walk, from door to door. It was, and still is, difficult to select people from vulnerable groups (poor, dalits, women) to participate in six months training. They have to choose between training or to receive money, for instance 10.000 rupees, from other organizations.

How do men react when their wife, sister, or daughter begin training and go into business?

They are reluctant. Often after I have spoken to a woman, there can be conflict at home in the evening. Therefore, it is important to talk to the husband first.

What has been the great difference between the conditions before the peace agreement in 2006 and now?

Even today peace is necessary for a good life. But life is better today because women and the families have seen concrete improvements as a result of our training programs. For instance, in my VDC, women learn to make Dhaka for sale. Peace starts at home and spreads to the neighborhood.

What do you wish for the future?

I want to continue the program for the poor, underprivileged, and dalits. But I also have mixed feelings about having received the award. The award itself and the award money gave much mediaexposure and I received many calls. I could not sleep for 3-4 nights. Society and the underprivileged will expect more and the challenge is to maintain people’s respect. I am committed not to tell any lies and be sincere regarding the program. I feel more responsible for contributing to give the poor and dalits, also men, a better life.  I have no plan to continue long as a leader. People in the organisation want me to continue, particularly in order to control its money, but also other women can be a leader. Anyway, it is important to think long term. I will always work for poverty reduction – until I die.

Read also:

Empowerment through entrepreneurship 


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