Opening opportunities for people with disabilities in rural Nepal

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Opening opportunities for people with disabilities in rural Nepal

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Young cucumber plants in Bimala’s polytunnel, supported by the IFAD-financed Adaptation for Smallholders in Hilly Areas (ASHA) project. © IFAD/Kaushal Shrestha

High in the Himalayas in western Nepal lies Raskot, a beautiful but isolated village where the air is startling fresh and clear. Locals earn a living from farming, growing everything from rice to vegetables on terraces along the mountainside.

But for people with disabilities, who may not be able to engage in physically intensive farming, there are few opportunities to earn money. Cash-strapped community institutions, while the infrastructure in this mountainside village is not designed for people with disabilities. Even the available development programmes  do not take disability into account.

This was the challenge facing 22-year-old Bimala Chaulagain, whose breathing and movements are restricted by spinal scoliosis – a condition characterised by a curved spine. She decided to take matters into her own hands, moving to the capital, Kathmandu, to train and work as a tailor. But sitting all day left her with swollen legs and back pain.

Disappointed, Bimala returned to Raskot and began working in her family’s small village shop.

Little did Bimala know, change was on the way.

Raskot, a remote village in the high hills of Kalikot District in western Nepal. © IFAD/Kaushal Shrestha

The IFAD-supported Adaptation for Smallholders in Hilly Areas (ASHA) project promotes climate resilient agricultural production and community infrastructure in Nepal. But beyond this, it aims to enhance the resilience of the most vulnerable members of the community, including women and people with disabilities.

When ASHA contacted Bimala to see if she was interested in taking part in the project, she was overjoyed. She took part in workshops on women’s empowerment, business planning and climate adaptation.   

With the help of her ever-supportive family as well as inputs, such as a water drum and seeds, and technical guidance from ASHA, Bimala set up a small polytunnel system to grow off-season vegetables.

With four yields of cucumber and tomatoes this year alone, and with each yield earning her at least NPR 5,000 (around US$ 40), Bimala’s life is transformed for the better. “Before, I had nothing. Now, I manage my own small agri-business,” says Bimala with a smile. “I am very grateful.”

“Being financially independent is very important for Bimala,” says Dinesh Sanjaal, ASHA’s Social Mobilization Officer for Raskot. “The polytunnel means she can make a living and support herself year-round as it protects her produce from heavy rain, hail, frost and snow.”

Bimala isn’t done yet. “I want to work more,” she says. I want to grow new vegetables in the polytunnel. Open my own shop. And, with my savings, I want to study. I want to learn business management.”

If her past determination is anything to go by, Bimala will undoubtedly fulfil her aspirations.

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