Varanasi woman, garbage picker.

Learning to co-exist, learning to love again

The NHC talks with Tamara McLellan about the International Women’s Education Project

NHC: How did IWEN capture your attention and in what way did you relate to the people who are being represented? Can you tell us a story of how it transformed the lives of one or a few?

I learned about IWEN four years ago when I moved to Kelowna and purchased a scarf that was sewn by Nepalese women. I was attracted to the story of empowerment and self-reliance that IWEN inspired in these women by training them to grow skills and sending their daughters to school. I volunteered in India in 2011 and saw the direct need for this sort of unique work. IWEN wasn’t about sending aid, but about furthering education and sustainable community development.

I’ll never forget hearing the stories of the women in our micro-credit groups in Nepal. Two stories are featured below:


My name is Anarkali and I am 31 years old. I belong to the Gobardiya mothers’ group. I live with my inlaws and I have one son and one daughter.

Before my marriage I was bonded for five years. During this bondage I was forced to work long hours under very harsh conditions. My family received nothing for my labour in my employer’s house. All I was given in return was a little food and some clothes. At times I didn’t even receive food because according to the mistress of the house I had done something wrong. These five years are in the past, but I will never forget them.

My daughter, Sanjita, is in grade ten and currently supported by IWEN/CP 1. I used to worry very much about my Sanjita’s education because when she was in grade five my husband and I were thinking of withdrawing her from school. We no longer had enough money to send her to school. Luckily IWEN/CP’s program started here and Sanjita was given an educational scholarship. This was a great joy and relief especially for Sanjita.

The next best thing that happened to me is joining the Gobardiya mothers’ group. I joined the group and started to borrow money from the common fund. My first loan was for 6,000 rupees [$60.00]. With this money I bought a piglet because the other mothers in the group counseled me saying that piglets were the easiest animals to raise. I also bought a pair of ducks. I learned later that my ducks were an even better choice than my piglet.

After one year I sold my pig for 7,000 rupees [$70.00] but it was not a good deal. This is because my pig could not give birth to piglets. I was still lucky to cover my original loan. My ducks however gave me a huge profit. For my 500 rupee [$5.00] I earned 7,500 rupees profit [$75.00].

With this profit I made a toilet for our family. I learned through my mothers’ group that toilets are important for both hygiene and privacy. My daughter and I always had a hard time without a toilet because we would have to go out very early in the morning to have some privacy. Now we both experience more freedom in our daily lives because we have our own private toilet. It is still hard to believe that such a simple change could make sure a huge difference in our lives.


My name is Bhubaneswari. I am from the Ghoraha mothers’ group. Eight months ago I borrowed 3,000 rupees [$30.00] from my group. I started to do vegetable farming. I learned from other mothers in the group that growing vegetables could help me. I took their advice and started.

I am very grateful for the chance to borrow from my group at only one percent interest. If I borrowed this amount from a landlord it would take years to pay back my loan because the interest is so high and my earnings from my vegetable farming are only 400 rupees [$4.00] per day.

My group really helped me to earn enough money to keep my children in school. Before starting my vegetable farming, I was thinking of taking my children out of school because I could no longer afford to send them. I am grateful to the group for their support and encouragement.

I also learn by listening to the other mothers in my group. Solving problems together helps me in my own life. Life is better now.


NHC: Can you tell us about the effort of IWEN House and the symbolism of the structure?

In October 2013, though our relationship with our Nepalese NGO partner Creating Possibilities, a long term dream was realized when land was purchased and we started construction of UNAKO House. Unako translates to “hers” in Nepalese. The UNAKO House Community Centre is a 4,000 square-foot two-storey building located in the Dang Province of western Nepal and is owned by Creating Possibilities. The construction process was a collaborative effort between IWEN Canada, Developing World Connections and Creating Possibilities.

Unako House is a local community centre. It provides space for holding Mothers’ Group meetings, offices for Mothers’ Micro Credit, a facility for scarf-sewing as well as a space for tutoring our sponsored students (the Empowerment Through Education program). This space impacts hundreds of women and girls.

The building is self-sustaining. There is rental income from two leased spaces as well as from the offices of the Unako Scarf program and IWEN. Our program monitor, Sarita, is the live-in caretaker of the centre. The primary use of this centre is for the empowerment of women and girls in the community and it will not be used for any political or profitable gain.

Unako House is providing opportunities for underprivileged Tharu women and young girls to take control of their future and thrive in their communities, through education, vocation, literacy and hope.

NHC: Also, if you feel inclined, please tell us about your spiritual grounding and the power of empathy for relating to women far from your own home.

As a yoga and mindfulness teacher, I know that we have all that we need within each of us. Sometimes that needs just a little encouragement to come out, or an opportunity such as getting educated in school or learning a skill for a sustainable livelihood. This is something that all women should have access to.

As a mother, I would do anything to ensure my children have their basic needs met. To me, education is a basic human right. I stand alongside my sisters in Nepal and Canada to work every day to ensure that this chance is realized for the women and children that we work with. I feel honoured to work with the programs that we do.

1. Creating Possibilities

To visit the IWEN website, click here.

(photo credit: Rei Murikami)

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Much Love,

New Human City Team