Niru Kumari Bisunke

How an economic ‘hand up’ brought one family out of darkness and empowered three more.

Niru Kumasi Bisunke is 26 and the mother of two young children, Simon (6) and daughter Sandhya (5). She lives with her husband, Sajan, in Deuper, a village 90 km east of Kathmandu.; a close-knit, farming community with a population of around 2,000 people. Niru’s home is a simple, two-storey house with the family housed upstairs and goats and buffalo below.

A typical day for Niru involves rising at 5am to clean the house and prepare breakfast, a simple cup of chai tea. Niru then heads to the jungle to collect food for the buffalo, which are milked twice a day and the milk sold at a collection point in the village. At 9, Niru and the children make the 40-minute journey on foot to school, after which she washes the clothes in a nearby spring, tends a small vegetable patch and prepares lunch – usually rice and lentil soup. Each afternoon, Niru seeks works as a porter, transporting bricks using a strap, or ‘namlo’, placed on her forehead. It is gruelling work paid according to the weight carried, typically US$4 a day for 30 kg loads. Her husband also looks for manual labour and, when he is lucky enough to find it, earns US$6. At the end of the working day, the family share a dinner of lentils and vegetables and when daylight fades, they sleep on woven bamboo mats and under blankets.

On the day of the earthquake, Niru travelled by bus with the children to the beautiful medieval city of Bhaktapur, 90 minutes from home and on the outskirts of Kathmandu. She had hoped to find work in town and, with no hint of the horror to come, felt optimistic and happy. But Niru would soon discover that Bhaktapur was not a safe place to be. When the earthquake struck, the town was less than 50 km from the epicentre and Niru and her children were in grave danger.

“My children and I were inside a shop when the walls started to sway suddenly, shelves and cupboards came crashing down around us. Screaming, we ran outside into heavy rain and strong winds, tall trees were moving as easily as blades of grass. It was chaos, people were screaming and I saw buildings crumple like matchboxes, burying people alive.”

Bhaktapur was badly hit; the delicate brickwork of the majestic old city proved to be as fragile as it looked.

Traumatised by what they had seen and unable to reach home, Niru and her children slept outside in the freezing cold, too scared to take shelter anywhere. The aftershocks kept coming, triggering deadly landslides, the collapse of more buildings and further deaths. For four days Niru remained like this; no communication, no way of knowing if her husband was alive, and their only food a handful of broken biscuits.

Finally reaching home on foot, Niru and the children were unprepared for the devastation around them. Rushing to the place where her house once stood, Niru was overjoyed to find her husband alive but her relief soon turned to despair when she realised almost all the homes in the village had been destroyed, 25 residents had died and 50 seriously injured. Other than one buffalo and one young goat, Niru’s cattle had perished, crushed by falling masonry. Everything the family had worked for seemed lost.

In the days following, Niru and Sajan constructed a temporary shelter for their children using whatever materials they could find, wood, bamboo, plastic and tarpaulin. It offered little protection from the elements.

Our local Be The Change team learnt about the widespread devastation in Deuper through the network of Sherpas who climb the remote Himalayas for a living. In February 2016, the team met Niru for the first time, ten months after the disaster. No government aid had reached the community and to survive, villagers had been forced to trade or sell whatever they could, had foraged for wild food and walked huge distances to seek work. We found Niru and her family still living in their temporary shelter. Niru and her family welcomed the team with wide smiles, but beneath those smiles it was obvious they were haunted by what they had been through.

Sitting with Niru, her husband, a village leader and Be The Change team, discussions began about how the family could be helped. Niru is a proud woman and quickly made it clear that she would not accept a hand out. So, what could be done to provide Niru with a sustainable, economic hand up, one which would restore the family’s hope and generate an income? A few moments later Niru proposed the idea of a candle-making business. In Nepal, large swathes of the country have no electricity or are without power for 16 hours or more a day, a situation which would only get worse following the earthquake. Candles would be in great demand!

We realised that as an experienced construction worker, Gore’s skills would be in high demand, particularly as so many buildings across the region had been destroyed or badly damaged. In full consultation with Gore, the village leader, and Be The Change team, it was agreed he should relocate to Kathmandu with his family and our team would help him do this. After so many months of feeling hopeless, Gore was delighted to have the opportunity to provide for his children once again. In his eagerness to relocate he was packed and ready within hours.

We asked Niru why she dreamed of running her own business, her reply was simple: 

“I will do anything to educate my children and provide for my family.”

The team helped Niru refine her business idea and, accompanied by a team member, she travelled to the nearest town to purchase equipment and materials. Within the first few days, Niru made 450 candles which she immediately sold at the vibrant, local market.


Twelve months later and we catch up with Niru and her family once again. Business is going well! Niru makes 900 candles per month which means she no longer needs to do manual labour. Furthermore, the activity only requires one hour of her time each morning and evening.

“Thanks to your belief in me and in my business idea, the dream that my son will become a doctor and my daughter a nurse, is one step closer.”

Niru’s story does not end there however! Demand for the candles is such that Niru has been able to form a candle-making cooperative and three other women from the village have joined Niru in the business.

Be The Change intervention enabled Niru to support her family and create a flourishing enterprise. But it is Niru’s hard work, dedication and generosity of spirit, which have made it possible to empower three additional families, all of whom have a bright future ahead.

ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT

    Prior to Be The Change intervention, manual work was sporadic and Niru and her husband were earning a maximum of US$40 per month.
  • Providing Niru with the opportunity to realise her business idea (equipment, materials and stock) cost just: US$114
  • Niru makes 900 candles per month, generating US$40 profit..
  • Niru has created a candle-making cooperative, empowering three additional families.