2012 Study Tour: What do chip packets have to do with mountain people?

Introducing the beautiful Beni - Changing the world by empowering mountain Nepali women and recycling packaging and tyres and other non-biodegradable materials. The other morning, we were shown the office and shop of one of the most beautiful Nepali women I have met so far on this trip. Her name is Beni, she manages a fair trade business and shop training women in mountain areas of Nepal to be educated and learn skills to earn an income. Her products are all made from recycled products, including plastic packaging, jute, rubber tyres, ricesacks and more. They make a unique range of products including jewellery, bags, homewares, decorations and more.

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We sat down with Beni in her shop and we were able to learn her story about the women she works with, the problems many Nepali women face, and what she (along with others) are trying to do to empower the women and help them improve their lives. She discussed with us many cultural problems that women face including forced marriages, lack of education, no control over money or power in marriage to say no or defend their rights. However, Beni believes in the right of women to be educated, earn an income for themselves and choose how to spend it. She believes it is more important for women to be independent even if it means standing up to their husband and/or family when it is usually frowned upon because of cultural norms.

She told us stories of women she has worked with who have been beaten or traumatised by family members, women who have gone abroad to find work and have returned a few years later with a mental problem, and women who are so used to living in the shadow and control of their husband or parents. However, her excellent English and loving character charmed us with the way she is placing education and empowerment at the forefront of her work, helping women to stand up for their rights and find value in themselves and their work. The two-fold beauty of the products is that their raw materials are free and saving rubbish from the streets and from landfill. They design their own products and work together to ensure quality. It was a privilege to hear Beni's story and her commitment to help the mountain people of Nepal who can face daily struggles just to be heard.

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I bought some products from Beni's shop in Thamel, Kathmandu, and I cannot wait to be able to tell people back in Australia about the story and the faces behind the products and how great their work is! This is what social work, fair trade, and empowerment is all about.