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Nepal: Pages From "The Miracles of Barefoot Capitalism" chapter 14

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Small Entrepreneurs Flourish Beneath Himalayan Giants

Kathmandu, Nepal –

2015 0508 nepal map2

Travel posters that invite tourists and trekkers to Nepal depict a country irresistible to the adventurer. The Himalayas are stupendous. They reveal a startling white world, the highest and mightiest on earth. Yet not many miles to the south, Nepal’s Chitwan jungle is a dominion of elephant and tiger.

The picture is not oversold. Among the faraway places on earth, Nepal appeals almost instantly and magnetically to the explorer and seeker.

But its poverty and tragedy reveal another Nepal that on the surface is one of the horrors of humanity. In Nepal millions of people live below subsistence levels, orphaned children by the thousands live on garbage piles or are enslaved; young women are forced into prostitution, transported to India and elsewhere. The misery seems endless. In the spring of 2001 the country’s future king went berserk in the royal palace and massacred his family before killing himself. Within a few months of that slaughter the seven-year-old Maoist insurgency had forced a suspension of parliamentary government, sowing political chaos in a country that could barely stay afloat even in orderly times, with so little to export.

But if you can take the time (and accept the risk) of traveling today in the remotest parts of one of the poorest and most politically inept countries in the world, you make some remarkable discoveries. One of them is the thousands of women who are liberating themselves and their families from the manacles of poverty and oblivion.

Microcredit works in the most improbable places on earth. You see that in Uganda and in the mountain country of South America and in the debris of civil war or political oppression or even threatened famine in the Far East. But Nepal is a little harder to imagine.

In some places in western Nepal, loan officers administering village banking groups sometimes have to walk days to reach a weekly or monthly meeting. In the hill country of western Nepal not long ago, members of a self-help banking group were meeting in a sparsely-furnished village hall when armed Maoists walked in and demanded to know what the meeting was all about.

The program officer stood at the bookkeeping table with a handful of small rupee notes and tried to explain what was happening. These women were meeting, he said, to vote on appeals for loans by members of the group. They needed to bring more money into their little businesses and their families. The Maoists wanted to know what kind of money they were talking about.

 “One or two thousand rupees,” he said. It translated into $13 to $25 if you converted rupees to American money. Nobody was converting anybody’s money in the presence of gun-wielding Maoists on that day, or doing much except looking at the barrels of those semi-automatic weapons.

One of the Maoists demanded a month’s pay from the edgy program officer, who stood too terrified to speak.

“How much money do you make?” the Maoist leader asked him.

He gave the figure and emptied his pockets.

The Maoist scowled and then grumbled. “I’m making more than you are,” he said. “Go on with your meeting.” The patrol walked out of the building and disappeared.

nepal 01 600x

The staying power of the microcredit idea and the commitment of its members and its sustaining staffs around the world sometimes surprise hardboiled money handlers and humanitarian experts alike. Maybe it shouldn’t be that surprising.  The human spirit lifted by hope and spurred by incentive or desperation is not easily defeated.  Although Americans are long conditioned to the power of the enterprising spirit, they often overlook it when they’re confronted with the poverty of less advanced parts of the world.

Barefoot W

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We are professional women 55+.  Most of us were active in the Women’s Movement.  We have traveled extensively in developing countries.  On the ground we’ve seen compelling evidence of the truth of the research, the profound difference it makes to society if mothers have food security for their children and sustainable futures for their families. We’ve been awed by the transformation of women who found opportunities to emerge from poverty and taken control of their own lives.  We’ve walked beside them and heard their stories.  We’ve seen their self-esteem grow, their leadership skills emerge and their voices heard.  We can help change the world for these women for decades to come by investing the same passion we summoned for our own battle for women’s equality.  

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