For Shanti, a widowed mother, the small group savings and income generation training provided through INF Nepal’s Self-Help groups, were a life saver. She lost her father and one child in sudden, tragic circumstances and found herself without any shelter, nor enough food for her remaining family of five. Through a Self-Help Group, Shanti received two sheep and training to rear them well. After six months, she now has four sheep and the seeds of a sustainable income for her vulnerable family.
Shanti’s story of transformation is mirrored for thousands of women and men through the hundreds of Self-Help Groups INF has formed across the district. People have been supported to start small grocery stores, install drinking water systems, and develop kitchen gardens.
As well as these individual stories of transformation, INF’s Self-Help Groups are also contributing to deep and long-lasting social change.
In 2021, INF Australia funded an evaluation of INF’s WEAL Project [Women’s Empowerment and Livelihoods] in Kanakasundari Rural Municipality, Jumla District. There is lots to learn and areas for improvement, of course, but one of the most encouraging findings has been that the Self-Help Groups contribute to a measurable increase in unity and cooperation within the community. They also increase awareness about many social problems and issues.
Through the groups, INF Nepal’s skilled staff and community mobilisers train people to analyse, discuss and respond to problems which they may never have been able or willing to talk about before. The women of the Self-Help Groups then are driving conversation and change in their communities on issues such as disability, gender or caste based discrimination, protection of a healthy environment, ways to reduce the risk of disasters, and harmful social practices such as early marriage and chhaupadi [social exclusion of menstruating girls and women].
Bishnumaya, a Self-Help Group member, says, “INF has helped us bring many changes to our community – cleaning up rubbish, sending kids to school, protecting our drinking water, and so on, which our Rural Municipality was not able to do.
In these, and other areas, the project is changing attitudes and norms across society. Where INF Nepal’s Self-Help Groups have been active, caste based discrimination is reduced. People with disabilities are forming networks and advocating for their legal rights. Women are working with authorities to reduce gender discrimination and family violence. Marginalised people are making their voices heard.