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When mothers mean business – Tearfund

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Photo credit: Ralph Hodgson/Tearfund

Sara Guy
Media officer, Tearfund

In a series of five features to mark Mother’s Day on March 18, Sara Guy from Tearfund presents a feature of case studies of mothers from around the world.

The final one is on Nepal.

Dhandevi is 30 years old, but it was not until she was 20 that she was free.

She is a former bonded slave who lives in rural Nepal with her three children while her husband works in India.

Dhandevi lives in Shivnagar, a small village of 300 former bonded slaves in western Nepal.

They may be free but their background means that they are poor, uneducated and struggle to find good jobs. As a consequence the community has had difficulties mixing with other local people.

Bonded labour is a form of debt slavery where a person and their labour are pledged as collateral against a loan.

The terms of the debt, such as what services are required or for how long, may be undefined and debt bondage can be passed on from one generation to the next.

Described by the UN as a form of ‘modern day slavery’, debt bondage has been illegal in Nepal since 2001.

When Dhandevi was a slave she worked as a housemaid. Her payment was 12 sacks of rice and 5kg of salt per year.

This ended in 2001 when she and other bonded labourers were set free. It was the monsoon season and they were left out in the rain with few possessions and no land, but were overjoyed to be free.

Dhandevi may have been born a slave rather than a business woman, but she has certainly grown into an entrepreneur of whom British businessman Lord Sugar would be proud.

She was given a piglet through a programme run by a local church, supported by Sagoal, a Tearfund partner.

Dhandevi raised this piglet, which matured into a breeding sow and had five more piglets. The church calls their scheme ‘Love Your Neighbour’; in this spirit Dhandevi gave two piglets to her neighbours, kept one for herself, and sold two.

By caring for and selling her piglets, Dhandevi earned enough money to start her own business – as a bicycle repair mechanic. She also bought a water pump, giving her and her family easy access to clean water.

Her business makes it possible for her children to go to school and Dhandevi works hard to ensure that her children receive a good education.

Life is improving for the former slaves in Shivnagar but Dhandevi still worries about the future.

The community is living on land owned by the government and they are unsure how long they will be able to stay there. Her hope is that one day they will own the land and feel secure there.

The community’s long-term future may be uncertain for the moment, but Dhandevi’s children are already dreaming of what they want to be when they grow up: her eldest son wants to be a teacher and her daughter a nurse.

Where previous generations may have seen a future of continued bondage, freedom combined with Dhandevi’s business acumen, and bicycle repair skills, mean that her children have far greater ambitions and opportunities.

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