Working at Maheela, I have so many new skills

“Working at Maheela, I have so many new skills”

Along with the ability to provide for her family, this is the impact that the weaving cooperative, Maheela, at the Women’s Foundation Nepal (WFN) has had for Gamala Lama.

Maheela cooperative Nepal

Gamala has been employed by Maheela for 14 years in order to earn money for her family. In Nepal, Gamala describes that “the tradition is that men usually do all the work and women are at home” but for her, this is the opposite. She works to pay rent, and she works hard. Depending on the complexity of a piece, it may take up to four days of work to create a scarf, table runner or tablecloth.

Maheela gives Nepalese women the opportunity to earn an income and learn new skills. Women are paid a fair wage and also receive commission for their pieces. There is no regular day of work for Gamala. She is known as the “expert on the loom”. She trains new staff on how to use the loom and create a traditional Nepali design known as ‘dhaka’.

Her life at home is stressful for myriad reasons, many of which she was uncomfortable with sharing publicly. She is the primary breadwinner in her family and manages all the finances. Ultimately, she wants to see a world that is free from violence and that supports Nepal’s ageing population. Working at the cooperative, she has support from Renu -- WFN’s Co-Founder and President, and the other women who work there. They give her courage and hope, particularly during social tea breaks.

Sisma* has been with WFN for 15 years. She left her village with her four daughters to escape intimate partner violence. Life in Kathmandu when she first arrived was not easy; as a labourer, she carried bricks and sand for five years while she was raising her daughters. Then one of her brothers told her about WFN.

She started training at Maheela, ironing and making fringes for scarves. Now she spins threads before they are colour-dyed. Sisma starts her day with the yoga that Renu taught her which gives her the energy for a full day of work. “I feel I could spin all day” she says. For her, tea breaks and talking with her sisters at the Maheela are what make her day.

For Sisma and her daughters, it has been a journey. The biggest change she has experienced since working with WFN is the impact it has had on her daughters. In Nepal, trafficking of young girls from poor, rural families is rife. Sisma tells us that all her daughters have found husbands and secure homes. She says “this is a great success for me. I worked very hard”. She says that the cooperative has changed her life, as the women at Maheela, particularly Renu, have become her family.

The making of a Maheela scarf is a collaborative effort. Working together, the women perform different tasks that ultimately lead to beautiful, eco-friendly, handcrafted items. Up to five women spin thread daily, transferring dyed yarns to small rollers for warping (a process where dyed yarns are set on the loom). The yarns are then interlaced to make the fabric in a process known as ‘weaving’. But it doesn’t end there - the women take pride in their work. There is quality control where the women check for colouring inconsistencies, gaps in threads, and any other damage to the pieces. They then wash the product, breaking down fibres to create a soft fabric. The fabric is then labeled, ironed and packaged and the result is a high quality scarf with bright colours; reflective of the vibrant conversations the women making no doubt it had, most likely with a cup of tea by their side.

The Global Women's Project provides Maheela with marketing, business development and sales support.

By Aliya Ahmed. Interviews conducted in Nepal by Adriana Bernado.

*Name has been changed

Briony Mackenzie