Twenty-five women of varying ages sit under a tin roof making colorful products from felt in Mitranagar, near New Bus Park, in Kathmandu. At first sight, it’s a common enough sight around the Kathmandu valley, but on closer look, one notices that all the women are physically challenged in one way or the other: some are of slight stature, some are hearing- and speech-impaired, and some have problems with their limbs.
The place they are working in is called EPSA (Entire Power in Social Action), an NGO whose mission is to provide shelter and skill training to women with special needs who are unwanted by their own kinfolk and have nowhere else to go. Its founder is Ms. Sangita Pant. Originally from Gorkha, she came to the capital some 15-16 years ago. “When I was seven years old, I had a nasty fall and injured my left arm,” she says. The injury led to severe damage to the arm.
Having experienced the trauma of being physically challenged herself, she became committed to the cause of helping women in a similar situation to become more independent and lead dignified lives. In a largely unsympathetic society, her cause has to be lauded. “Till date, we have trained almost 500 physically challenged women,” she says, adding, “We do not take in those who have passed SLC.” She runs the EPSA Handicraft Center under the auspices of her organization, which makes felt handicraft, knitwear, and cotton items.
“Right now, there are 25 women involved in this work,” she says. “Ten of them stay in our hostel while 15 come from outside.” She pays Rs.8,000 a month as rent, and is worried that the 10-year-lease will run out in three more years. “I don’t know where we will go; nobody wants to rent out to people with disabilities.” She also discloses that she could probably give employment to 50 women provided she could find the funds to support them.
Krishna Magar is a person of short stature who also works at EPSA. She is from Dolakha and has been here for the last two years. A shy woman, she says that she has a mother and father as well as a brother and a sister-in-law at home in her village. She is also a bit hard of hearing, but tries her best to answer my questions. She says that she has learnt to knit and make felt handicraft. So far from her birthplace, she has found a new home in EPSA.
Renuka Puri, 20, is another member of the EPSA family. She is from Sankhuwasabha. She has to take help of a crutch to move around. “I was all right till I was 10 years old,” she says. “But, after that, I just lost use of my legs as I was walking one day. It happened very suddenly. My sister also suffered the same fate, and she too has problem with both her legs.” In addition to her injured limbs, Renuka also has a medical problem involving her blood, and has to take medicine regularly, the cost of which comes to about Rs.2,000 a month. She has been living in EPSA for the last four years.
Similarly, Sundari Rai comes from Rautahat and now lives in Jorpati, Kathmandu. She is a mother to two sons who are studying in class 3 and 6, respectively. She has been working at EPSA for the last two years and is now adept at making felt handicraft. She is currently also taking training at EPSA on sewing and cutting.
These are just three examples of the kind of women EPSA and Ms. Sangita Pant are looking after and giving hope for a better life ahead. And, it must be said, all the women at EPSA deserve this, if nothing else, because they are the ones who have had bitter experiences in their past, and are struggling to hold themselves up in the present. The future must be better for them, and it is organizations like EPSA that provide a ray of hope in this direction.