Resilient Her: Nasreen Sheikh
Nasreen is a 20-something who doesn’t know her exact age. Girls’ births are not recorded in her native rural village on the India-Nepal border, nor are girls allowed to go to school. They’re also forced to get married, often when they’re still children themselves. At age 9 or 10, Nasreen ate, slept, and toiled 12-15 hours a day in a cramped sweatshop, receiving less than $2 per shift. A serendipitous meeting with a kind stranger, who educated and encouraged her, allowed her to escape the sweatshop and forced marriage her parents had arranged for her.
Around the age of 16, Nasreen founded Local Women's Handicrafts (LWH), a fair trade sewing collective in Kathmandu. LWH empowers disadvantaged women by providing paid training in clothing and jewelry design. Over 100 women have been trained, many of whom have escaped forced and abusive marriages. LWH women also provide health kits and medical help for rural women, distribute handmade backpacks with school supplies to impoverished children, make reusable shopping bags to reduce plastic, and provide disaster relief in times of crisis.
In 2015, Nasreen founded Empowerment Collective, a 501c3 organization that empowers women to take control of their lives. Nasreen’s brand, Resilient Her: Turning Trauma into Power, embodies all of her core beliefs and objectives. Nasreen gives talks around the world, has been featured in Forbes, The Huffington Post, and Cosmo among many other publications, and recently presented a Tedx Talk. Both a book and a documentary about her life are currently in production.
My name is Parbati Shrestha and I am from Birjunj, a city close to the India-Nepal border. I found LWH through other women. When I came to LWH, I was in a very desperate mode of life. I didn't have anything. I was a single mother with a 4-year-old daughter as my husband left me when I was in pregnant. After that my life became harder and harder — every step was a challenge to survive. Some people offered me to sell my daughter for $3,000 dollars. Some advised me to remarry. Some men teased and made fun of me to try to get in a relationship with me. I would feel this social pressure that would never end. For me this life was just a dark mirror. I could not find any courage, and I would get frightened that any dark thing can happen to me anytime. When I first had an interview with Nasreen, it gave me a little hope that maybe I will get trained here. After joining LWH, day by day I felt more relaxed with my life. More hope and more independence and more skill. I feel now nothing is dark; only my marriage was dark, this man was dark, and it made my life dark. Now I have a dream to educate my daughter and make her a good human. LWH believes that my baby can be a Superwoman one day. I know LWH is proud to help me turn my life from desperation to dream.
Namaste. My name is Sahin Pravin, I am around 21 years-old and come from the east of Nepal. In my home village, like many in Nepal, woman have little or no rights and to be born female often leads to a very disadvantaged life. I was living with a cousin when Nasreen, my sister, visited me in my home village. She told me all about the Local Women’s Handicrafts (LWH) project and her vision and what she wanted to create. It was then that I decided to return to Kathmandu with her. It is difficult to express how excited I was to be given the opportunity to get my fundamental rights back, rights that many women from around the world take for granted every day.
My name is Niru Tarijal. I have been working in LWH since early 2013. Before this I worked as a housekeeper. There I was abused and threatened all the time. This voice from my previous workplace always made me so sad to hear. I am disabled with my ear: I can't hear properly. I felt I have to quit housekeeping and start looking for a new place where people will not make fun of my disability. I found LWH through another woman. I was scared at first but in time everything turned out great. I started loving my life. I love to work in LWH. I am getting trained here, I have never felt any kind of teasing and sad words. I've always received motivation from my seniors. I am feeling now that LWH is my own workplace, everyone is like my family. It has been two years that I have been working here. I got married recently with a very special man. He never treats me as a disabled girl. I feel very lucky for LWH. I want to continue my work here and to give all of my support to LWH.
My name is Sital Parja. I am 20 years-old from Dhadhing. In my village we have huge problems with the untouchable caste. There is so much social pressure. I remember when I was thinking of coming to Kathmandu, my neighbors and family were not satisfied with my decision. But I was strong enough to let their thinking go and follow my own intention. I wanted to be successful in this society, economically and socially. In my village I have faced too many problems with poverty; we don't have our own house to live in. Everyone hates us in our village, because I am from untouchable society. It makes me feel like it was my mistake to be born in untouchable society. Why is this society so cruel to us? I just want to be one of the independent, happy, and full of life women of this world. I just want to say to the world, don't judge me with my caste, judge with my heart. I have joined LWH through some of my woman friends. It was incredibly hard for me to understand city life in the beginning. Now I feel that I am not alone. Lots of women are here like me who want to complete their own dreams. One day I want to be a nurse and give service to my society and to my family. I am so thankful to LWH for providing me a chance to study with skill here. I feel so good to do my embroidery work. I love it.
My name is Sanita Shrestha and I am 23 years old. I am a married woman. My husband brought me to Kathmandu and he opened me a shop. To look after the shop, somehow I was not able to handle it, and I failed. My aunty Urmila Shrestha brought me to LWH and I am doing very good here, it is so good to work with only women. We can share anything without any fear. I spend amazing time here and learn many things. Thank you very much to LWH.
Nirmala Buddha Toki
My name is Nirmala Buddha Toki, and I am 45 years-old from the mountains. How much I have suffered in my life. I wish no woman should suffer like this. When I was very young, I was forced into marriage with a man by my family. There was a huge difference between me and his age. My husband already had three wives and I was the fourth one. I had one son and after a few years, my husband died. From that day on I became a single woman. I was very devastated and very sad but with time everything passes. Before joining LWH I was working as a carpenter. I was making doors and shelves. One day somehow Nasreen invited me to make her shop door. It was very strange for me to understand Nasreen. I felt for the first time in my life — how can someone have such an amazing spirit? She is just like my angel, like my own daughter. She worked with me to finish her shop door, and her hand got so rough and scratched. She felt for me so much and told me to leave this job and come and join her in LWH. From the next day forward I started working in LWH. I am so much happy with LWH, it is a totally independent factory, whatever we want, we can do. No one can control us, and day by day it is growing. After cancelling her marriage, I want LWH to help more and more women like us. For once, we feel our life is worth something. I want to tell the world, please support LWH, please.
I bring work from the shop to my home and then I sew it. It really helps me to be independent. When I joined LWH, there was not even shop, we were just 3 or 4 women struggling. We had worked for big companies, and I remember LWH was facing everyday problems dealing with big factories plus investment and social pressure. With creative thinking and nonstop hard work, LWH is changing the pattern. I am so glad to see LWH growing and to be a part of it.
My name is Sabina Rijal. I am 18 years-old from the mountains. My mother tried to send me to school. I don't know why; I just didn't like school. I left and I started working with my mother in LWH. I now have a dream to own a business and earn money. My mother supports me so I am having an easy life. I thank my mother for bringing me to LWH. I feel so good to work with a group of friends with musi.