In the Mount Everest region of Nepal, women and families have been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The tourism industry that powers the local economy has all but dried up, and with it the jobs that support thousands of Nepali families surrounding the mountain.

This drastic industry shift has forced families to find a new source of income. 

World Education’s Better Returns project supports 1500 households in these Nepali communities affected by the pandemic, offering savings groups and training to gain financial literacy and entrepreneurship skills to improve their livelihoods. These new skills will enable them to participate in the nascent microfinance system in their area so that they can reap greater benefit from the new livelihood opportunities available to them.

Savings groups and livelihood training offer women the opportunity to learn how to manage finances and gain the skills they need to launch a small business. These groups also offer mutual empowerment among the women, and protect them from money lenders who force the women to pay high interest rates and provide free labor.

In honor of International Women’s Day, here are three of the women in Nepal who have made an incredible transition to new work while learning to grow their savings and support their communities.

Meet the Women of the Better Returns Savings Groups

Sita Kulung Pivots from Tourism to Goat Farming 

Sita Kulung’s family have worked as porters and lodge-owners in a Khumbu village since 2000, and after 20 years, their business has closed due to the pandemic. 

“By the end of the long lockdown period, we had run out of all our goods and saved money. We came back to our village Mahakulung, Chheskam and found that Pahadi Bikas (the local NGO) was running the CAFÉ training.”

Consumer Awareness and Financial Empowerment (CAFÉ) was originally developed by World Education Australia (whose business name is Good Return), and Good Return partnered with World Education Nepal to upgrade the curriculum with additional modules in this project. Sita joined the local savings group, where she learned where to find loans with affordable interest rates and how to pay them off in installments. 

“We took a loan from the group and some from relatives and friends and then started a goat raising business. Other friends from the group frequently come to help us monitor the goats and provide feedback for us to care of goats properly. It is going well. The Pratifal – CAFÉ program is good for us.”

Shifting Livelihoods For Pabitra Kulung’s Family 

For the last 16 years, Pabritra Kulung and her family have been working in the tourism sector as porters, and in the off-season work in small hotels. When the lockdown began, Pabritra found the women savings and credit group.

“When I completed the 10 Financial Foundation sessions I talked with my husband to further our plan. We came to a decision that since the situation of tourism was not improving let us buy a milking buffalo and start to sell milk for income. Now we have also started a small tea and snacks shop in our Chheskaam village and it is going well.

“Through the CAFÉ trainings we have understood the importance of savings and having access to loans for the alternative livelihood income. We also came to know about other financial service providers, their services, our own capacity for bearing loans, record keeping of daily income and expenditure.”

Pabitra Kulung is happy that she and her husband have changed and are managing money better. When they were portering they earned more income but spent a lot and seldom had much cash in hand or savings. Even though they have less income these days, they are saving more. Pabitra says, “We are happy with CAFÉ Trainings – we like them!”

Saiti Shobha Kulung Starts an Education Fund for her Children

Saiti Shobha Kulung is a member of the Community Women Savings and Credit Group who has been participating regularly in CAFÉ training sessions. Saiti has faced a lot of challenges to improve her situation. 

Initially Saiti’s husband did not want her to attend any women group meetings, and would steal her savings to spend the money on alcohol. Saiti stuck with her financial literacy trainings, despite her husband’s behavior, and learned the importance of saving and record keeping.

Saiti has been successful in using the group’s support to keep her savings confidential, allowing her to create a pool of funds for her children’s education.

“Should my children need to be sent outside (the community) for higher education my savings will be able to support them. This encourages me to provide an education for my children… Now I am very happy with my progress.”

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