”It would be better to be parents together” — a lack of work separates families in rural Nepal
Many Nepali men go abroad to find work in order to secure a livelihood for their family. Labour migration brings with it a hard daily reality both for the worker leaving home and for the family staying behind.
”The duty of the one leading the way is to tell others what the road is like and what is waiting ahead, as well as to warn others of danger. That’s the duty of a parent. To lead the way,” says farmer Khincha Lal Pahari. He and his immediate and extended family live in the village of Bakhfer in Sindhuli District in rural Nepal.
The house is surrounded by fields used for growing potatoes and rice. In the middle of the field, Khincha has six farming tunnels, a type of greenhouse that gives the plants a longer growing season. He uses them to grow cucumbers and tomatoes. The ground floor of the house has a kiosk in which Khincha’s mother sells beverages and snacks.
The fields produce enough to enable the entire family to make a living by farming. However, the situation was not always this good. The primary industry in Nepal is agriculture, for which the changing weather conditions pose their own set of challenges. During monsoon season, the only product that can be grown is rice, and in the winter, the long dry periods make it difficult to grow other products.
Khincha has four children, two daughters and two sons. In his view, the duty of a parent is to point his or her children in the right direction, raise them well, and give them the opportunity to go to school. As a father, his duties also include assigning tasks and chores within the family and seeing that everything gets done.
”For example, today we will be planting potatoes, and we need to do it together. One person digs the rows, another plants the potatoes, and the third covers the rows. My job is to bring everything together.”
The village of Bakfer is very remote. The paving of the road leading to the village is unfinished, and it will be years before the road is completed. The winding road is cut off in places by muddy riverbeds or by rocks from the mountains. Because of the difficult road conditions, getting products to the market is challenging as well. Not many livelihood opportunities are available in the region.
When his children were small, Khincha, like many Nepali men, ended up working abroad. Khincha had heard that it was possible to make good money outside Nepal. After a friend helped him with the preparations, Khincha left for Malaysia.
”Thanks to my own parents, I received an education, and now it’s my duty to offer my children the same opportunity,” says Khincha.
Khincha’s children were doing well in school, and he wanted to give them the opportunity to continue. He did not want to leave his family.
The workdays were long, from 12 to 17 hours, and the temperature inside the factory was an unbearable 55 to 60 degrees Celsius. He was also paid less than he had initially calculated he would be making.
”After the day was done, I was very tired. I lived in the same cramped room with the other Nepali migrant workers, and there was no peace and quiet there,” says Khincha.
Many Nepalis become migrant workers. According to the International Labour Organization ILO, in one in four Nepali households, at least one member works abroad, the majority of them men. The most frequent destinations for migrant workers are Malaysia and India as well as Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
The daily lives of Nepali migrant workers are shadowed by harsh working conditions, baseless promises of salary, and homesickness. At the same time, many types of worries burden the spouses and families back home as well.
Dil Maya Syangtang’s husband went abroad five years ago. He said he would be back in three years, but now Dil Maya no longer knows when her husband means to return. At first, he sent his family money, but recently there has been no income.
”Before, I didn’t even have a few rupees. We ate all the vegetables we grew, and there was nothing left to sell,” Dil Maya describes the first few years after her husband left.
In Nepal, the wife traditionally moves in with her husband’s family after the wedding. The family lives in the same house or compound with their in-laws. Dil Maya shares her house with the family of her brother-in-law. The parents of Dil Maya’s husband, as well as her other brother-in-law, live further up the hill.
Dil Maya has received entrepreneurship training through Finn Church Aid’s project. Participants of the training have founded a co-operative that supports its members in working and saving money. When needed, the co-operative also gives loans for growing one’s business.
”The people in the village questioned what they can achieve with the training. But now, thanks to the training, I make my own living.”
At the ground floor of her home, Dil Maya prepares and sells various foods, such as the spicy street food chatpate. Her income now allows her to provide for her family, and she is no longer dependent on whether or not her husband sends her money.
”Before, it was the husbands that made the money and brought food to the table. But now it’s us women making our own money and having our own savings,” says Dil Maya.
The men working abroad has strengthened the role of the women as providers and guardians of the family. Before, the community frowned upon women working outside the home. Dil Maya’s parents thought that girls would get spoiled if they were sent to school, and so they only sent her brother to school. With her own children, she plans to choose differently.
”I want to treat my daughter and my son equally. I want them to have a good education.”
As children grow, so do expenses. Dil Maya worries whether she can fulfil her children’s needs and wishes on her own.
”It would be better to be parents together. It’s difficult to respond to the children’s needs alone.”
The husband of 23-year-old Suka Maya Thing left to work in Dubai two years ago. Suka Maya lives with her husband’s parents and her two children, 5-year-old Ashis and 3-year-old Anchal. The house of the family is located on a green hill. The house is surrounded by plants such as bamboo, farmed by Suka for her handicraft.
In the yard, there are colourful bamboo chairs that Suka Maya builds and sells in addition to other bamboo artefacts. She too participated in the entrepreneurship training, and she is also part of the co-operative. She is happy and proud to have earned money and to be able to take part in developing her community, for example by participating in the meetings of the co-operative. She has even encouraged her friends to take part in the meetings.
”I used to think that women should simply stay at home. The training has improved my quality of life,” says Suka Maya.
When it comes to her work, Suka is ambitious. She would like to see what kind of products are sold elsewhere, in order to improve the quality of her own products and to make them stand up to competition.
In terms of the future of her children, Suka Maya has hopes, but she says that children need to choose their own paths. Her daughter has not yet started school, but the mother already has hopes for her.
”If my daughter becomes a social worker, I will be very happy. Or if she were to become a spokesperson for local women, I would be a fortunate mother.”
Children’s education is important for parents. The altering climate poses its own challenges in this area as well. The road from the family’s home to the school gets flooded, making it impossible for the children to take the road alone.
”When the river floods, my son can’t go to school alone, because the road to school is too dangerous. Sometimes his grandparents walk him to school, but at times he can’t go at all.”
Suka Maya’s husband returns to the village in a few months. The debt that he left to pay has not been fully paid back yet, but the family now has a plan for paying it back.
Rural Nepal is developing through improved efficiency in farming, handicraft, and other forms of entrepreneurship. Improvements in livelihood make it possible for children to go to school and enable families to stay together.
Farmer Khincha Lal Pahari worked in Malaysia for three years. After he returned, he left for Iraq for a few more years of work. His time working in Iraq turned out to be very rough. The migrant workers lived in containers housing almost 30 people at a time. Food was in short supply, and he ultimately ended up not getting paid for eight months’ work.
After returning to Nepal once more, Khincha took part in farmer training by FCA. He has also received tools in order to improve his farming.
The hard years abroad have made Khincha even more appreciative of his country and his family. Khincha’s four children have been able to go to school, and his crops are thriving. Currently, Khincha is planning on building a pond to make irrigation easier during the dry season. There is a lot of work, but now he has his family to share it with.
”In my experience, staying in my village with my family, even with little money, makes me happy.”
Text: Noora Pohjanheimo
Photos: Tatu Blomqvist
Translation: Leena Vuolteenaho