Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Passport Series: Nepal: Part 3: Artisan Borrowers

This month’s Passport Series focuses on Nepal! Nepal is the birthplace of Buddhism and home to the tallest mountains in the world! Follow us throughout the month of October as we learn about Nepal’s background, its microfinance sector, and Kiva’s presence within its borders.

Written by Guest Blogger, Abhinab Basnyat, Kiva Fellow in Nepal

Thecho village lies just six kilometers outside of Patan, a sub-municipality and headquarters of Lalitpur district. Thecho still has the charm of a village, albeit a rapidly changing one.

Kids playing on swings in Theco - Photo Credit: Abhinab Basnyat

Theco corn being dried for planting next year - Photo Credit: Abhinab Basnyat

A main road under construction in Theco - Photo Credit: Abhinab Basnyat

Thecho has a high concentration of the Newari artisan community. Laxmi, and Hera Devi are two female borrowers of BPW-Patan, who have been funded through Kiva in the past to support their woodcraft and artisan businesses.

Thecho artisans craft the bronze/copper deity statues that adorn households all over the world. Hera Devi, a mother of two, is involved in the very first step. She makes the white porcelain cast that etches the contours of the deity. She then layers it in wax to create a replica. Depending on the requested designs she will etch engravings. She has to be extremely careful as too much pressure will break the wax and she will have to start over. Once the design is complete the wax replica is handed off to someone else in the village to cast mud and cook it, then a metal smith will pour hot copper or bronze to create the metal statues that tourists often see all over Kathmandu valley.

Porcelain, wax, and metal materials used in deity crafting - Photo Credit: Abhinab Basnyat

Besides metal and wooden crafts, Hera Devi has been busy making makhmali (globe amaranth) garlands with her mother for Tihar / Diwali (festival of lights). Tihar extends over five days, and on the last day - Bhai Tika, siblings exchange blessings and the makmali flower garlands. The makhmali flower signifies longevity since it colors do not fade.

Hera Devi weaving with her mother - Photo Credit: Abhinab Basnyat

Hera Devi with her garlands - Photo Credit: Abhinab Basnyat

This is a seasonal undertaking for Hera Devi and she can prepare about twenty garlands in a day. She plants the flowers in her garden several months in advance to prepare for the festival demand. Once winter starts, she plans to sew sweaters as well.

Like Hera Devi, Kiva loans have helped support Laxmi's wood engraving and craft business. She works with her husband, Cheri Babu, who has been making etching and engravings on wood for over twenty years. They are currently creating a mast that will support a pati. Patis are public shelters like bus stands with an open face and a roof. These traditional rest-stops provided walkers a place to rest or even spend the night as they traveled. As patis have declined in use, these traditional masts have been more popular in stores and houses as they are aesthetically more appealing than concrete pillars.

Wooden stumps before carving - Photo Credit: Abhinab Basnyat

Laxmi carving wooden stumps - Photo Credit: Abhinab Basnyat

Completed carved masts - Photo Credit: Abhinab Basnyat

Lenders all over the world have provided micro-loans to women like Hera Devi and Laxmi through Kiva and its partner BPW-Patan. Each loan has helped kick-start and maintain borrowers' micro-enterprises. In doing so, they have provided critical support that has helped preserve Nepali artisan culture and heritage.

To learn more about BPW-Patan go to their Field Partner Page on the Kiva website and watch this beautiful video, produced by former Kiva Fellow, Chris Baker! For those interested in sustainable tourism, check out the wonderful travel company Chris is now running in Nepal, OneSeed Expeditions!