Hamri Bahini is empowering disadvantaged women while promoting green practices

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If women are not involved in SDGs, achieving it becomes impossible as everything related to sustainability is connected to HOME, and women regardless of whether they are employed or unemployed, educated or uneducated, are the ones who work on making a home a better place says Sushmita Sharma, psychology and sociology student and lead at Hamri Bahini.

Blincventures.com got an opportunity to talk to this young and determined lady who took us down the lane to the journey of Hamri Bahini. 

Read on to know more. 

1. How was the concept of Hamri Bahini ideated?
HCI has always been working in the area of the environment. But after years of operation what we realized is that all the programs and campaigns cannot be sustainable until and unless we involve women in this area. Hence, considering this, we started brainstorming ways of involving women and during that period, Anuradha Koirala had rescued a number of trafficked girls and women, most of whom sadly, preferred going back to the hell they were rescued from because of lack of jobs. So, we decided on providing jobs to these rescued women but were not sure of what job exactly. 

Simultaneously during that period, HCI was running the “NO THANKS I CARRY MY OWN BAG” campaign and was looking for alternatives to plastic bags. That is when everything connected leading to the establishment of Hamri Bahini as a green social enterprise that will provide economic empowerment to the rescued women. We started with cloth and upcycled bags and now, after 5 years into operation, we have more than 4000 women registered with Hamri Bahini and 1347 employment created through Hamri Bahini. 

2. How do you reach these women or how do these women find out about Hamri Bahini?
We are well known for the upcycled and cloth bags, so when getting information regarding the bags people and women come to know about us. Apart from this we also collaborate with a number of organizations like Astitwa Nepal, Paurakhi who are working in reestablishing the women. So, they send women looking for jobs for us. Likewise, we also have volunteers who go out in the community to make people, especially women aware of our presence and how we help them. 

3. What are the major challenges you are facing?
There are many challenges when running a business. We have people questioning our social enterprise model because we are associated with HCI which is an NGO. So making people understand how we are different is one of the challenges we face on a daily basis. 

Similarly, there are certain requirements and agreements to be followed by the didi bahinis when they get employed. Almost 90% of didi bahinis that are registered at Hamri Bahini are illiterate and have only informal education. So, because of this they often undermine their ability and capability and are hesitant to adopt and try new things and work in a new environment. They may have to do something that is known in a completely different and new way So, having these didi bahinis do the same work differently is a challenge for us. Along with this, the didi bahinis are also sometimes involved in illegal activities which makes people question our credibility as a social enterprise, so tackling that is a challenge. 

4. Can you take us through the process of Didi bahini’s journey at Hamri Bahini from the day they visit Hamri Bahini to the day they get a job?
We make sure that every didi bahinis who visits us gets the detailed information on what Hamri Bahini has to offer to them in terms of training, facilities like bonuses, incentives, leaves, payment system and so on. And if interested in being a part of Hamri Bahini, they fill up an application form that includes their basic personal information like age, qualification, experience and so on. After that they are required to go through a basic level of training program. Then they are examined for their learnings and skills, and based on the grades they go through interviews and trials. Having passed all these, they are finally recruited. 

5. What are the basic levels of training that the didi bahinis get?
We provide three types of training, two related to housekeeping and the other related to babysitting. 

The first category of housekeeping training is more theoretical and is related to the environment like information on organic food, waste segregation and so on. And the other one is more practical like the things to consider when cleaning, chemical-free cleaning, body posture to be maintained when working, water-saving, making compost out of waste and the like. Similarly, under babysitting we train them on making maximum utilization of already available resources in a way that promotes healthy child development and growth. These training sessions also include sessions on professionalism. 

6. Apart from the training programs what are other additional benefits that the didi bahinis receive?
We have Sadbhav scholarship for children of didi bahinis who are economically backward and are single women. Likewise, we have health camps organized, legal workshops conducted for them. Another important facility is our informal counseling on issues related to abuse, domestic violence and so on. 

hamri-bahini

7. What is the significance behind the name Hamri Bahini, The Green Angels?
The bond sisters share is one of the purest, free of any negative emotions. You can share anything and everything with your sister without the slightest fear of being judged and that is what we at Hamri Bahini want. We want the didis and bahinis to share all their burdens, hurdles and problems with us without any kind of hesitation. So, the name Hamri Bahini reflects those pure, selfless emotions and relationships. Similarly, The Green Angels is more like a title we have given to the didi bahinis who promote a sustainable environment based on the green housekeeping training.

8. Juggling between work and studies is a problem that everyone goes through. How have you been maintaining a balance?
Four years back I joined HCI as a volunteer to fulfill a course requirement, but I never took it as a college task. So, my interest led me to work in HCI as an intern after one year of volunteering which ultimately led me to become the lead at Hamri Bahini. From the very beginning, HCI has been very supportive, I was given flexible timings that made things easier for me. But this does not mean that it is easy, maintaining a balance is still difficult even after four years of working but there is this motivation and satisfaction that working in Hamri Bahini gives me and the support that I get from HCI has helped me maintain a balance.

9. What changes have you seen in yourself after being a part of Hamri Bahini?
There has been a huge change in my perspective. Every passing day, I feel more empowered and mentally strong. There has been a boost in my confidence, I find it easier communicating to people, tackling issues and taking major decisions on my own. And more importantly, I am able to put my opinions on the table and fight back issues and things that are wrong which is the biggest change that I have seen in myself. 

10. What changes have you seen in the didi bahinis after being part of Hamri Bahini?
Ever didi bahinis have their own positive changes that I see every day. One of the didi became a part of Hamri Bahini a few years back. She had two children and her husband had left her for another woman. She came to Kathmandu leaving behind her husband, with two kids and her in-laws with the hope of giving them and herself a good life. So, in that context, she became a part of Hamri Bahini and now she is not only financially empowered but is able to speak for herself and put herself first. She takes care of her family and is not dependent on anyone. Also, the didi bahinis now have bank accounts, they save their income and plan for their future which rarely happens in Nepal, especially in marginalized families. 

11. Are there any challenges that you faced as a woman social entrepreneur and how do you think we can tackle them?
People do look down when a woman is leading an organization. I personally think the male-dominated society we have is to be blamed for that. And in order to address this, I believe we first need to learn to love and value ourselves as well as other women. Then we should move on to find what drives people to treat women as an inferior gender. 

To know more about this company, please visit their website Hamri Bahini.

Interviewed and article by Trishna Shakya