The pandemic has brought sheer discomfort in all aspects of our lives. The impact can be seen significantly within the tourism-dependent communities. As a covid response, Project Koseli was initiated by Community Homestay Network (CHN) to combat this challenge. The project is gradually expanding and has been a blessing in disguise for the communities especially based in rural areas. It is a stepping stone towards a sustainable future with a goal to diversify their source of income.
Having said that, it has been a great honor for us to be able to interview Ms. Kanchan Shrestha, the Project Lead of Koseli, and get an on-ground understanding of the same.
How was the idea of Project Koseli introduced? What was the motivation behind it?
Many of the communities within the CHN network were just starting to get dependent on tourism and were getting a stable source of income. Before tourism, there was just subsistence farming. But when all tourism was on halt because of the pandemic, it became very problematic. They were gradually shifting to tourism but since they were not making anything out of tourism, there was a high risk that they were getting back to subsistence farming. That’s when we started brainstorming about what can be done. We identified that there are so many products in the community that even in Kathmandu people do not know of and that is a big scope for the communities to introduce themselves to the outside market as well as the national and domestic market. That is essentially how the idea started boiling up. Even if tourists can’t come here in the communities, the products from the community can be a part of their identity and it can introduce the community themselves. It’s the main idea behind the Koseli and that’s how we started shaping Koseli.
Following what you said, was there a separate team solely dedicated to the Koseli project? In case there is, just briefly tell us who exactly are there in the team?
Since this was a project of CHN itself, it did not have a dedicated team. Back in the lockdown when the tourism was completely on halt, the whole team was pretty much involved with Koseli. As the project proceeded, we felt like we needed a dedicated person. Back in December or January last year, that’s when we realized that this is getting bigger. I joined Koseli in March, 2020. And that was how the team was starting to get formed. Right now, we are still in the expansion phase. In a sense that we need more dedicated team members because tourism will probably be revived anytime soon.
How did you guys carry out the project? How did you come to know about the next step that you guys were going to take? How did you navigate through the whole process?
So, within the CHN network, we have 22 communities throughout Nepal. Initially, we were only thinking of communities in our network. We started brainstorming among ourselves and then we came up with an application. Because at that time, it was a very strict lockdown and there was no way we could go to the communities and find it ourselves. So, we were just asking communities about the things that they could produce. So, a very small, simple application was created and we distributed that among our communities. After that, we got communities by application. But the communities which were also in the pipeline with CHN were also interested. So, we started talking with those communities. It did not make sense to start with the 22 communities because it’s really a big number to begin with especially in times of pandemic . We boiled it down to four communities and started working with them in July 2020. So, one of the processes of how we picked the communities was by seeing how interested they were. How much were they willing to do this? Taking all these factors into account and understanding the whole work dynamic, we began with four communities. The products were slowly being produced by the communities. At the same time, back in Kathmandu, we were working on packaging, branding and the layouts. The first batch came in and well, that’s how we started.
What were the main challenges that you guys faced especially while reaching out to communities and then slowly moving forward? And also the challenges that you guys are facing right now?
Back then when we started, it was a covid response. The biggest challenge was the pandemic itself. The annual farming season has been a challenge altogether. When the communities start farming, they start early in the morning and will be in the field for the entire day. By the time they get back home, they are really tired. So, to communicate with the people in communities was really difficult. So, how we tackled them was by reaching out to them in the morning or in the evening given that they will be in the field the entire day. As we moved forward, the big challenge that we realised recently was that we might need a separate team for it or we need to add more people dedicated to Koseli because when tourism was on halt, every member of CHN was involved. But for now, we have to prepare for a tourism revival. In that way, the tasks are increasing on the CHN side and obviously with Koseli too. We have now established that Koseli is going to be a unit in CHN for a long time. Keeping that in mind, we are planning to expand the team. I think that is in a way challenging as well as exciting.
What products have been produced so far by the communities and how can people access them?
So, we have two kinds of products– agro-based products and skill-based products. Within the agro-based products, we have sustainably farmed fish, sustainably farmed duck, green tea, orthodox black tea, chhurpi (Hardened Cheese), Marsi rice, red lentil beans, clarified butter (Ghee), white lentils, red lentils, and Szechuan pepper (Timur).
With respect to the skill-based products, we have eco-friendly fabric masks, handmade and exclusively embroidered slippers, and shoes, traditional straw handicrafts and household items, handmade soft toys, and traditional wooden handicrafts.
We have three outlets: Bricks Cafe at Kupondole, Traditional Comfort Boutique Hotel in Kamal Pokhari, and Avata in Baluwatar. You can also get it online through the Foodmandu app.
How has your experience been so far as a Project Lead for Koseli?
Well, working as a project lead has been very rewarding but at times, it is challenging. This is the first time that I am leading an entire project. Initially, it was really exciting because this was completely new to me. And the team is really good. There is really good sync between the team members. The team is extremely value-based, where teamwork is mostly prioritized. As the revival of tourism gradually happened, the team members of CHN started getting back to communities and tourism. So, at that point, it was a bit overwhelming for me with all the work. As a project lead, what really matters is the support that you get from the team members. Of course, it is rewarding in the sense that the ownership automatically comes–This is my project! Obviously, you make mistakes but you learn from it and grow from there. When I initially made a mistake, as a project lead, I was so scared. I would think that it will be really bad for the project. But, I gradually understood that it is a safe space to experiment and grow together. That has also been a realization again. Overall, it has been a fun roller coaster kind of a ride since 2021. And I am enjoying it!
What do you think of Koseli’s future given that the tourism revival is bound to happen in the next few months?
The future for Koseli is really exciting as we plan to exchange products among our communities. We plan to have Koseli products displayed in each community of our network. So when the travelers come back, even if they are traveling to one or two communities, they know of many other communities from their products and even plan their next travel destinations.
Personally, what I think is, when tourism revives, it is going to be a gradual process which would give communities the time to manage both aspects.