When people celebrate their 60th birthday in a country like Nepal, many dream of going into retirement. They want to rest, and devote their time singing the Lord’s hymns and looking after their grandchildren.
But 73-year-old Hema Rai’s idea of ‘retirement’ is different.
Rai, who lives in Chittung Dhara-9, Palpa, was a housewife during her ‘active’ years, and it was at age of 65 that she decided to ‘retire’ from her ‘job’ and become an entrepreneur.
Her business involves selling candles and handwoven stools; her residence is her shop.
“When I began, people in my village were in doubt,” she says. “They thought, what could a 60-year-old possibly do?”
But she knew age was no barrier when it came to starting a business, all she needed was the right training, which she received in Bhairahawa.
“I first thought my true calling was to start my own business. But now I understand that what I do for myself is secondary. What I do to train other women become financially independent is more important,” she says.
Rai says she started her venture with loan worth Rs 10,000 she received from a co-operative of which she was president. It took her less than a a month to pay back the loan with interest, thanks to the popularity of her products.
Though the idea of getting a business up and running excited her, it had also become a necessity for Rai, whose husband had ‘drinking problems’ (a euphemism for alcoholism). She also needed money to feed and educate her four sons.
Though getting a business up and running excited her, it had also become a necessity for Rai, whose husband had ‘drinking problems’ (a euphemism for alcoholism). She also needed money to feed and educate her four sons.
Her products are now sold in Tansen, Bhairawa, and even as far as India. The business has an average monthly turnover of Rs 20,000. “Deducting the cost of the production, what I earn is more than enough for me to take care of my household needs,” says Rai, one of the top 20 Entrepreneurs in the Daayitwa Women Enterprise Challenge, Palpa 2016, organised in collaboration with Innovation Action Palpa.
As Rai proved her mettle, the way her neighbours looked at her also changed. She was no longer a 60-year-old, who could do nothing. “Later on, as I began training women all across Nepal, they began to praise me and welcome me with garlands,” she says.
Rai now travels across Nepal in a bid to train economically disadvantaged women. She derives immense satisfaction from the success stories of women she trains.
Despite the changes she has been able to bring in her community, Hema’s husband still does not support her venture. Three of her sons are working in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia, respectively, whereas the fourth is a dancer.
“While my sons were here, it was easy for me to send the goods to the market. Without them it’s a bit difficult, but majority of my customers come to my workplace. Sometimes, I hire a van to ferry the products to them,” she says.
“But these problems do not trouble me. I intend to work as long as I physically can,” she says.
This story has been produced in association with Daayitwa.