Deepa Adhikari’s life has changed in the past few months. Adhikari, who used to drive an e-rickshaw on the streets of Itahari to take care of her two children, is now capable of moving boulders, quite literally.
For someone who did not want to stay home, Adhikari is currently in Sano Thimi of Bhaktapur, learning how to operate a backhoe loader. As soon as she learns how to operate the machinery, she will also get an opportunity to become an operator of a JCB backhoe loader for construction projects in different parts of Nepal.
Before this, Adhikari had worked as an assistant driver for the backhoe loader at Itahari. The opportunity came after Itahari sub-metropolitan city acquired a loader.
That is when she heard about scholarships provided by the JCB for women who wanted to learn how to operate its machinery. The programme is taking place at UCEP Nepal Technical School in Sano Timi and has been undertaken by Morang Auto Works and JCB. In total, 10 women have been doing the course.
Different backgrounds, same aspirations
It has been a month that she has been taking both theoretical and practical classes that have made her capable of operating the vehicle.
“Now, I’m planning on applying for a licence and start working. Hopefully, I can inspire and teach more women this skill,” says Adhikari.
Like Adhikari, Dailekh’s Indira Tamang is also doing the same training. Tamang was doing okay with her tailoring shop and had never felt that she needed to learn a new skill. But, local ladies asked her to sign up for the training and now is learning how to operate heavy equipment with nine other women.
Initially, it was quite hard for Tamang as her husband, who drives tippers for a living, did not believe that she could learn how to operate such heavy equipment.
“It was disheartening at first, but I didn’t lose hope. Now, I can show him and others that women can and will operate these machines and make a living out of it,” says Tamang.
When she put up a video of her operating a backhoe loader on Facebook, she received a lot of positive messages which has encouraged quite a bit, she says. All 10 women taking the training are confident that they will soon be a part of the infrastructure development drive that is taking place in the country.
“As soon as I get the licence, I’ll be off to the hills to dig roads,” says Tamang.
Currently, the women are preparing for their final exams at the institute, after which they will try to get licences to drive backhoe loaders and excavators.
This, for Manju Rai, is huge because a few months ago, she did not even know how to ride a bicycle. Initially, she was quite scared about taking the training, but gradually instructors built-in confidence in her as now she can even operate an excavator.
“I gradually started to get into it,” says Rai. “This training will help me even if I leave Nepal for foreign employment.”
A new experience for instructors
Rasin Maharjan, the senior instructor, says he has been pleasantly surprised at how excited the women are to learn skills like these.
“The success of training like these falls on how much interest candidates show. We were sceptical in the beginning, but these ladies showed us that teaching women how to operate heavy equipment was not hard,” says Maharjan.
The women are being sponsored by the MAW Foundation, which works to develop skills, communities and focuses on road safety.
“Generating skill in women is also one of the goals of the foundation. That is why we announced a scholarship programme to train women, on the occasion of International Women’s Day,” says Tulika Agrawal, the foundation’s executive director.
She adds that this is a pilot project and similar projects are in pipeline as the foundation found this to be very effective.
“We want to start a long-term campaign to support women in Nepal,” she says.