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Our Projects

Khushi’s Journey

Would you ever dream to wake up at 5:00AM and clean your car? This is something Khushi likes to do every single day. Khushi works as a driver with Women on Wheels, a taxi service in Delhi that is run by women for women. She has been driving for the past 7 years and treats her car like an extension of her own body. “I wash myself every day – why should my car be any different?” she jokes.

If you have ever come across our Women on Wheels project, you’ll know that there is something special about it. Scratch the surface a little further, and you will uncover the years of training and social services that were provided to these women long before they could even consider becoming a taxi driver. Our partners, the Azad Foundation, are working with vulnerable women in city centres across India, and they start with the very basics. Income alone cannot change a woman’s life, but strong social connections, a better understanding of their rights and increased confidence through education – combined with economic opportunity – is a great place to start. When one of the lady drivers picks you up from the airport, you are not just helping her earn a livelihood – you are changing her life.

I had the honour of sitting in Khushi’s car this April in Delhi. She exudes confidence, and is keen to share her story with all that will listen. The Women on Wheels program helped bring her life from a place of crisis to one of opportunity.

There’s no better person to tell her story than Khushi herself:

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A sweet welcome to Barauli

It was a sweet welcome when I entered Barauli village, located on the west side of Chitwan National Park in Nepal. Not just because of the smiling faces and the delicious welcome drink, but because you could tell that this was a group of people that are sincerely so happy for you to be there.

After you go through a traditional Tharu welcome ceremony you are greeted by Jeevan Kumari with your (I cannot emphasize this enough) delicious welcome drink. Jeevan is a quiet yet confident woman with a graceful air about her. She mans the bar in the community restaurant and does so with pride.

The Barauli community has been running the homestay program for the last three years. With the support of Royal Mountain Travel, the community was able to construct individual room guest houses – much like a typical home – for travellers to stay. Jeevan had been completing her studies and was married just one year ago. After marriage she knew she needed to find something to do beyond her household chores. Encouraged by the tourists that visited her village almost every day, Jeevan decided to apply for a job in the restaurant. Now she works every day that there are guests and goes to spend time with her family on her days off.

Jeevan has noticed a lot of changes in her village since the homestay project began. “The tourists are helping us to keep our village clean”, she said. “When the tourists came, people noticed that they weren’t throwing plastic on the ground. Now everyone encourages each other to keep the community clean.” She goes on, “before we didn’t use soap – now we use it for our clothes and our dishes.” These small yet meaningful changes have led to an overall reduction in sickness in the village she reported, and now if someone does get sick, they know to call the doctor. Even child birth has improved since the community’s exposure into the tourism industry, with women choosing to call the doctor instead of the witch doctor when a woman goes into labour. The women also noted that before the homestay program was developed, they would have to bring all their vegetables to the market for sale, which was an extremely time consuming and difficult process. Today the homestay program purchases all their vegetables, meaning travellers get to enjoy local produce and women no longer have to make that difficult journey.

There’s been a lot of progress, but Jeevan is keen to keep moving forward. “Most people here are uneducated so I want to give them knowledge” she said. She hopes that someday she can be a teacher. Right now she is saving her money from her job to pay for her future plans, and to set more education programs in action for the youth of the village.

Changes in the community don’t stop there. With the assistance of Planeterra following the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, the community was able to install a solar energy grid, solar lights, western toilets, water tanks, and air conditioners to better improve the experience of their travellers. The street lights have improved the overall safety of students who leave Barauli early in the morning to travel to the college in the next village. Jeevan noted that other communities were noticing these improvements and starting to make plans of their own to introduce street lights.

Jeevan reflects that before the homestay program, girls often only went to school up until class 10. Today girls go on to further education and even take jobs in the city. Everyone is happy with these changes — including the men. Jeevan glowed as she stated how proud her husband was to share with other men that his wife was working at the homestay program. I would be proud too – the Barauli community has put together an amazing experience for travellers that come visit.

When you visit the Barauli Community Homestay in Nepal you are not only getting an authentic Tharu village experience, you are creating a better future for the children of the village. While Jeevan is not quite ready to have children of her own (she says she has far too much to accomplish before she can think about this) she is so proud to see that the children are now learning things she was never taught in college. Things are changing rapidly for Barauli, and it won’t be slowing down any time soon if Jeevan has anything to do with it.

After going on a jungle safari (sighting 8 rhinos!), seeing a traditional Tharu cultural dance and enjoying a delicious meal of Nepali curries, I retreated to my quaint room — basking in the peace and quiet that can only be found in such a remote setting.

The Barauli Community Homestay is proudly supported by Royal Mountain Travel and G Adventures. Rhea is the Asia Coordinator for Planeterra and was able to visit Baruali for the first time in April, 2017.

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Learning about the spirit of Ubuntu in Kenya

From the moment I stepped foot in Café Ubuntu, it was clear I was in a place filled with meaningful connections and change-makers, but nothing could prepare me for the magnitude of difference being made by the organization’s members.

Ubuntu is an African word used across the continent to describe a feeling of togetherness, and the widely accepted definition is simply: “I am because we are.” It is the word that celebrates human connectedness, and Ubuntu’s vision for the community espouses this ethos to perfection.

Café Ubuntu makes an immediate impression on its visitors. From the painted murals on the walls to the well-kept grounds located about an hour’s drive outside Nairobi, the entire visit is a feast for the senses. Smells from lunches being cooked in the open kitchen waft into the large room where handicrafts made on-site are laid out. Meat sizzles in pans, the pizza oven hums and the coffee machine steams as the entire café gives the impression of being a living, breathing entity.

Upon our arrival, Assistant Director Ruby Ruth gave us the grand tour of the kitchen and café itself, and let us taste our first course – a delicious zucchini soup. We followed in the footsteps of G Adventures’ travellers as we received a tour of the grounds and headed up towards the Ubuntu Made Workshop, where about 20 women, most with children with disabilities, hand-make crafts to be sold locally and around the world.

That’s the really special part about Ubuntu: the women who work there. Next on our itinerary was a discussion with three of them; Josephine, Beatrice, and Esther. All three have worked at Ubuntu for at least six years, and their families have benefitted from the school for children with disabilities that is funded by Ubuntu. A true social enterprise, the funds raised through the café and handicrafts go not only towards the women, but also towards a school in their community that employs a special needs teacher and an occupational therapist.

From our chat with the ladies, it was easy to see just how much of an impact both the school and their employment at Ubuntu have had on their lives.

“I have so many blessings through Ubuntu,” says Josephine to our group during the discussion. “After some time in the Ubuntu school they did an assessment on my daughter and found she could attend regular school. Thanks to Ubuntu, my job allows me to pay for school fees.”

Esther, who has also worked at the cooperative since 2008, chimed in to say that Ubuntu’s training helped her when she was displaced during election violence in Kenya. “I earn a living and I’m able to be with the family,” Esther explains. “I was able to buy a piece of land and I constructed my house there.”

It was an incredible hour chatting to the centre’s employees and receiving our tour, and as I sat down afterwards to enjoy a locally-made meal, I couldn’t help but feel incredibly blessed to have had such a meaningful discussion with just some of the cooperative’s members. This visit to Ubuntu was my first field visit as a new member of the Planeterra team, having just started as a coordinator in January. Although I have spent many years living in Africa, the experience with these ladies, the café and workshop is one I won’t ever forget.

Alanna Wallace
Coordinator, Planeterra

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