SHEELU & PEMA
When Sheelu was fifteen she discovered she had a heart condition that couldn’t be treated in her village so she came to Kathmandu for treatment. Her mother, Pema and small sister, came with her and they eventually became estranged from the family back home. Needing to support themselves they agreed to work for Pema’s sister in her small restaurant (kajar ghar) where they were expected to work for long hours in exchange for only accommodation and food. Mother and daughter worked hard there for six years, supporting the younger one at school. When Sheelu turned twenty-one she needed open heart surgery but her aunt wasn’t prepared to support them unless they were able to work. The relationship soured and the family was cast out.
Desperate for work they used their experience to lease a kajar ghar, running it on behalf of the owner for just lodgings and food. During this time Sheelu had her surgery and was nursed back to health by Pema, as best she could between managing the restaurant on her own. Sheelu recovered and they were managing to get by until Pema’s sister got wind of where they were and stirred up so much trouble for them with their employer that they lost their jobs.
Once again the family found themselves on the street. Pema appealed to a distant relative for help and they were reluctantly given shelter, sharing the small room, on the condition that they only stayed for a short while and contributed to costs.
When WONDERWorks was approached to help the family they were in dire straights. They were very much on borrowed time where accommodation was concerned. Pema had managed to get one day’s work in construction but this money had already been passed over to pay for their keep. The relatives had also left them to pay the month’s rent to the landlady before heading away for the Dashain festival.
When we first met Sheelu, we couldn’t help but notice the red welt that started so high on her chest and the construction dust, still so evident on Pema’s worn clothes. When asked if they had money for food they looked at the floor, embarrassed to respond. Eventually they admitted that they had cooked the last rice they had and given it to the thirteen year old before she went to school that morning.
They hadn’t eaten since the day before. It was clear their situation was critical.
With the help of WONDERWorks the family has been given a great opportunity to get back on their feet. Within two days they were given financial help, resources and equipment to run their own business, selling food items. Using the cooking skills and knowledge acquired from managing kajar ghars, they make the food in their new home, before heading out to sell it at the nearby bus station. After the Dashain festival they will also have a cart, which WONDERWorks will buy in partnership with Change Nepal, so that they can expand their business. The smile on their faces when we said goodbye said it all and we have high hopes for their progress over the coming months!
* Sheelu and Pema are pseudonyms