Lakshmi is 27 years old, and lives in a village up in the hills, around 5km from Mehelkuna Bazar in Surkhet District, Nepal. She lives alone with her two children: a ten-year-old daughter and a five-year-old son. She studied until the 10th grade. She is assisted in childcare by her mother-in-law, Sunkumari, who lives next door. Both Lakshmi’s husband (27 years old) and father-in-law do odd-jobs in India.
Lakshmi is a member of the Pavitra Seed Cooperative, under Oxfam’s Enterprise Development Programme (EDP). She became interested in the programme through her neighbours who were already members; she wanted to grow vegetables that could be used for self-consumption and to sell the seeds in the market for a profit. Lakshmi is also involved in livestock rearing and selling, and sometimes brews local alcohol to sell. It takes her approximately 3–4 hours to get to and from her livestock rearing, while going to the EDP office to collect seeds takes 4–5 hours. Her work is seasonal and short-term in nature. The money she earns from paid work is crucial as her husband is an alcoholic and hardly sends any money home: ‘Once he goes to India, he misuses the money and does not send any money home... when he returns home, he drinks, beats the children and creates all kinds of problems.’ Her income helps to pay for her children’s education, to buy school stationery, monthly staples and meat, and to cover medical expenditures.
Lakshmi has to do all the care and unpaid work in her household. She finds cutting grass for fodder the most difficult and time-consuming task (3–4 hours). She has to fetch it from the forest, which has a difficult, hilly terrain. She shares that her children are scared and worry that she may fall down and hurt herself severely while cutting grass in the forest, but she says she has no other choice: ‘I am the only person in the house who can cut grass as both my children are young.’ She does not receive any support from people in the community with her unpaid work. At times, she gets her mother-in-law to help look after the children and the livestock in her absence. She and her mother-in-law seem to share a frosty relationship and do not like to meddle in each other’s affairs as they live separately. Sunkumari shares, ‘I take care of my grandchildren just for the sake of my son; my daughter-in-law does not want me interfere as we have already separated and I feel the same.’ However, Lakshmi recalls the time when she broke her leg while fetching water from the river side. She walked to the hospital in Mehelkuna town, in spite of her fractured leg. (Although there is a road to the village, there is no public transport provision.) She remembers how Sunkumari and her daughter looked after her during that unfortunate episode (by fetching water in small bottles). Lakshmi laughs and says, ‘that was the only time I got to sleep on the mat [all the time] and get ample rest.’
Lakshmi rues the lack of paid work opportunities in her area. She also feels that women in Nepal have fewer job opportunities as only men can migrate outside of the country for work. She finds it difficult to balance both paid work and unpaid care work, such as cutting grass from the forest, which lies far away. She likes to attend meetings as she feels she learns something new and useful: ‘If I had more leisure time I would like to attend more meetings in the community and the cooperative.’