With vocational training, a beautiful new future in Nepal

January 31, 2017

Most days, Subhadra Rokka opens her beauty shop early and closes late.

She’ll probably scale back her hours eventually – few customers show up past late afternoon – but for now, she just likes being here.

“I like that it is something I made,” says Rokka, who is in her mid 20s, soft-spoken, and has subtle red streaks running through her black hair.

“I did them myself,” she says of the highlights.

Same with her business, which sits on a quiet corner on a dirt road in one of the poorest countries in the world.

The shop’s walls are pink and its floor concrete. There’s a small counter at the front with shelves of shampoo and nail polish and jewelry. In the back sits a single styling chair.

Rokka started her business after taking a vocational training class through USAID’s Sajhedari Bikaas project, which is implemented by Pact. Nepali for “partnership for development,” Sajhedari Bikaas is an integrated development project that is tackling a range of problems, including poor governance, local disputes and inequity in incomes and opportunities, to help Nepal develop in the wake of civil war and the country's decision to federalize. From some of the nation's most disadvantaged groups, Sajhedari is fostering a new generation of Nepali leaders.

The project has formed 115 youth groups in six western districts, providing them with life skills, leadership and vocational training, as well as training on Nepal’s local-level planning and governance process and how they can get involved. The groups have taken on causes such as improving community sanitation, stemming domestic violence and helping to build small infrastructure projects.

Rokka joined a youth group about a year before she opened her shop. For her, the vocational training was the draw.

Unmarried, she lives with her parents and siblings. Unemployment is high in Nepal, especially among youth. It’s one reason they’ve been easy to exploit here. It’s also led many who are able to leave Nepal to find work elsewhere, mainly in neighboring India or Gulf countries.

Rokka had looked for jobs but never had success.

“I got all my money from my family,” she recalls. “I didn’t like asking them for it. I wanted to earn money to give to them.”

She’d always dreamed about opening a beauty shop, which happened to be among the available training courses. She filled out an application and was selected through a community-led process that involved local government officials and civil society organizations. To build local capacity in development, Pact funded the vocational training courses, while Nepalis administered the program.

Pact is using a similar model in regions affected by the 2015 earthquakes so communities can learn how to implement recovery and micro-infrastructure projects on their own.

“Historically, power and development have been very centralized in Nepal,” says Srijana Chettri, Sajhedari Bikaas’s gender equality and social inclusion manager. “Nepalgunj is a good example. It’s the biggest city in mid-Western Nepal, but it has really been left behind. Its population includes groups that historically have been marginalized, whereas the decision-makers tend to be upper class.”

Says Rokka of her selection for vocational training, “I guess they liked my plans.”

There were about 15 students in her class, which lasted 17 days. They learned business skills as well as how to cut, color and straighten hair, to thread eyebrows and to give facials.

After the course ended, Rokka took out a small loan to open her shop. Today, she is making a steady profit and seeing about a half-dozen clients a day, including a woman here now, who is browsing jewelry.

“Like this,” Rokka says, showing her customer how to wriggle some red and gold bangle bracelets over her hand. “Do you like them?”

Already Rokka’s income has made a difference for her family. She’s helping to pay her little brother’s school fees as well as other expenses.

And she is saving for her other dream – to eventually go back to school herself.

“I would love to study,” she says.