Q&A with Ram Kali

Founder of the Women’s Skills Development Organization and Executive Director

What inspired you to develop the Women Empowerment Project back in the 1970s?

Many years ago I used to work in a government office that involved travelling to many places, including some rural villages in Nepal. I saw women in bad condition and they had many difficulties and I wanted to help them.

Being a woman in an emerging country, what have been the biggest challenges and changes over the years?

One of the biggest changes over the years is that when the WSDO was established, there were only three ladies working and now we have over 500! That’s the best change! And we have given more than 2000 ladies training and even those who did not go on to work for us have good jobs.

In the beginning it was very difficult to sell products made by handicapped people at market, and it was also hard to buy raw materials. There were very big differences between the lives of men and women, too, which is slowly improving in the cities but in villages it is still the same. Boys get to go to good schools and girls just the local schools; they are not equal.

The family circumstances of our women have provided challenges, for example having the big responsibilities of looking after children as well as their homes, so that they cannot leave to go to work regularly. But the greatest challenge has been the recent change of location because we had put all of our profits into the development of our old location and now all that expenditure, hard-work and money has been lost. We have to make new buildings again from our own money, but we are all working together and all the ladies are helping. They are not giving money but they are giving hard-work. Money is not important but their hearts are.

Apart from the laughter, family feel and your big heart, what makes the WSDO different?

Ah, thank you! Well we are all women; are working in both social and business sectors; are not only giving training to women but also employment opportunities; we are giving awareness to women and supporting their children’s education; we do not receive any donations so we must work and produce items for money; and we are providing an image of our country internationally. We are a good example of a handicapped, fair trade, organization both in Nepal and all over world.

You came out of retirement to support the foundations of WSDO’s new location, is everything going to plan?

Yes but very slowly! Now, my age is for retirement but due to our current situation, I can’t be at home.  Everyday a new woman comes to our office looking for work but we can’t give it to her because our premises are too small. We have a waiting list!  We are planning how we can give these ladies work and we also very much need a new branch office that is closer to where the ladies live – some of them have to get three buses to work.

What is your current role in the everyday procedures here at the WSDO?     

I am the Director so I give direction to all departments; work with and on government policies; connect with other organizations; and make our future business plan. That sort of thing!

What goals do you have for WSDO and are there any barriers to achieving these?

Our organization is only inside Pokhara Valley but I would like to open other offices further afield as village areas need work most, and we could make changes there. The biggest challenge would be economically. And, we also may have problems in the future market and in the selling of our products as if we don’t have enough orders, there might not be enough work for women.

What do you love most about your work?

Teaching other ladies skills, like how to make new designs and sharing my knowledge of handicrafts. Before, I studied home science and I loved that!

Your organization has empowered hundreds of Nepalese women, how do they get involved?

In the past, we had to find workers by going to their communities and bringing them here! Often the ladies were so shy they had to be pulled out of their houses! But now they hear about our organization and they come to us.

WSDO provides jobs and a lifeline that must be highly sought after, what do you look for in your team?

When women come here, I like them to be very friendly, organized in their own work and be open to ask me questions. There is no need to be experienced as we provide all the skills they need. We don’t discriminate against age, religion or caste because what is important is their need and their difficult or disadvantaged circumstances.

What are you most proud of?

I am very proud that this organization has been here for 40 years and I hope that when I’m not here that it will go on further, with all the women working together.

How do you envision the future of the WSDO?

Our own land and buildings. Our teachers, sisters and also their children becoming successful and having no problems. I hope that WSDO is recognized in every corner of the world and that the organization’s beginnings are always remembered.

And finally, if you could leave the world one piece of advice what would it be?

I believe the way society looks at women needs to be changed all over the world as women are making positive changes. In the world there are many rich people and if they all helped those who were poorer a little bit, it would make a big difference, so while we are working, we must think about those who are in need and help them. The environment is also getting polluted so we must respect and look after it. When I was young in Pokhara, Machapuchare was completely covered in snow but now, due to changes in the climate, there’s only snow at the very top!

Being a mum is a beautiful feeling and the advice I would give my grandchildren is: while doing any work, do not hurt others; do work that will be helpful for society; do not say wrong words to others; respect your elders and show love to children; and always respect the nation, don’t let Nepal down, follow the culture and tradition, and don’t forget it.