From refugee to entrepreneur — empowering Bhutanese women in Nepal

‘Everything I earn goes into fulfilling the needs of my family’

For over two decades World Food Programme has been providing food assistance to some of Nepal’s most vulnerable families— refugees from neighboring Bhutan.

More than 110,000 Bhutanese have sought safety in eastern Nepal over the last 20 years, and thanks to a successful resettlement programme, less than 10,000 now remain living in the refugee camps. For those that have stayed, life is slowly changing for the better as the refugees are building livelihoods, earning incomes and growing their own food.

Among the initial influx of refugees was the then 25-year old Purni Maya Mukhiya, who has vivid memories of the day her life as a refugee began in the summer of 1992. She fled from the mountains of her home with her husband and child, settling in the refugee camp in Nepal where she would then have three more children.

Today, at the age of 54 Purni earns some income from her vegetable garden. “The fresh vegetables I grow now not only feed my family but allows me to sell them in a nearby market — so this garden provides us with good nutritious food and a means to earn an income,” says Purni.

When Purni started cultivating vegetables in the garden, it was just enough to feed her family. At present she has expanded to a community garden, working alongside eight other female refugees, who share the land.

For this, Purni received support from the Community Resource Nursery, supported by good2give funding that was channeled through World Food Programme. This included seeds, seedlings, tools, fertilizers, pesticides, technical skills and informal trainings. Purni says that before the assistance, she grew just enough to feed her family. “After attending the training programmes, I have doubled the productivity of my garden,” she said.

Her garden flourished and Purni now sells vegetables to her neighbors. Her sales from the previous season included 300 kgs of cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes, and beans which made her approximately NPR 10,000 (USD $100). When asked what she spends her income on, Purni states: “everything I earn goes into fulfilling the needs of my family as I receive no remittance,” she said.

While Purni’s garden continues to grow, she has stopped hoping to be resettled to a third country, like one of her sons and his family. Since early 2008, more than 100,000 refugees have moved to countries around the world. Purni had hoped to resettle abroad like her son, however, she is not eligible for the scheme.

Encouraged by her success, Purni expressed her gratitude towards WFP and YUM the funder of the project, which has opened many doors for her and supported her to make her own living. WFP and partner organisations have supported more than 300 households to create livelihood opportunities — a lifeline for those who are stateless and far from home.

Read more about WFP’s work in Nepal.

Text by: Prabin Shrestha, Kessang Lama and Seetashma Thapa