Ranjana kneads handfuls of sheep wool mixed with soap and water. Handcrafting felt into whimsical creatures is a treasured Artisan tradition in Nepal. As she transforms doughy lumps of felt into adorable puppy ornaments, Ranjana is creating more than festive holiday decorations. She is also inspiring other young Millennials to have the courage to take a stand, pursue their dreams, and create social change in Nepal.
Ancient Social Systems of Nepal
Filled with charming rural crafting villages, historic architecture, and timeless landscapes, Nepal is a breathtakingly beautiful country to visit. But Nepal is also steeped in centuries-old traditions that continue to discriminate, oppress, and exploit women and other vulnerable members of society. Many of Nepal’s rural villages still practice ancient caste systems, dividing people into classes and forbidding different classes from socializing with each other. The lowest social classes are labeled “untouchables” and rejected by almost every other class of society.
Women who live in these rural villages are considered lower class citizens than men and are often completely financially dependent on their male relatives. Many women are denied basic rights that we might take for granted, like the right to travel, work, or vote without a male relative’s permission.
Ranjana grew up in one of these traditional rural villages in Nepal. In her village, girls are still discouraged from pursuing education, careers, or financial independence. Parents continue to encourage child marriage and receive dowry payments in exchange for giving their daughters away through arranged marriages. Girls are taught from an early age to obey their culture’s traditions.
Vulnerable parents in the poorest communities are often deceived by human traffickers with false promises of providing a better life for their daughters.
Instead of a better life filled with love, security and opportunities, many young women, including underage girls, are trafficked out of the country into adult entertainment industries or sold as household servants without any rights or freedoms.
Girls are often given no choice about whom they will marry, where they will go, or what their futures will be like.
Creating Social Change
Determined to choose her own path, Ranjana refused to allow an ancient social system to decide her future. So, she enrolled herself in school, eager to learn and grow and driven to become self-sufficient. Her natural curiosity, love of learning, and dreams of financial independence inspired her to join a local Artisan community where she learned how to craft whimsical felt creatures from wool.
Her student’s heart and creative talents have already helped Ranjana begin to see her dreams transforming into reality. At twenty-four-years-old, she’s already considered a master artist by her Artisan community. As the youngest member, she’s earned a lot of respect from her fellow Artisans.
Even though Ranjana continues to pursue higher education, she no longer depends on her family to pay for any of her schooling and is well on her way to pursuing a career in Rural Development. She passionately believes promoting employment in Nepal for women is one way to help protect her generation from continued discrimination, exploitation, and abuse. Ranjana hopes to create more opportunities for Nepali women to choose their own paths of education, financial independence, and creative expression.
Inspired by her own experiences with women’s outreach programs provided by her Artisan community, Ranjana wants to follow in their footsteps as a social entrepreneur.
Going above and beyond paying fair wages and teaching job skills, they also help women learn how to successfully manage their newfound independence.
Through the Artisan community’s outreach programs, many women learn how to open bank accounts and manage unrestricted access to money for the first time in their lives.
Committed to so much more than knitting mittens and crafting felt animals, the community invests in improving Artisans’ lives through improving their living conditions and offering health insurance, clean water programs, scholarships, and basic life skill training.
The community’s compassionate care for their Artisans has made a powerful impact on Ranjana’s passion for social change in Nepal.
While other movements around the world fight for social change through dramatic speeches, mass marches, and influential media, Ranjana and her Artisan community are quietly leading their fight for social change in Nepal through simple doable solutions like creating dignified job opportunities for women, empowering their independence, and encouraging self-expression.
And they’re making an impact… changing the world for vulnerable women in Nepal… one adorable fuzzy felt puppy at a time.