Through her contagious smile and constant laughter, she tells me about the blessings and hardships she's experienced during her life. As a young girl, she and two of her siblings were brought from their village to Kathmandu. The city was the best place to receive treatment for their leprosy and escape the negative social stigma placed on lepers in the rural areas of Nepal. So, at the age of nine, Suryakala left her home, her village, her two healthy siblings, her parents and moved to the leprosy hospital in Kathmandu. After a misdiagnosis two years early, the disease had progressed enough to do permanent nerve damage and would effect her the rest of her life.
She went on to tell me about meeting her husband, having her two daughters and working at Nepal Leprosy Trust. Suryakala smiles as she shares her life's hardships. With a tearful giggle she speaks of complications and nerve damage caused by leprosy, losing her husband after a misdiagnosis of hepatitis A, and living as a single mother with a marginalizing disease. She tells she smiles because me she doesn't worry about the future. She misses her husband but knows that he wouldn't want her to be sad. And she is happy. She has two beautiful daughters, a great job and safe place to live.
NLT taught Suryakala sewing skills, gave her husband a job, gave her a job, and even gave her and her daughters a place to live. She now works at NLT producing handbags at a fair trade wage. Her leprosy has been cured through a multi-drug treatment. She has had a few surgeries in the past few years to address some of the issues caused by nerve damage. But for the most part, her biggest worry is caring for her teenage daughters as they approach adulthood.
Since 1972, NLT has provided various services for people who have been socially, emotionally and economically marginalized by leprosy. Along with access to medical treatment, NLT helps defeat the stigmas associated with leprosy. It provides job and skills training to people that would otherwise have little hope or oppurtunity for any income. We were able to visit NLT and see their fair trade handbag production facility. Our plan was to tour the facility, have a luncheon with the artisans, and get a few interviews. After meeting and interviewing Suryakala, it became quite clear that one visit wouldn't be enough. She insisted that we come for tea later in the week and meet her daughters.
I am amazed at the joy that emanates from this woman. While serving us tea and momos (so many momos), she pointed out pictures of her husband and family. She had each of her girls tell us about their dreams and goals. And since I have returned to Kabul I have received two emails from Suryakala and her daughters.
One of the things I love about fair trade is that it provides avenues for a closer relationship between the consumer and the producer. I hope that my first visit to NLT was the beginning of a long friendship. I know that I can count on Suryakala's smiling face waiting for me when I return.
To view the handbags produced at NLT, please visit my friend Nikki at Jubilee Traders.