UNAKO: Supporting "HER"
The UNAKO shop sells scarves and bags, handmade in Nepal by women - mothers and neighbours of IWEN students. The profits go entirely to fund IWEN and its projects in Canada and Nepal.
It is a simple idea but is has a beautiful story and a powerful ending...
The UNAKO Story
Since its inception, IWEN has used scarves as a means of financing. Originally, they came from a shop in the Nepalese capital, but in 2012 IWEN bought the necessary equipment and formed a group of ethnically Tharu mothers to make and supply the scarves from where our programs are based: in Dang, Nepal.
Their creations bear the name UNAKO "उनको which means "HER" in Nepalese. These mothers of Tharu families whose meager income formerly depended on agricultural work now manage a small sewing workshop. They proudly call themselves "UNAKO ladies". Not only did they obtain financial independence, but also a sense of dignity that they did not believe was possible.
The UNAKO project forges links between "UNAKO ladies" and all those who wear their scarves. Imagine: a woman in Canada or the rest of the world wearing a UNAKO headscarf is actually tied to another woman in a rural area in western Nepal who survives in spite of cruel poverty. Together, we create a sustainable future for those women who now believe in themselves and have hope for their children's lives. Such is the power of a UNAKO scarf. Wear it proudly, as the impact is enormous.
This providential journey began in 2006 when IWEN's founder, Michelle Bonneau, returned from Nepal with a suitcase full of Nepali scarves to give as gifts. However, those who received them insisted that these would make a fine fund raising strategic for the fledging IWEN and its small band of educational sponsored students. That was the beginning. Hundreds of women who love the bright colors and softness of the fabrics are now buying Nepali scarves.
Good ideas grow. Many of our buyers asked, “Do your Nepali women make these?” Unfortunately our response was, “No” Then finally, in November of 2011, as a group of IWEN board volunteers were packing boxes for a scarf fund raiser someone said, “Why not get IWEN’s Mother’s Groups to make these scarves instead of buying them from Nepali retailers?” Yes, it was a simple enough idea but to start such a venture of course needed funds, which IWEN didn’t have.
Previously a teacher with a passion for holistic education, Michelle has created deep bonds with her past students. So, a few former students that Michelle taught 23 years ago, decided to help out. Spearheaded by Lisa Morin and Richard Nadeau from Temiscaming, Quebec, this dedicated group successfully raised all the set up costs for IWEN’s signature scarf pilot project with Tharu women in Dang, Nepal. Another team of volunteers, located in Montreal and holding expertise in marketing, worked to create a brand identity that reflects the values and passion at the origin of the project.
In Dang, the UNAKO project set up started in August 2012. It was a rainy season and the village was flooded most of that period. Our partner NGO in Nepal, Creating Possibilities, shopped for materials in Kathmandu and found a place in Dang where the mothers could all come work together. It was so hot to work in the local that they had to buy ceiling fans and set it up. The doors were too narrow for the cutting table to get in, so they called in a carpenter and together they took the table apart; brought it in, then again nailed it together. They bought the machines and other equipment in Lamahi (local market in Dang).
After the word was out that IWEN was setting up a sewing project, the women themselves contacted Deepa and Sarita from Creating Possibilities and wrote their names down. We tried to select the ones who had basic sewing skills but not all had it, rather some were god in needle and fringe making, so we took them in. They all received training from a tailor from Kathmandu who made samples and taught these women how to make the scarves during two days. To our surprise, making the fringes came naturally to the women. The team is now comprised of eight women from three different villages.
The women first thought of this as a one time project so were hesitant, but once they signed the agreement explaining all the terms and how much they would be paid and that the profit on scarf sales will be entirely used for their own daughter’s education, they were very happy. Unako scarves are changing their lives, they are now able to contribute to their families. The first purchase that each of the women made was a bicycle and now half of these women are able to pay for the own daughters education! They now have a regular job to go to rather than wait for some labor work. The group is very supportive of one another, it is a safe place where they share their joys and problems.
The UNAKO initiative supports the women it employs. It supports IWEN through its revenue. It supports the community through funding projects that empower women. It supports HER.
This is UNAKO.