World Education Nepal sat down with Harkamaya Rumba, who was recently elected as Deputy Mayor of Makawanpurgadhi in the historic local elections. Harkamaya has a long relationship with World Education Nepal. She was one of the first beneficiaries of World Education Nepal’s literacy programs in the 1990s. After completing the program, she started the local NGO, Gramin Mahila Swabalamban Sanstha (GMSS), which helps to empower women and stop child labor in brick factories.
How did you start your NGO work at Gramin Mahila Swabalamban Sanstha (GMSS) ?
When I was elected Makawanpurgadhi, a village development committee (VDC) in Makwanpur district, vice chairperson in 1991, I knew I had to do something for rural women. I gathered local women together and started a savings group. We registered the women’s group with the District Development Committee, and after registration, they provided us with 15,000 NRS to start a goat raising farm. From then onwards, I was able to create the foundation for my NGO work.
What challenges have you faced running GMSS?
When we started the savings group, we were saving 5 NRS per person. At first it was going well, but we ran into some serious issues. Some community members were not contributing to the savings group. Contributing members accused non-contributing members of fraud, which caused a lot of tension because many women felt their money was at risk. Some members called for the savings group to end, but I convinced the group that I would ensure the money was properly used.
To further support the women, I contacted World Education Nepal and the District Education Office to request nine literacy classes to support the savings group. With this support, I was able to increase the number of savings group members to 24 women. Furthermore, I implemented a Women’s Economic Empowerment and Literacy (WEEL) program.
What have been GMSS’ major accomplishments?
Illiteracy has been a major issue in my VDC. Illiteracy makes women vulnerable to fraud, trafficking, and exploitation. At the time, women had no economic and property rights, and I wanted to advocate for women to have those rights. I wanted to make a change, but found it a challenging task.
At the time, Plan Nepal implemented a program to help empower women through financial and reading literacy skills. I was committed to accomplishing the same goals, so I reached out to Plan Nepal to see how they could support my NGO to do this work. Plan Nepal agreed to support us and helped my NGO create a cooperative. Now, 24 women’s groups from Gadi and Aambhanjing VDCs have benefited from the program. It has been rewarding for me to see such substantial progress.
“Everyone should take responsibility for the development of our village”
Now, that you are deputy mayor, what is your five-year plan for your organization? How do you coordinate with stakeholders?
Over the past few years, I have established good relations with our key stakeholders such as the District Development Committee (DDC), local government, and nongovernmental organizations. I want to continue to maintain these good relations, consult with these stakeholders on a frequent basis, and meet with them to review existing programs. I also want to make education, health, and infrastructure programs a key focus for the next five years. To do this, I want to reach out to new development partners to improve our programming.
How does your political work help inform your development work?
For the last nine years, I was never politically active and stuck with my NGO work. However, through my work I have established strong networks in the whole district. Now, that I am a political leader as well as a social activist, I think it is easier for me to run development activities in my village.
Have you achieved the goals you initially set before starting GMSS?
I am satisfied with the work I have done, and believe I have achieved my goals, but there is still a lot to do. From a social perspective, we have made great progress. From a political perspective, I want to make greater progress. My family, colleagues, and local community have supported my campaign and I am so happy for the support. Now, I want provide women the capacity to take leadership roles in different social and political fields.
“We should engage people in every aspect of social and economic activities”
What inspired you to get involved in social activism?
When I was 27, I gave birth to a stillborn baby girl. Twelve days after my daughter’s death, my six-year old son died suddenly. There were no health facilities in my village, the hospital was not nearby, and I had no money for my son’s treatment before his death.
I was completely depressed after losing my two kids, but my husband supported me.
After some time, I discussed with my neighbors on how to start saving to prepare women in my village for such unplanned and tragic events. The women agreed to start saving. Now, the same savings groups are part of the wider cooperatives. With the courage from my husband and local women, it helped put me into the position where I am today.
Now that you are Deputy Mayor of a Makawanpur Rural Municipality, how do you plan to support the local government? What are your goals?
I am committed to engaging women socially and politically. As a deputy mayor, I have a role on the judiciary committee in the local government, but want to try my best to get women involved to strengthen their economic and political rights.
I want to eliminate misconceptions and traditional norms that are harmful to women and help my community change.
“We should eliminate negative misconceptions and change attitudes regarding development”