On our first HCI day, Shilshila Acharya gave us a briefing on the Hamri Bahini (our little sisters) Green Angel project. She’s been intimately involved since the project’s beginning – astoundingly only seven months ago, in February 2013!
By linking the solutions to two intractable problems – the plight of Nepali women working overseas and significant plastic bag pollution in the Kathmandu Valley – the Himalayan Climate Initiative (HCI) has created a great project.
HCI felt the need to do something constructive for the growing numbers of young Nepali women returning home broken and destitute after years of what is effectively bonded labour to wealthy families in the Middle East and other countries, working long hours to send wages home to their families.
The women are provided with sewing machines and training to produce a range of beautiful sturdy cloth bags, each one lovingly stencilled with the Hamri Bahini Green Angel logo. Twenty women work out of the ground floor of the HCI building while another fifty or so women get paid for piece-work from home.
The Kathmandu Bhat-Bhateni supermarkets and several elite brand name stores (e.g. Nike) agreed to provide Green Angel cloth bags at a subsidised rate at the check-out, while charging customers for plastic bags. The aim is to start a groundswell that culminates in an outright ban on the use of plastic bags in 2014.
To date they’ve had a phenomenal uptake, selling over 60,000 cloth bags. This may be largely due to a successful outreach campaign, supported – free of charge – by many of Kathmandu’s leading film stars, singers, beauty queens and television icons – and the son of Nepal’s only millionaire.
After another delicious lunch in the HCI dining room, we were each given an apron emblazoned with the Green Angel logo and headed out to work. For two hours that afternoon, we volunteered alongside the cashiers in the Bhat-Bhateni supermarket, doing our best to encourage local customers to take the cloth bags (for 15, 30 or 50 rupees) rather than paying one rupee for plastic.
We had mixed success, but the entire exercise was a fascinating lesson in human behaviour and the interactions between well-meaning foreigners and locals from varied backgrounds. Clearly for some working families, the choice is simple – one rupee is affordable, thirty is not. Many others either already had a bag at home (raising cries of ‘remember to bring it next time!’) or were happy to buy one.
The catch-cry for HCI is “No Thanks! – I carry my own bag!”
We met the Hamri Bahini women themselves in the HCI office. They are indeed mostly tiny, some not much more than little petite slips of teenagers. It was a big thing for them to be brave enough to allow us into their workroom for photos. Bless them and HCI, they’d made each and every one of us a comfortable strong white bag, bearing logos for AYCC and Hi-Mate, a call to support the Himalayas.
(Editor’s note: If you’ve missed the background to the Climb It for Climate campaign, there’s a great story of its remarkable genesis on the Australian Youth Climate Coalition website. Part of the purpose is to raise funds for AYCC and Nepalese activism on climate justice. You can support Philippa’s fundraising here.)