Hari Kumari

I drove up on the back of a moped to Hari Kumari's tailoring shop on a sunny Thursday. I hopped off and landed in the sand parking lot while my coworker driving the motorbike started greeting those around him. We walked up to the shop where I saw a woman return a greeting of "Namaste" to him and then shyly and somewhat hesitantly to me. 


Hari Kumari is 33 with two children, a daughter and a son. She had to drop out of school in grade 8 but she was always eager to improve herself and learn new things. Several years ago, when a chance came up for her to learn sewing and tailoring Hari took the course. She did so well that when the course was run again she was an instructor. Now Hari Kumari had the knowledge but without startup capital she couldn't do anything with it.

Hari Kumari standing proudly at the front of her shop

Hari Kumari standing proudly at the front of her shop

Instead, each day she was going to work as a daily labourer (either working at a brick factory or as a farm hand) to earn money for her family. Her husband had completed school through grade 10 (previously the highest high school grade in Nepal). This was sufficient to qualify him to able to help out at the local school when they needed extra teachers, but without any higher education he could not secure a permanent position. His sporadic, non-official employment paid little - just what the parents of the students could afford to chip in which was usually 5 or 10 Rupees each - so he too often sought work as a daily labourer. Even with both parents working, Hari Kumari's family was not making ends meet. The couple was discussing having to split up the family - the husband leaving to seek work in the Arabian Gulf. 

It was at this point that IWEN's microcredit group was able to help. As the mother of a daughter enrolled in the Empowering Through Education (ETE),  Hari Kumari was enrolled as a member of her village's IWEN microcredit group. This approach facilitated IWEN's give 'a hand up, not a hand out' mentality.  All ETE student parents are required to give something back each month. Our Nepali staff, in consultation with the parents considered all of the ways they could give back and they ultimately decided that a monthly contribution of 10 Rp (about 12¢ Canadian) would be appropriate. IWEN then chose to take the money contributed by each mother is then put into the pot to form microfinance groups that would encourage and facilitate micro savings and loans. While a field officer in Dang provides guidance, training and support, the groups are run and financed by the women themselves. As the groups are first getting up and started, IWEN provides an incentive of $100 cash addition to their pot after one year of successful operations, and another $100 after the second year.

Hari Kumari joined her local village microcredit group and applied for a loan for a sewing machine and took off from there! Over the years she has borrowed and paid back more than a half dozen loans to keep growing her business. She now has 9 manual sewing machines and proudly showed us her addition of an electric sewing machine and serger. She now employs 2 staff and takes one others when filling large orders. In addition to running her tailoring business, she also continues to teach sewing to women in the community. Hari Kumari, always looking to learn more - build her experience and her business, eagerly shared her next goal is to learn to tailor coats. 

When I arrived at her shop, I had no idea what intelligence, skill, motivation and perseverance hid behind Hari Kumari's shy smile. As we waved our goodbyes and shared a farewell hug, her broad, beaming smile echoed her beaming accomplishments. 

(written by Kate Phelps)

Hari Kumari's and her students hard at work making beautiful and colourful clothing

Hari Kumari's and her students hard at work making beautiful and colourful clothing



Sushmita in her school uniform

Sushmita in her school uniform

(Written by Nepal field staff)

Sushmita is studying grade 6 in the Buddha Jyoti English School. She is 15 years old recently. She is a very positive girl. She is helping with the CP program since 4 years ago. There are 6 members in her family among them 2 sisters, 1 brother father, mother and she. Her one older sister is studying by staying bondage and another goes to labor work outside. Her small brother is studying with the help of relatives. She says proudly that she is getting help with the CP program and she get much opportunity from it.

Bad thing is that her father is alcoholic and mental so he beats all the members. Home environment makes her upset and influence in her study. So now she is staying in her Aunt’s home. Her father is hate by all in her community. But she is very strength and when we ask about her situation she starts to cry feeling her her father’s condition. Her father sells all the domestic animals which they rear and spend all money.

Her mother support her very much in study. She is unique among all her classmates and use to be serious all the time. She also shares her hard subjects to her friends but also studies hardly. She likes to stay in the peace and enjoy with her family but her family’s peace is disturbed by her father. She likes to have simple food and wearing simple dress. Lastly she would like to thank the CP program.

Sushmita at school (She is in the front row with her beautiful big smile!)

Sushmita at school (She is in the front row with her beautiful big smile!)

(Below written by Kate Phelps)

Sushmita comes from an especially poor family in her village. Her parents both work as daily labourers and they have to stretch their meagre income to just cover the basic necessities of food and clothing. Things have been particularly hard as Sushmita's mother health is poor and has suffered from fevers. Her father is abusive and while she has seven older brothers, all but one have left home. 

Despite her difficult home situation Sushmita has devoted herself to her studies. She works really hard at school and gets good marks. This year she qualified to receive a bicycle from IWEN which has made it easier for her to get to and from school as well as doing her chore of collecting firewood form the forest.  

When I met Sushmita friends and teachers they described her as being "honest and kind". It is easy to see that. Sushmita's genuine kindness exudes as you talk with her. Her smile is warm and she you can see it when she beams as she talks about school. 

IWEN's Co-ED, Kate Phelps and Sushmita

IWEN's Co-ED, Kate Phelps and Sushmita


In mid-September, IWEN launched a new project - a book! Michelle Bonneau, Founder of IWEN, and Julie Gascon, photographer extraordinaire, teamed up to create a beautiful glossy coffee table book filled with stories and images of the Tharu women's courage.

Our goal was to raise enough to print 250 books. We are ecstatic to say that we blew past that goal and are currently at $12,410, which will allow us to double our order and print even more! We are beyond grateful to all who contributed, and those that did can look forward to getting their books by December 2017.

For those of you who want a copy of this inspiring book, you can pre-order it on our Unako site here.

The Kickstarter campaign runs until November 3rd. To contribute to the project click HERE.




On August 23rd, ten women gathered at Third Space Coffee House for the first of it's kind Women's Empowerment pop-up on mind mapping. It was an afternoon of connection, searching and planning our next three months. The women who came left with a sense of organization and a sense of calm in the chaos.

On October 18th, we'll gather at Karis Support Society for a trauma-informed self defence class. Interested? Sign up on FB here.

Why Gather?

It all started when Candace Chisolm and Tamara McLellan met for the first time to discuss our shared interest in supporting women and children in the Okanagan. 


Tribe is about sisterhood and community. It's about women coming together to build each other up and help each other out.


IWEN and Mamas for Mamas are coming together to present this series through a common goal of gathering women, to empower them through life skills of the tribe, and of supporting local businesses.

We share the united goal of supporting marginalized women and children in the Okanagan.

On August 30th, our volunteers and co-Executive Director, Tamara McLellan, shared lemonade and laughs at the Kinsmen Park Beach. Even with the smokey haze, we had a beautiful gathering of like-minded individuals, all whom will be involved with IWEN in some way this coming year. Thank you for showing up and a huge thank you and introduction to our new Volunteer Co-ordinator, Mandy Glinsbockel.


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On September 22, our President, Kevin Edgecombe, and his wife, Linda, teamed up for another annual golf tournament where proceeds are donated to IWEN. We are overjoyed to say that they raised $23,000! This is a huge contribution to our Empowerment Through Education programs (scholarships for girls in Nepal), to our Unako Memorial Scholarship Fund (funding two medical scholarships for health positions in the rural area of Dang), and to our local programs. We can't thank Kevin, or Linda - our "fairy Godmother", for their hard work and dedication enough!


Our Annual General Meeting (AGM) is coming up on Monday, October 16th. It will be held from 7-9 p.m. and we would love to see you there! With so many exciting changes happening, this will be our chance to get your valuable feedback. And we have BIG news coming. Consider this your invite! 

OCTOBER: Kate Phelps comes to Canada

We are overjoyed that our Co-Executive Director, Kate Phelps, is coming to Canada for the annual general meeting. She'll arrive on October 11th and depart October 22th. Please let us know if you would like to arrange a meeting for when she is here. 


Women's Empowerment Pop Up on self defense. Learn the basics of self defense with a trauma-informed self defence teacher Kelly Batchilder. Wednesday, October 18th at Karis Society (550 Rowcliffe Ave) from 10 a.m. to noon. 

Sign up on FB here.

Fall Fairs, Scarf Sales

We have already had a few successful markets this year and plan to be at many more to continue spreading the Unako empowerment around the Okanagan through the sales of scarves and bags that eight women sew in Nepal. Interested in talking to people and working a scarf sale? Go online here to register for a spot. Or, look for us at the bi-weekly Sunday East Kelowna Artisan Markets, at the Touch of Christmas sale and at Craft Culture.














Holiday Gifts

Keep in mind as the holidays near that we have many ways to give a gift that pays it forward. At IWEN, we recognize that talent is universal, but opportunity is not. For example, for Christmas we would love to gift 100 new girls the opportunity for an education in Nepal and one of our corporate partners, Saalt, is going to kickstart that program with $3000 to fund 10 girls to get this chance! We will launch the fundraising program in November. Stay tuned for that to come or if you'd like to contribute, go to our DONATE page right now and specify 'Holidays: 100 girls'.

We also have the option to send scarves in the mail to someone you love. Contact us with your name and the name of your friends, and we'll send gift packages straight from IWEN. Who doesn't love receiving gifts in the mail?

There are more ways to help here:


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