She may be small in size but Meera Bhattarai's conviction and determination make her seem larger than life.
The pint-sized and energetic Nepalese native has taken craft-making in Nepal from a pastime to a successful business enterprise that delivers profits and a viable profession for women.
Recently hosted by AUT University’s School of Languages and Social Sciences and Trade Aid, Bhattarai presented to a packed conference centre at AUT during Fair Trade Week about her work, the hardships in getting to where she is and the outcomes she’s achieved.
Working for a Nepalese women’s organisation from the age of 20, Meera Bhattarai quickly recognised the potential held by women producers of handcrafts to become part of a powerful enterprise. It was 10 years later, driven by hopes and dreams for her fellow women, that Meera opened the doors to a new organisation – The Association for Craft Producers (ACP).
The event, attended by Trade Aid representatives, the director of the Himalayan Trust, Diane McKinnon, and Sarah Hillary was also an opportunity for AUT to launch its new Bachelor of Arts- International Studies, the first of its kind in New Zealand.
Dean of Applied Humanities at AUT University, Professor Nigel Hemmington, says the event was a good fit with the launch of the new BA International Studies.
“We encourage students to develop cross-cultural skills through an understanding of the way other cultures live and work and to bring that experience to their learning. Meera’s way of life and what she has achieved provides a cultural perspective that challenges many of our assumptions in developed societies and is important for our students to understand as an example of cultural diversity,” he says.
International Studies can be taken as a single or double major or minor in the BA. It can also be taken as an additional major in other degrees to provide an international focus. Students are encouraged to study overseas for up to one semester to prepare to be successful in multicultural settings internationally as well as nationally.
“Global issues, combined with intercultural competence and transnational competence are some of the key skills required for today’s job market. We believe the BA International Studies will provide these skills for our graduates,” Prof Hemmington says.
AUT hopes to continue its work and continue its relationship with Trade Aid into the future. “This is just the start of a relationship I hope will prosper,” Prof Hemmington says.
ACP was created with the vision of an autonomous organisation that could perform in business as well as work for the development of craft producers. ACP’s Nepalese Board of Directors was made up of individuals with experience in women’s rights and development, with the aim of providing a real opportunity for Nepalese women to prove themselves as part of a sophisticated business mechanism rather than a vehicle for charity.
ACP challenged the traditional notion that craft making is only for 'hobbies' and a 'time killing element' for women and proved that the unorganised women’s work force with irregular working hours and responsibility for farms and managing families can be organized and turned into a competent and reliable work force.
The organisation believes training alone will not help promote handicraft production unless backed by other supporting mechanisms such as supply of raw material, design, quality control and organised market outlets like that of long term trading partner Trade Aid. So ACP was created as a private, professional non-profit organization with the basic objective of providing a full cycle of services - design, technical, management and marketing to low income craft producers focusing on women in particular - that result in regular adequate wages to supplement family income and improve the overall standard of living.
Beginning with 38 producers and five full time staff in a rented building using donor support, ACP today provides services to 1200 artisans (of which women constitute 90%) from 15 districts of Nepal in 22 skill categories, has 60 full time staff members and a permanent facility with annual turnover of almost US$1,000,000.