Children's Stories: Saraswoti

Motorcycle Girls: From At-Risk of Trafficking to Entrepreneurs in Nepal

Saraswoti GoodWeave has rescued many children, but few of them have taken as unconventional a path as Saraswoti Chaudhari. Growing up in Amoura village in far western Nepal, the eldest of five children in a family struggling to make ends meet, she had no reason to think she could escape the poverty of her surroundings. Yet today she is co-owner of the Sanctuary motorcycle repair and maintenance workshop—a remarkable achievement that might not have happened without critical and timely assistance from the Nepal GoodWeave Foundation and some of its partners.

Saraswoti attended school until her early teen years, when she had to drop out to go to work. Her life changed decisively when she learned of a local vocational training program for girls and young women. Despite opposition from her father, Saraswoti enrolled in Gainful Employment Opportunities for Young Women and Girls at the Risk of Trafficking or Trafficking Survivors, a program launched in 2007 and implemented by NGF and the Underprivileged Children’s Education Programme Nepal.

“When I came to [the program], I found that there were many types of training for girls and boys,” Saraswoti says. “Among them was motorcycle mechanic training, which in a country like Nepal is still thought to be only a boys’ trade. But I thought it would not be too difficult.” At the time, Saraswoti’s family and friends were astonished that a girl could become a motorcycle mechanic. “My father, pointing at a motorcycle, said, ‘If you have learnt about motorcycle repairing, then prove it by driving it,’” she recalls. “I coolly went to the motorcycle and drove it around the village.”

Today, Saraswoti and her business partner, Anita Bal, another beneficiary of the program, not only earn their own livelihood but also employ two to three additional workers in their motorcycle maintenance and repair shop. The success of the program led NGF to seek funding to add two more girls rescued from looms to the Gainful Employment Opportunities project; in July, The Asia Foundation awarded a grant to help all four young women develop their entrepreneurial initiatives. Saraswoti and Anita will be able to purchase additional equipment and expand and refine their workspace, while Laxmi Udas and Kumari Ghalan plan to open a bakery.

Diana Fernandez, program director for The Asia Foundation, says that working to help empower women in Nepal is a cornerstone of the foundation’s work. “These efforts are especially important in Nepal where many women face systemic inequality, some form of gender-based violence, and human trafficking remains a persistent threat,” Fernandez says. “Supporting these young women fits with our goals because peace and prosperity are only truly established when women are given the opportunity to participate fully in economic, political, and social spheres. The motorcycle project goes even one step further as it breaks down perceptions of what traditional income-generating roles are for women.”

Fernandez believes that the tenacity and entrepreneurial spirit of the motorcycle girls will have a continually expanding positive impact on the community. “These young women are inspiring because they have surmounted the grinding poverty that forces day-to-day subsistence to being able to plan long-term strategies for their business and identify gaps in the market,” she says. “For example, Anita has noted that her business would profit from becoming the sole-source mechanic shop for a nearby Honda motorbike dealership and has already begun establishing links with them. [Additionally] they have been able to expand their businesses and hire family members and local staff, thereby providing employment and income for others.”

Before their rescue from carpet factories by GoodWeave, NGF says, Saraswoti and Anita were “vulnerable and potential victims of trafficking.” With appropriate training, development and support, the future looks promising for these intrepid and imaginative young women. Though the business environment is competitive, we at GoodWeave have no doubt that they’ll succeed and continue to grow.

The Asia Foundation’s Fernandez agrees. Though she says there is no doubt that women in the region face a variety of challenges, from forced labor to child marriage to social and educational exclusion, the success of the Gainful Employment Opportunities Program and the work of GoodWeave in the region makes her optimistic. “Given the right tools and opportunities, children can not only turn their own situation around in the future, but can help others as well, she says.”