Phoolmaya Shrestha is known by the kids at the nearby school for her wonderful chakpati, a snack made of dried, puffed rice, spices, oil and vegetables. At snack time, they run to her small roadside stall perched on a cliff in the hills of eastern Nepal. It sounds idyllic — and the landscape is indeed magnificent — but this is one of Nepal's poorest places and Phoolmaya is selling chakpati just to keep her family afloat.
Her home is Ilam district, an area just over the border from India's famed Darjeeling tea region. Ilam district grows wonderful tea in its own right — in fact, tea is one of the area's primary sources of income. But if you are not a tea estate owner, there are few opportunities to cash in and so making a living is a constant struggle.
Many residents work many small jobs to make ends meet. To supplement her husband's small income as a security guard, Phoolmaya grows rice and corn for the family to eat, sells a little ginger and tends her small store whenever she has a chance.
For a long time, she was also interested in buying a dairy cow. Phoolmaya knew that a cow would provide extra income, as well help satisfy their nutritional needs. She tried for a while to take out a commercial loan to buy a cow, but had no success.
The women's lending group that she was a part of could never mobilize the savings to lend her enough to buy a cow. And her husband was repeatedly rejected by the local Agriculture Development Bank because he did not have enough collateral.
And then Phoolmaya heard about Nirdhan Uttan Bank, a Nepali micro-credit lender supported by Mercy Corps and the Whole Planet Foundation, through friends and relatives. She was nominated by her lending group to be the first person to receive a loan and purchased a pregnant cow.
Just ten days later, the cow gave birth and is now producing ten liters of milk per day. The income from the morning milking covers her loan repayments, and she also has a few hundred rupees to spare. The milk from the night milking is consumed by the family or sold for additional income.
At the end of the year, her loan will be paid back — and she plans to raise the new calf, so she will have two dairy cows.
It may seem like small change, but it's an opportunity. And, here in eastern Nepal, every little bit helps.