Mahaguthi, Tulsi Mehar and a lost Owl.

12 August, 2010 |  by
Mahaguthi ‘Craft with a Conscience’ has the most interesting history of all the fair trade groups in Nepal. I had read about their work many years ago and had always wanted to work with them. I want to give a bit about their history because i think it sums up much of what fair trade is about. It was started by the legendary social reformer Tulsi Mehar in 1923. In the early 20th century Nepal had a very rigid caste and social structure, only the high caste men were educated and literate. Mehar campaigned against this inequality and for his vocal anti-establishment ideas he was thrown out of Nepal by the Nepalese Rana government and ended up exiled in India. His search for truth and equality led him to Mahatma Gandhi and they worked together for many years. His time with Gandhi gave him an opportunity to gain insight to the liberation of the underprivileged. In a system where there are no opportunities for women to bring in money for themselves they must rely on their husbands and fathers. Without the means to improve their own lives women’s situations can be very restrictive and this can be hugely problematic if there is domestic violence or abuse. Mehar and Gandhi’s vision for reform was to empower women through education and income generation projects so that they can become economically self-reliant. Gandhi wrote to the Prime Minister of Nepal to ask him to let Mehar back into the country. Once back in Kathmandu in 1923 and with a donation from Gandhi, Mehar set up the spinning and weaving develop
ment project that became Mahaguthi. It was not only the first social development project in Nepal but was actually among the first ever manufacturing units in the economically closed feudal country.
Mahaguthi currently takes on 90 new women annually (most are widows or victims of domestic abuse) to train them in literacy and employable skills and school their children as well as supporting a hospital.

 

I have written and illustrated a children’s book ‘A Bit Lost’ with Borim Press and Walker books and I had the idea to create a small fair trade soft toy to sell along with the book that could be entirely made from scratch by the women at Mahaguthi. The toy is entirely made from raw cotton, using all the traditional cottage industry techniques that Gandhi made famous. It is hand-spun into yarn, dyed, hand-woven and finally sewn all by the women at Mahaguthi.
 
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Gandhi and Tulsi Mehar Shresta

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The women in the womens shelter learn to spin and weave and the profits from their crafts are used to support and educate themselves and their children as well as supporting a hospital
 
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Some of the children of the women from Mahaguthi’s women’s shelter
 
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Some of the younger children can’t read their names yet. Interesting system
 
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Some of the women employed at Mahaguthi are deaf or disabled. This is the sign you do when you take Monday off…..’Im outta here. Peace’

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a few images from the classroom

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this guy is having a really bad banana. not nice.

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…..storytime ……YAY!
 
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This is the small hospital funded by Mahaguthi’s profits, you can see the portraits of Gandhi and Mehar
 
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This is their ambulance believe it or not. Ambulances come in interesting shapes and sizes in Nepal. And colours!
 
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The front cover of the book
 
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Some owl designs. I wanted to try some different options with the stitching. I needed to make the owl a little flat so that it can still pack together with the book. I think it would sell best as a gift idea together with the book rather than as a separate item.
 
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Weaving
 
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Sewing and designing the first prototypes with Chandrigarh
 
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All the Ullu’s! The Hindi word for ‘owl’ is ‘ullu’ which is also the word you use if you want to call someone stupid. Owls are thought of as stupid in India and Nepal, the opposite to how they are seen in the west. My owl is definitely a Nepali ‘ullu’ rather than a western owl. Actually I have become known as ullu-man in the Mahaguthi office (!).Thanks very much to Sumitra, Anita, Chandigarh and Uttara (also to Ono and Sunil who arent here)

*UPDATE* they are now available from my new shop here

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1 Comment


  1. Chris, what an inspiring story! I live 10 mins from the Mahaguthi shop in Kupondol and didnt’ know its history so thanks for sharing. And I love the Monday off peace sign 🙂 Hope you’re well you wise-ol ulloo-man! Come back to Ktm soon.

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