Embracing a New Life Through a Change in Livelihood in Nepal

Limbu working in his shop.
Limbu working in his shop.

By Arjun B. Kumal

Thousands of poor Nepalis are benefiting from livelihoods skills training provided by an ADB-supported program.

Co-written by Sangram Singh Lama

In eastern Nepal, where some of the best-known Gurkha soldiers come from, a popular adage is that when enemies strike, don’t turn your back but face them to overcome. That's why when he was confronted by life's challenges, 34-year-old Santa Kumar Wanem Limbu of Dhunge Sanghu, Taplejung, decided to hold his ground and protect his family.

Limbu lost both his parents when he was 18. As the eldest, he had to raise a family of 7: wife, three daughters, two siblings, and himself. With a land plot of just 20 ropanis (about 1 hectare) in the hills, he could barely support his family for six months from the produce, let alone find time and money to pursue his studies. He dropped out of school in grade 10.

Fighting the vicious circle of poverty in his own way, Limbu tried to supplement his income by doing odd jobs besides farming, but he never made enough. His struggle took a new turn a year and a half ago, when a community worker came to his village to find out the training needs of people affected by the construction of a rural road under an ADB-supported rural infrastructure and livelihoods project that had been in place since January 2012.

The community worker asked Limbu to fill out an application for a livelihood training program of his choice. Soon he heard the good news – Limbu had been selected for a 3-month skills development program to repair mobile phones in Itahari, Sunsari.

“I would never have been able to take the training living away from home on my own. I cannot express how happy I was at that time to be selected for the training,” Limbu says. “The training did not only give me the skills, but also the necessary tools like screw drivers, multi-meters, etc. to use the skills I learned.”

Upon his return to Dhunge Sanghu, Limbu opened a mobile repair shop in his own house with a further investment of NRs35, 000 (about $323). At present, he is providing services to his fellow villagers and earns an average NRs15,000 ($138) a month.

The skills training contributed tremendously to his new livelihood.

“With this additional income, I have been able to provide education to two of my children, and one goes to a private school. I want them to study until they get a master’s degree, because I know educated people can go really far in their careers,” says Limbu, who now feels respected in his community.

Limbu is one of 3,000 Nepalis targeted by the ADB-supported Decentralized Rural Infrastructure and Livelihood Project (DRILP), currently being implemented across 18 districts to reduce rural poverty by providing road access, livelihood skills and improved access to credit for the rural population. At least 40% of the beneficiaries must be women, and 60% from poor and traditionally excluded groups, and the trainings are certified by the government-run Nepal Skills Testing Board.

A recent survey showed that 66% of DRILP graduates have found work thanks to the new skills they learned, and 57% of these are self-employed.

Limbu’s main challenge now is keeping up with technology to serve all his clients.

“Mobile phone technology changes so fast. People come to me to repair the latest models, for which I have no skills," says the DRILP graduate, who hopes to participate in further training so he can grow his business.

“I want to expand my shop and register it. I want the government to recognize my entrepreneurship,” Limbu explains. “People like me, who left subsistence farming to embrace new technology, should be supported and given continuous skills development so Nepal can prosper."

Sangram Singh Lama is a consultant at ADB’s Resident Mission in Nepal.