Paper-Making: $4/day Job Anyone?

Blending the pulp mash with dye using electric stirring machine.

Paper-making in Nangi has taken on some modern aspects of the trade but still qualifies as handmade and difficult work. Most of the lokta plants are harvested above 2500 meters (8200 feet). It takes two hours to walk from Nangi up to the forest where the plants naturally grow. It’s still cut by hand, lashed together as bundles and carried on their backs by means of a strap across the forehead. Anyone from the village can harvest the lokta plant for free but they need permission from the local village chairman. They are paid 60 rupees per kilogram (2.2 pounds). They can harvest four kilograms a day, making about 250 rupees or $4 USD/day. The harvest season lasts from November to January. Considering the average  Nepalese live on less than $1 USD/day…this is tough but profitable short-term work.                                                                                               Cutting the stalks six inches above ground level practices conservation and sustainability. This practice allows new shoots and branches to generate and flower in about three years. New plants also germinate from seeds naturally, so it does not need replanted. In Nangi the lokta plant is cultivated although it doesn’t grow there naturally. Moti, who manages the plant nursery, first grows the seedlings from seeds. These are planted on community lands, but take 7-9 years to reach maturity compared to 4-5 years for the naturally occurring plants.

Long gone are the wooden ponds where the inner bark of the lokta was mixed with wood ash and water. Now a sophisticated machine blends the pulp with water, emulsifiers and dyes to make the pulp into a smooth mash. But that’s the extent of modernization. The pulp mash is manually scooped onto screens and rinsed before setting out to dry. The paper-makers are skilled at judging the right amount of watery pulp mash to spread across a screen and make varying weights of paper from 12 – 40 grams. The various papers are lovely to feel. We experimented during the bead-making workshop with various weights and I am in awe of their skill. Have you ever had an idea and had to push the proverbial boulder uphill to make it a reality? Share your successes and failures with my readers in the comments section. Ponder the question: When do you know it’s time to throw in the towel? Join me next week as I talk about the early and ongoing troubles with the paper-making project and how Mahabir Pun and Chitra push their boulders up the Himalayan Mountains towards success.

2 thoughts on “Paper-Making: $4/day Job Anyone?

  1. Dr. Deb,
    I appreciate what you are doing. The value of spreading the word about the amazing progress that is found in Nangi is not only to generate understanding about the projects which Mahabir and others have generated, but also to encourage people in other places to try to adapt what those in Nangi have learned as they face the third-world challenges they have. And, of course, your reflections about all that you encounter, where generating money is a part of the solution, are helpful in regard to fundraising. Your efforts, frustrated as they may be at times by the cultural factors and by those with whom you work, are so important.
    Now, on to a concern that I have. This morning I saw a facebook message related to Mahabir’s birthday which was in January of 2013. Mine, my 78th birthday, was on the third of February. Just then it became apparent that Mahabir is 20 years younger than I, making him 58 years of age. A question that has occured to me before is “Who will be the next Mahabir?”. One time Mahabir commented that he was getting older and would die soon, perhaps before his dreams came true. That surely feeds into him attitude about getting on with projects that he conceives and may explain some of his impatience. He very much wants to be effective and to conclude that he has lived a useful life. That does tend to leave some folks in the dust as he races onward toward his goal.
    In another place you mentioned his tendency to act before planning. Someone has to be the planner, then, in the future. Building on Mahabir’s legacy will be important. Since we all check out of this life at some unknown time, the board needs to address this question of how we plan for succession of all the important people involved in the great progress made so far — we need to find more Mahabirs, Debs, Rupas, etc. Are they available in the village? Need we provide extended education abroad for the brightest and best students in Nangi? Can we generate the $s that will take?
    Well, enough. You are amazing and the record you are providing in your blog is wonderful and important. Take care of yourself.

    • To those of you who do not know Fred, he is a former HEF board member and a long time supporter of Mahabir and Himanchal Education Foundation (HEF)
      Thank you for your insights and I think you raise a very good observation…does an organization support one person or a mission? This very question caused two HEF BOD members to resign last year. The objection offered by the former BOD members was: Does HEF develop a new mission statement and work with those individuals or organizations that reflect the mission or continue to support only Mahabir’s goals? The answer is complicated because Mahabir’s goals are directed towards his country, but he is also one person and subject to the same vulnerability as all humans. What will happen to Mahabir’s dreams and projects if something happens to him? This is a question HEF has yet to answer, but you are right…it must be answered by Mahabir, his supporters and the BOD.

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