Polymer Clay, Picnics and Perseverance!
Jhapa, in eastern Nepal, has a bad reputation. It is “known” for mosquitoes, malaria, heat and drug and human trafficking. There is widespread poverty and, for women particularly, life can be dreadful. But, Jhapa is also the home of some amazing people. People who would say they are very “ordinary” but who are anything but. A group of young Nepali friends were concerned about the lives of local women who were subjected to violence-usually domestic violence but sometimes related to trafficking. Women are “tricked” into marriages and then sold into the tragically huge sex industry in India. Some are “rescued” or escape but they are often not welcomed back by their families and have to try and make life for themselves (and children) as best they can. The friends knew that hand-outs were only a short term solution for these very vulnerable women so they got together to create “Sammunat”. Their goal was to work WITH the ladies to develop sources of income generation so that these ladies could gain independence, dignity and hope. It has been inspiring to have been involved with the board members and the courageous and resilient women of Sammunat. Together we have been working on jewellery designs using pote (pronounced poh-teh like…um…no English word I can think of!), which are Nepal’s traditional wedding beads-made in Czechoslovakia! Jewellery is an integral part of the Nepali culture and one of the reasons I love living here is that it is a country where too much jewellery is not enough. If I head down to the market without earrings, necklaces, bracelets (not to mention face ornamentation if you so choose) I may as well go naked. We’ve long wanted to incorporate traditional designs into polymer clay to make our own beads but have been hindered by a number of factors. Firstly, the organisation runs on the smell of an oily rag. We can only buy materials as we sell items and this has been very small scale to date. Even if we had rupees, polymer clay has proven VERY hard to get here. Tracking it down in India (to avoid hefty postage costs and the dodgy postal system) has been unsuccessful to date. Thirdly, ovens are as rare as hen’s teeth in Jhapa! Cooking is done on open fires or in clay ovens and I haven’t been able to get hold of the “Hardening Polymer Clay in clay ovens with inconsistent temperature control” DVD for love nor money. Despite this, the ladies were desperate to “play with clay” and make a “Fruit Salad” necklace they’d seen me wear. I said this would be “just for fun” which was a hard concept for these ladies to get. Heavy domestic work for little Nepali girls starts by 9 and they marry young. We made citrus canes and leaf canes. Because we only had one pasta machine between 10 of us, I’d made most of the Skinner blends in advance then demonstrated one and we did one together. You soften Kato clay with a pasta machine so that was done in advance. Nepal has ‘load shedding’ which sounds a bit like “We have so much electricity we have to shed it” but is in fact the opposite. Most people have two four-hour blocks of electricity and often one of those starts at midnight! Cooking has to be timed with power. Bring on that clay oven DVD. We incorporated the bead assembly with a long planned picnic. It was the hottest experience I have EVER had (can you have 100% humidity?) and thank goodness Kato clay copes with the heat. Now the ladies are full of ideas about using polymer clay. They want to make hand-made beads, using Nepali designs, which they can combine with existing beads in new and exciting ways. We don’t have a website yet (something else in the “one day” category) but I’d love to answer any questions. Until we make the polymer clay jewellery that changes the world – well, their world - the ladies will make aprons that turn you into a sensational cook, pote fringed scarves that take ten kilos off and make you look ten years younger and silver and bead jewellery that will make your heart sing. Would I lie to you? Maybe, as well as the mixture of things Jhapa is known for, it will now be known as the birthplace of the Nepal Polymer Clay Guild.
Wendy Moore Dharan, NEPAL
Photos of some of these women can be seen at Mel's site http://clayhappenings.blogspot.com/