The Life of a Weaver in Nepal

Do you ever wonder whose expert hands made your beautiful rug? Here Label STEP Director Reto Aschwanden shares with the readers of COVER Magazine* a day in the life of weaver Sunita Rai.

Sunita Rai, a thirty-six-year-old mother and carpet weaver in Kathmandu, is an early bird. She gets up at 5am for her morning prayers and to do some household chores before starting her weaving job an hour later. 

Around 8am Sunita returns to her small apartment on the factory premises, prepares food and helps her fifteen-year-old son Bishal get ready for school. After an early lunch she returns to the loom and works until 6pm, pausing for a one-hour afternoon tea break.

In the evening Sunita goes grocery shopping at the local market, spends time with her son and irons his school uniform for the next day. Artisanry is not only Sunita’s job but also her passion: in her free time, if she’s not meeting with friends and neighbours, she enjoys knitting.

Sunita’s life has not always been peaceful and fulfilling. She was born into poverty in rural eastern Nepal and never able to go to school. Sunita married early and, like hundreds of thousands of young Nepali, she and her husband searched for a way out of poverty by looking for work abroad. Their hopes were dashed when Sunita’s husband was unable to send any money home during the eight years he was away working in Malaysia. In desperation, she also tried working abroad, only to experience abuse and exploitation in her two years as a housemaid in Lebanon.

When she returned to Nepal, Sunita was initially reluctant to work in the carpet industry, having been told about negative experiences had by other members of her family. Still, she decided to give it a try. Today she is happy with her work, mainly thanks to the factory’s involvement with Label STEP, the Swiss-based organisation that has been concerned with the welfare of weavers in seven handmade carpet-producing countries for the last 22 years. The factory’s working conditions comply with international fair trade standards, the wages are good, and Sunita receives free accommodation.

Sunita can now put good food on the table, wear decent clothes, educate her son and even send money to her parents. She appreciates the courses for weavers that Label STEP offers on a broad range of topics.

While Sunita’s factory has improved the lot of workers, many have not. It is in the hands of all players in the handmade carpet sector to work with fair trade organisations like Label STEP to secure the industry’s future and ensure the wellbeing of its workers.

* This article was originally published in COVER Magazine (50th Edition, Spring 2018)

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