Uplifting Nepali Girls Through Apple Pie
While trekking in the mountains in Nepal, enjoying a piece of hot apple pie at a teahouse is de rigeur for most travellers. It’s a warming comfort food at the end of a hard day. Now, a Kathmandu couple have taken the traveller’s love of apple pie and are turning it into a vocational skills development project for physically and intellectually disabled young women.
It’s the first social workplace project in Nepal for youngsters with development disorders. Dutch citizen Maud Van de Worp and her Nepali partner Sanju Shakya have started training disabled teenagers to make apple pies, cakes and other pastries to sell to travellers and residents in Kathmandu through their INSPIREbakery, a project of their not-for-profit INSPIREnepal. INSPIREnepal has been working with and for disabled children and youth in Nepal since it was established by Maud and Sanju in 2015.
Maud has a background in music therapy, has provided training for special needs teachers in Nepal, and wrote a book for the Nepali government about effective therapies for children with autism. Sanju has been involved with the disabled and deaf community for many years due to having a deaf sister. Through their work within and outside of INSPIREnepal, both Maud and Sanju have seen that most disabled children and youth are smart, but don’t get the chance to flourish because everybody assumes they are less capable than they really are.
In Nepal, children and young people with intellectual and learning disabilities are often hidden away by their families, either through a sense of shame or because of misunderstandings (and miseducation) regarding what they are capable of.
Why a bakery, and not some other kind of food outlet or shop? Many visitors to Kathmandu will have noticed the handicraft stores dotted around the place that support women’s livelihoods. But, as Maud says, they wanted to be original and bakery work is more suitable for the youngsters they work with: “Baking is very simple once you know the recipes. Recipes are structured, you have to follow steps, the exact amounts are written, the exact time it needs to be in the oven. So special needs youngsters can follow the steps easily. We have taken pictures of every step of the recipe to make the process visual as well. We are now at the stage that the girls don’t even need the pictures anymore.”
In Nepal, children and young people with intellectual and learning disabilities are often hidden away by their families, either through a sense of shame or because of misunderstandings (and miseducation) regarding what they are capable of. There are a handful of special schools in Nepal, but not enough resources to adequately deal with the variety of mental and physical disabilities represented. There’s also nothing for disabled youngsters to do after school. So, many are relegated to sitting at home and doing nothing, potentially for the rest of their lives.
The goal of social workplace projects, such as INSPIREbakery, is to create sustainable livelihoods so that the people involved are better equipped to participate in ordinary life and support themselves. At present, INSPIREbakery employs and trains two teenage girls, Marta and Sabina, and they have plans to employ more once their shop opens. They are being paid a salary, as well as learning to bake the items they sell and how to function in an ordinary workplace setting.
Although INSPIREbakery’s goal is to train and support young Nepalis, they do seek help from foreign volunteers to help the organisation run. Like many other non-governmental organisations in Nepal, the INSPIREbakery seeks foreign volunteers, and offer volunteering packages on the website of their umbrella organisation, INSPIREnepal. When asked why these volunteers needed to be foreign—why couldn’t fellow Nepalis be recruited to help their fellow Nepalis, surely an important part of self-sufficiency for a country that has perhaps become too reliant on foreign handouts?—Maud stated: “I don’t think Nepalis should have to work for free, since we will be hiring locals who could use a job, thus, money.”
Volunteers with such experience will be better equipped to start making a difference in the communities they’re coming to help from the first day.
Foreign volunteers have the luxury of being able to donate their time, yet Nepalis who struggle to find well-paid work in the country should not be expected to donate theirs. She also pointed out that the only Nepali volunteers that they’d likely attract would be students without experience working with disabled kids, which is not ideal. So, INSPIREbakery only employs Nepali staff who are passionate about working with disabled youngsters for a wage, but does not seek Nepali volunteers.
A criticism of voluntourism is that people with no particularly useful skills or experience can be tempted to think that good intentions are all that is required in order to make a difference in a developing country. Not usually so. Without specialist skills, potential volunteers risk simply being a drain on the resources of a host organization (which is particularly problematic during post-disaster situations). As a way of countering this, INSPIREbakery prefers volunteers with backgrounds in social or health studies, or experience working with young people, as well as those with backgrounds in PR or business, to help promote the bakery. These are tangible skills; volunteers with such experience will be better equipped to start making a difference in the communities they’re coming to help from the first day.
At the time of writing, the INSPIREbakery distributes orders around Kathmandu, particularly to the Redmud chain of coffee shops and to hotels in Thamel. The goal is to establish a tea shop in or near the tourist hub of Thamel, too, for foreigners and locals to drop in and grab a snack, and to chat with the young women who are proud of their work. Travellers to Nepal, once they’ve eaten their way through the mountains on a trek, can polish off their trip with a slice of pie in Kathmandu.
About volunteering in Nepal
INSPIREnepal/INSPIREbakery welcome volunteers from around the world who have experience working with disabled children, or who have studied a relevant field. More information can be found on their website, which is available in both English and Dutch.