Surendra Chaudhary never had a chance to get a fairly paid job in Nepal. With the idea of making paper from banana trees, he launched his own business. Today, he creates jobs for disadvantaged Nepalese.
Surendra Chaudhary's story reads like a fairy tale – and sometimes it actually feels that way to him. His father was once evicted from his own property. On a patch of land where he found refuge, a third of an acre, Surendra's parents built a new life. But as the son of a day laborer, he couldn't go to school, and as a teenager he kept his head above water with odd jobs.
The little money he earned was not nearly enough to make his dream of a banana farm come true. That was until he heard about a project called Elam that supports good business ideas. He got in touch with Helvetas and attended a course on sustainable banana cultivation; 35 days spread over three years. It included marketing, accounting, creating a business plan, and learning about banana diseases and pesticide. His business idea: In addition to selling bananas, it should be possible to make paper from the stalks.
"Elam changed my life," says Surendra, who is now 44. He spent a month tinkering with banana paper and eventually became Nepal's first banana paper producer. Almost 15 years later, Surendra owns about ten hectares of land and specializes in banana seedlings. They bring in more profit than banana paper.
He grows so many seedlings in his high-tech nursery that he now employs 29 people and built a concrete house, where his wife has also been able to set up a tailor shop. Surendra was the first in his family to send his son to college, where he studied electrical engineering. Surendra, once a despised day laborer, is now a respected president of his district's banana producers association.
"For me, the banana means everything," he says. "It is something like God. Really. Without the banana, I would be nothing. When I look at all we've built, how well we're doing today ... It's the complete opposite of my previous life of poverty. It's as if my life started anew with the Helvetas' project."
Jobs for Nepal
Every year, Nepal has a shortfall of half a million jobs. Helvetas supports socially disadvantaged young people to start small businesses. In the process, they also learn to create business plans, manage accounts and reinvest profits. Many of the newly created small businesses in turn create jobs in their own country.