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THE UNSTOPPABLE – Indira Sapkota

Text by: Rojina Adhikari & Priya Kabo

Indira Sapkota, 80, prepares to receive another international award for her work in Nepal empowering women with skills and trainings to not only become financially independent but to give them the opportunity to become active and contributing members in their society, families and among peers. Recognised for her energy and sheer versatility, this octogenarian entrepreneur has seen her fair share of ups and downs and learnt to come out a winner each time. Currently she is the Managing Director of AAD Tayari Poshak, Founder of Nepal Grihini Udyog, President of the Bhotu-Indira Social Welfare Organisation and Managing Director of the Sahara Khadya Udyog.

During the 1930’s the cultural norm for girls was to get married early. At 13, Sapkota (née Upadhayaya) married late Bhotu Raj Sapkota of Dilli Bazaar. By the age of 14, she had given birth to her first child while her fourth child was born at the age of 20. Indira Sapkota had the opportunity to go to school up till class 10, but unfortunately was not allowed to give her SLC exams. It was during this time that she began sewing and knitting for her family and neighbours as she had some prior knowledge of these skills. Though she never took any formal training, her persistence and practice allowed her to develop impeccable skills.

When her family parted ways from the joint family system, her passion for knitting became the extra and much needed income source. Though this separation meant that she could now focus on her own family rather than being a daughter-in-law first, her husband had refused to take anything from his parents which heavily affected their finances. With a small income and a large family, Sapkota knew she had to step up and begin contributing financially for the well being of her family. She began by selling the garments she knitted, and this marked the beginning of a 42-year cottage industry that has empowered and continues to empower Nepali women.

Having impacted the lives of more than 8,000 women and counting, Sapkota is mostly described as the epitome of humility and integrity. At 80 years of age, she still goes to work every single day, supervising, teaching and training women. She is diligent when it comes to quality control, monitoring and personally checking garments and products to ensure that they are of the best quality and have been made to the finest finish. It is no surprise that her work has received numerous accolades, both internationally and locally. When asked what her greatest achievement in her life has been, she replied, “Though I have got many honours and appreciations from different organising bodies, when the Sapkota Kalyan Samaj honoured me, it was very special as this is an organisation that is very close to my heart. Apart from that, the love, support and honour I have received from my own family and the women I have worked with and continue to work with has been my greatest achievement so far.”

Currently, she devotes her full time to the Bhotu Indira Social Welfare Organisation and the Kendriya Mahila Sudhar Griha at Bhote Bahal. She also plays a key role in supporting the community school of Gokarneshwor municipality for financially deprived children for the past 15 years. And she trains prisoners at the Central Karagar in knitt and sewing which she then sells at her shop. When asked of her future plans, she says “At the age of 80 what else can I plan for. I hope to find someone responsible who can carry out the work in its finest quality and make the organisations even better. In life I have always followed this one rule, which is distributing my skills and trainings to others. People think if they pass their skills to someone, it gets devalued which is the biggest misconception. So I will continue to share and impart my knowledge for as long as I can!”

Indira Sapkota strongly believes that age should not be a barrier for fulfilling your duties, enjoying life and giving back to the community. She adamantly promotes the need for senior citizens to get involved in volunteering and social work if they are capable.

When asked for tips and advice for budding entrepreneurs, she explains “My necessity helped me become successful; if there wasn’t the need to take care of my family and educate my children, I wouldn’t have started. In hindsight, out of that need, I was able to provide for the family, educate the children and also empower many women. So I think it is vital to for any entrepreneur to first see the necessity, solve a problem and to realise the importance of it and then pursue it. If you are not solving a problem, whether it is a personal, social, environmental or business, there is no need for a business to exist.”

Sapkota looks forward to receiving an award from Zonta International which is a leading global organization of professionals empowering women worldwide through service and advocacy. The Zonta club in Bangladesh is honouring Indira Sapkota for her work in empowering Nepali women in the past 42 years.