Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Samunnat Nepal : Polymer Clay Artisans from The Roof of the World

By on Tuesday, April 08, 2014 11 Comments

Some of you may remember my past post about Samunnat Nepal, a non-profit group helping women there get legal aid, counselling and training to earn their own living.  Many women in that part of the world have very difficult lives. Often impoverished and poorly educated, they have no one to turn to when they become victims of domestic violence, rape and human trafficking.

Samunnat Nepal was created about 7 years ago to help these women.  The co-founders are Australian artisan, Wendy Moore and Kopila Basnet, a Nepali attorney.

Cynthia Tinapple teaching how to make shisha bracelets
Wendy explained how she got involved, "In a nutshell, I came to Nepal trekking with my parents in the 70s. I was 14, I think. Anyway, I was hooked and fell in love with the place and people. To cut a long story short, in 2007 about twenty seconds after our kids left home (well, not quite but nearly!) we moved over to a town here in eastern Nepal and my husband worked as a doctor and Associate Professor at a large teaching hospital in a place called Dharan. We lived there for almost four years and I met Kopila early on in that time. The rest, as they say, is history. She asked if I could teach the ladies about jewelry making and when we couldn't sell more traditional jewelry- we were told we needed to do something different by the Fair Trade people - we made our first tentative steps into polymer clay! Cynthia Tinapple supported our journey, as has Ron Lehocky, the heart man!" 

Making petal beads - design shared by Lindly Haunani

Other volunteers and mainly the international polymer clay community have done much to help the group's jewelry making collective.  Fund raising meant Samunnat now has its own home after having to move 6 times over the past 7 years!

Samunnat building
Nepali houses are apparently quite dark. So they made sure they got a building that has plenty of natural light. The artisans are so happy with their brand new work room!

Making their spice beads
Donations to Samunnat Nepal  help equip the women with the tools they need not just for jewelry making but for other occupations as well.

Bahini using a Dremel to polish beads
Wendy found her own Modahaus Steady Stand kit and TS320 Tabletop studios such a boon she bought the ladies their own Steady Stand kit on her current trip to Nepal. Modahaus is donating a TS320 and a company called Barefoot Power has donated 2 solar lamps.  Wendy lent them her camera, a Nikon Coolpix, while the artisans wait to get one of their own in a few weeks.

The picture above shows Manisha, Gita and Yashoda watching Sharmila take product pictures after she was shown how to do so. The women are being taught the aspects of running a small business and product photography is one of them. The goal is to make them increasingly self sufficient.

Tsarang Flower Mala Necklace detail
Doing business from the "Roof of the World" is challenging with unreliable electrical supply and internet connection.  Samunnat Nepal is located 540 km east of  Kathmandu, the capital city, so distance is also a major factor in trying to get their goods overseas in a timely manner. So as a compromise, Wendy runs the Samunnat Etsy store from Australia when she is not in Nepal. Sapta Rangi Studio is the name of their collective for finished jewelry designs.  These are also available in some shops and galleries in Australia.

Wild Things polymer clay beads
Their biggest source of income comes from the sale of loose beads through Kazuri West. Paulette Walther was instrumental in helping the artisans get their goods to market.  Wendy said, "Paulette was so patient, generous and understanding and had experience working with a similar group of women in Africa. She emphasized the need to learn and move slowly and guides us very well!"  They recently sent 16 kgs of beads via courier to Paulette!  This was their largest order yet which represented several months of work!  The group is terrified as this also involved a large courier expense!

A small but fun source of the women's incomes comes from teaching their skills as part of Colorful Journey Tours. These are organized by Wendy and her friend. The tours take people to parts of Nepal where tourists rarely venture. It's an alternative to trekking and focuses on handicrafts and traditional art.  The women of Samunnat provide a polymer clay lesson one day and on another the visitors get to visit the homes of two of the ladies, share a meal, dance and have their hands and feet painted with henna.  It is all fun but more importantly, the women learn how to plan, prepare and teach polymer clay classes.

Teaching a Colorful Journey tour group
Gita applying henna
Samunnat has been literally a lifesaver for these women. From the Samunnat blog : "One commented that having her work here at Samunnat was part of feeling capable, as well as being a retreat from a tough time.  Another said that in the past, things were so bad that she had wondered if it was worth living.  We asked if she sometimes still felt like that and she emphatically said no, saying that now she had people she could ask for advice but also felt that she had more skills to deal with things that used to get her down.  Some said that having more times when they laughed and were happy helped them when they were sad."

Bindi beads
Each of these inspiring women have overcome tremendous obstacles to be where they are today.  As you can see from the happy group picture, they are clearly on their way to better, independent lives thanks to incredible volunteers, donors and fund raisers from abroad!

Before You Go:
Original Post by THE BEADING GEM
Jewelry Making Tips - Jewelry Business Tips 



  1. I do remember the previous post, its fascinating to get a closer look at their work

  2. What a great story. Thank you!

  3. Thanks for once again sharing their beautiful story, Pearl :)

  4. Pearl, YOU are awesome! Thanks for such a wonderful post about us and the people who help us. We have just got Internet connection again after a break and it was so wonderful to see this! Thank you again for everything! We will let you know as soon as our Tabletop Studio arrives. Hugs from Nepal, Wendy, Kopila and the ladies

  5. Great post. This is a subject that can not be repeated often enough. The world has far more underprivileged, abused women in it than those who have been entitled to a good education, health benefits, and respect and dignity. Changing the mindset of 3rd world countries and of a lot of humanity will be an ongoing, long term mission.
    Perhaps I'm a dreamer, but I do not think the mission is an impossible one.

  6. Great story and gorgeous beads! Another company that you might want to take a look is EarthButter Beads which are made in South Africa. I was lucky enough to win some of their beads which are gorgeous and of great quality.


  7. Glad everyone thinks these ladies ROCK! Very inspirational. Thanks Shaiha for the tip on Earth Beads.

  8. These women are amazing! And I am so glad that some of their beads go to the Kazuri site-I have purchased a few and they are fabulous!

  9. Look at those awesome, beautiful beads! The blue Bindi beads are my favorite, but also these flowers. Great project! Thanks for shring this, Pearl.

  10. It's a great idea. Something like this needs to be done in our country. My husband was out of work for over a year and I sold my jewelry in shopping center parking lots to make ends meet. A lot of people had respect for what I was doing but I also ran into a lot of ugly people. Why is it people support the poor in other countries and turn their backs on people in their own country in need of help. Most big cities have an artistic community that would support a project like this.

  11. I have the utmost respect for what you did to support your family! Yes, we need a lot more people here in North America to support artisans!