Born in Silichong, one of the most remote rural municipalities of Sankhuwasabha district on 13th February 1979 A.D to Krishna Bahadur Kulung and Gangimaya Kulung, Man Kumari Kulung is known as one of the more successful Nettle Entrepreneurs. Man Kumari’s life is a tale full of struggles. Brought up in the village environment, she started to take on responsibilities like collecting and transferring water, collecting cattlefeed and taking them out for grazing from the age of 5. Born in an ordinary family along with 4 brothers and 3 sisters, her childhood was very tough. The rural village did not have transportation facilities. She remembers transporting Salt and Rice from Hile to her village by walking for 8-9 days at the age of 13-14.
While spending her struggle-filled childhood, she wished to pursue education. After persistent requests to her parents, she was enrolled in Class 1 of a local school. In order to support her studies and her family she used to work as a porter for foreign mountaineers in the Namche area of Solukhumbu and around Kanchenjunga Mountain. Despite her eagerness to study further, the weak economic condition of her house forced her to quit when she reached Class 8. Her days were then spent collecting cattlefeed, firewood and grazing cattles. As she matured, she was married off to Laxman Kulung of Bala-8 on 2057 B.S. Her husband was studying for a B.A degree at that time. Despite a new family and newer challenges, she took care of her responsibilities with ease.
Nettle is a plant that carries religious, cultural and scientific importance for the Kulung community. After extracting the barks, they prepare thread and use them for preparing fabric that are used for religious rituals as well as household purposes. As time went by, Man Kumari learnt to make Shawl, Muffler and Placemats. In 2057 B.S, an INGO run by Eco Himal Austria conducted a 45-day Nettle fabric production and coloring training program in Sikidim, Shilichong. The opportunity to participate in that program opened new avenues of Nettle-based entrepreneurship for her. A mother to 3 sons, she remembers giving birth to her eldest son Ashok during that program. She feels ever grateful to all of those who helped her during that painful and trouble-filled period.
Different organizations helped to improve the traditional technology related to Nettle profession. During those days, there was no medium to send the produced goods to market. There was a local organization at Sisuwatar which purchased Nettle products. However, the sellers had to wait for almost a year to receive payments. This credit-based method of doing business meant that it was very difficult for the Nettle Entreprenuers to pay for their daily living expenses. Despite facing these kinds of obstacles, Nettle Enterprise is now the major source of income generation for Kulung women.
Despite Kulung’s husband being a teacher by profession, she tells that it is difficult to provide for her son’s education and run the household. Giving continuity to Nettle profession, she taught other women of the village to weave Nettle products. She was further encouraged after receiving weaving tools like Loom and Warping Drum Set from Eco Himal and taught 15 women how to weave. Different institutions also gave trainings for Nettle weaving designs. This built up enthusiasm among the women of the village and a building for weaving purpose was constructed by the financial support of Eco Himal. She gave continuity to her weaving skills along with her household responsibilities. As time went by, she had to move away along with her husband and sons. She also remembers giving one month training about Nettle Weaving Skill Design and Skill Development at Pokhara, Kaski District on 2064 B.S. She also gave 20 day training about Nettle products design at her village. She feels that teaching others further improved her own skills.
One of the major problems of the Nettle Weavers was the lack of market that paid for their products in cash. To address this problem, an organization called Himalaya Nettle and Linen Textile Industry (Nettle Society) was established on 10th January 2010. Registered at Home and Small Industry Development Committee, Sankhuwasabha, this institution started to develop the skills and capability of the weavers as well as market the produced goods. Nettle Society was on the lookout for a capable employee who could check the quality of the goods as well as give suggestions to weavers about weaving skills. Despite her inability to achieve higher education, her expertise in the skills required for Nettle weaving landed her the job of which she is extremely proud. After consulting with her family, she decided to move to Khandbari along with her 3 sons. Her monthly salary of Rs. 25,000 has been helpful in supporting her sons’ education as well as running her household. 9 years have flown by and she is happy that Nettle Society has been successful in meeting the industry’s objectives. Her family has been supportive to her and all are happy. Nettle profession has not only become the primary economic base but also a medium for social service. Nettle profession has enhanced the livelihood of many women. She is thankful to Nettle Society, other supportive organizations and people who have helped her to reach today’s stage.