Nepalis open doors to a better life

Community homestay empowers women, uplifts communities and provides tourists a close-up of life in Nepal

Until recently it was not unusual for women in villages of Kavre to hide when they saw outsiders approaching. Today, they welcome tourists  to their homes and are even learning English, Italian or Japanese to better communicate with guests.

Shila Amatya (below) was already running a beauty parlour in her house in Panauti when a group of women in her community asked if she could help them start homestays as well. She agreed, and they set up their homes.

Then the women approached  Royal Mountain Travels (RMT) to ask if the company would help them find clients for their community of homestays. Seven years later, what started as a corporate social responsibility initiative in a town in Kavre has expanded into a full-fledged social enterprise called Community Homestay Network (CHN) with chapters in 22 locations nationwide.

Guests from around the world can book rooms in homes of Nepali families that belong to the network, from high mountain settlements to the Tarai plains. While the price, activities and accommodations depend on where the homestay  is located, the network ensures that local tourism is promoted and communities benefit.

For a chapter to join the network, it must gather 10 homes, agree to follow guidelines and elect a leader. In turn, members are given access to English language classes, a crash course on cleanliness and hygiene, and are informed about the types of activities they should offer guests from various cultures.

Families who wish to join a homestay program need to pay a yearly membership fee of Rs10,000 but are given loans from the network’s

Community Development Fund (CDF) which also helps support member families facing an unexpected financial emergency.

The chapters work like cooperatives: from every guest booking, 85% goes back to the community, with most of the revenue staying with the host family, and 20% to the CDF. The remaining 15% goes to the network office in Kathmandu.

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While other homestay programs in the network are slowly gaining traction, at the flagship chapter in Panauti, business is booming. Once unsure of how to act around visitors, women homestay managers now confidently greet tourists in trekking outfits, arriving from destinations as diverse as Denmark and Japan.

The Panauti chapter has 17 families and Amatya is current community president. Demand is so great that they have to turn away new members.

“As much as we want to let everyone be a part of the homestay network, we have to consider whether they would be a good fit to host guests,” she explains. “We have to be stricter with our standards, and to continue having guests leave satisfied, we have to limit membership.”

Those high standards are not the only reason why the Panauti program is thriving. It is also the charm of this historical Newa town with its melange of lifestyles, people, cultures and festivals, located at the intersection of urban and rural life in Nepal.

A well-kept museum with historical and cultural artefacts is walking distance from a river where ducks paddle away the day. Guests can take a five-hour hike through up-country Tamang villages led by a local guide, enjoy cultural dance performances, learn about the rich traditions of one of the oldest towns in Nepal and marvel at temples and stupas, while having access to wifi, western-style bathrooms, home cooked meals and cafes.

Biju Sainju (below, left) was a single mother raising two daughters and caring for her in-laws with the little income she made in the shop on the ground floor of her home in Panauti. Things were difficult, but she made ends meet.

After she joined the network, she had enough money to send her daughters to a good school.

“At first I was scared because I didn’t know much about it. I had to attend the English classes and felt nervous,” says Sainju, recounting how she has learned Italian words like pepe nero and zenzero to make it easier for her guests from Italy to follow her cooking classes.

“Joining the network has changed my life and my daughters’ lives,” Sainju says.

Kumari Tamang (left) is equally thrilled to be a part of the Panauti chapter. “I really enjoy having conversations with the guests. They love hearing our life stories and are fascinated by how we live in a joint family,” she says.

Poonam Gupta, impact manager at CHN, gets emotional just thinking about how people’s lives have changed because of the network, including that of her own family.

A local of Panauti, Gupta became interested in tourism when she began helping her mother with homestay guests. She started acting as a translator and tour guide, and was then offered the job at CHN.

“I have experienced firsthand the impact of homestay tourism on my community,” she tells us.

The benefits spread beyond individual homes to the community. When homestay owners buy more produce from local vendors and guests shop from local stores, tourism income is injected directly into the grassroots.

Says Shila Amatya: “I am happy knowing that other women in my community and in homestay networks all over Nepal have the chance to earn money, send children to good schools, improve their homes, get involved in the community and most importantly, do something themselves.”

Read also:

Homestay brings locals home, Reeti K.C.

Hiking up the benefits of tourism, Sangmin Kim