Lighting up her darkness

Sita Tamang dropped out of school in Rolpa, but that did not stop her from making a success of her life


Sita Tamang had a hardscrabble childhood in an isolated village in war-torn Rolpa. As the eldest child, she dropped out of primary school to help with family chores while her young brothers and sisters went to school. Her childhood was spent collecting fodder for livestock in the forest.

“I thought this is how my life would end — collecting grass. But I still held some hope that life had something better in store for me,” recalls Sita, who learnt to knit from neighbours and won a prize for her skill in a handicraft show in Rolpa’s main town of Libang.

Sita was gaining confidence, but soon the Maoist conflict engulfed the district. She was 16, an age when many of her peers were either being recruited by the Maoists or harassed by security forces. She escaped to the safety of Kathmandu in 2000, after getting married.

The city was new to her, and she did not know anyone. She and her husband rented a small place, but Kathmandu was too expensive to survive in. One day she bumped into local women in Bhaisepati who had formed a women’s cooperative to make candles — taking advantage of the 12-hour daily power cuts.

“The timing was perfect to make and sell candles,” recalls Sita, who got help from the Business Service Centre, run by women social entrepreneurs who offered vocational  training for women who wanted to start their own businesses.

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Sita started with a small investment of Rs5,000 and took a Rs30,000 loan from the women’s group. She bought the candle-making mould and raw materials, and started making candles in her small one-room apartment, using her own cooking stove and utensils to make candles from molten wax. The next big challenge was to find buyers.

“I went on foot to find the right market and potential clients, carrying hundreds of candles. I did not sell too many in the beginning, but I was determined to make it work,” remembers Sita.

The candle business was competitive, and most buyers already had their own manufacturers. Sita explored the market further by visiting hotels, restaurants, shops and department stores. It was her participation in farmers’ markets and handicraft events that finally brought her exposure — getting noticed by big hotels, restaurants, retailers, companies and rich individuals.

Sita’s sales increased and her income skyrocketed, from Rs10,000 per month to Rs30,000, rising to Rs100,000 during festivals. She says she learned a big lesson: even someone without education could run a business and make a living.

Today, Sita is invited to business seminars to share her ideas, and even got to showcase her candles at an international fair in Thailand. Her advice to other aspiring entrepreneurs is to research the market first, make quality products and establish a network.

“Usually, there are a lot of well educated people during those seminars and meetings, but I don’t feel threatened as I believe I have created a good brand that is well liked by many buyers,” says Sita, who now takes orders by phone and even makes custom-designed candles.

In the last four years, she has produced more than 80,000 candles for clients like Hyatt, Radisson and Dwarika’s hotels, as well as shopping centres. Her tiny factory in Bhaisepati struggles to keep up with orders. Despite her busy schedule, Sita also trains other women in candle production and marketing.

“Starting a business is not easy. It is full of risk and you need a lot of family support,” explains Sita, who appreciates the help she gets from her young children, siblings and especially her husband.

Sita Tamang saw a glimmer of hope while collecting grass that day in remote Rolpa. The hope turned into a dream, which she has now realised as a successful entrepreneur in the capital.

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