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Just remember you can do
anything you set your mind to,
but it takes action, perseverance
and facing your fears
- Gillian Anderson -
My name is Christel Hendriks, and I started MUNIMUNI in 2016, after losing a piece of myself in Nepal in 2015, but more on that later.
I built MUNIMUNI as an online store and platform to sell products, which are made in a fair or fair-trade way, by women in Nepal. I work together with different women organizations, Fair Trade organizations, and smaller NGOs throughout Nepal. I try to create a wider platform to sell the products these women make, in The Netherlands, and now as well internationally, while sharing the story behind the product.
I opened the doors of MUNIMUNI.nl in 2016 in The Netherlands, and a few years later, I created MUNIMUNI.store, as an international platform. :)
The reason I started MUNIMUNI in 2016 was to support - in a small way - local economy in Nepal after witnessing the many problems both during and after the devastating earthquake in April 2015.
Over the last few years, I shifted my focus more and more to search for fair products and fair-trade organizations, and as well as smaller NGOs, where the empowerment of women was a central pillar.
I think empowering women is very important in Nepal, to strive for a more significant change on a society level.
Discrimination in terms of gender is still very present in Nepal, and the difference between the lives of men and women is easy to see.
In many areas in Nepal, marriages are still arranged by the family, and because of this, many girls get married at a very young age. After the wedding, the young woman moves in with her husband and his family. Often she is expected to work as a housewife, clean the house, cook, and take care of the children. She then becomes more and more dependent on her husband for income and needs to ask her husband for money.
If you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a nation
- African Proverb
Women empowerment is needed to change society, and on an individual level, it is essential for a woman's' self-esteem.
Empowering women is to give women the equal right to participate in education, society, to have opportunities to work, and also engage on a political level.
Especially in a society where women are believed to be weaker than men, encouraging a woman to feel secure, to feel strong, and stand up for her rights, I think, is essential.
Various organizations in Nepal are providing opportunities for women; in education and skills-training, to give these women the opportunity to become an entrepreneur and start for themselves or to continue working within the organization.
In this way, women become more independent, learn about their rights, receive education around health, learn new skills, and can earn money to support their family while working with other women. This empowerment helps to reduce domestic violence because women receive more appreciation.
With MUNIMUNI, I support several of those organizations that support these women. Such organizations and NGOs already exist. With MUNIMUNI I hope to create a broader platform for these already existing organizations, and narrow the gap between these Nepalese women and the consumers, with the use of photos, videos, interviews, and stories behind.
With sharing the videos I recorded, the photos, the many interviews with the women, and "The stories behind", my aim is to show you what's behind a product. Transparency is one of the Fair Trade principles. The purpose of the "#Whomademy...." campaign was to bring more awareness: "What is really behind a product?".
My aim with MUNIMUNI is to bring this transparency to you as a customer, showing you the process behind, allowing you to "meet" the women this way.
I hope to narrow the gap between you as a customer and the women who make the products. I do think the conversation doesn't need to end with "I made your...". The conversation can go both ways. For me personally this means keeping close contact, visiting the organizations and NGOs regularly, and being in touch with them. It becomes more of two-way communication when they know who I am as a customer, working together on samples. For you, this could mean to respond back with the #Thankyou card, which I add the product. I will let the specific women know these responses to their beautifully made products. It has been so great to share the appreciation for the products, from the customers, to the women who make these products. Up till now, it brought many smiles and hope it will help in their self-asteem.
Some of the organizations and NGOs I work with hold a Fair Trade label, like WSDO (handweaving) and Manushi (tie-dye products). The company WOVEN does focus on empowering women, but without having a Fair Trade label. They use similar principles at the workplace but didn't go through the long process of striving for a Fair Trade label. They pay attention to these guidelines by paying a reasonable income, ensure there is no child labor, paying attention to proper working conditions, and show transparency in their work.
The NGO Samunnat also doesn't hold a Fair Trade label. They offer much support to women who became victims of domestic violence who live in poverty or women who are vulnerable due to other reasons. Samunnat offers skills-training, legal assistance when necessary, and much more.
I think it is essential to know both 'how,' and under which circumstances a product is made. I think a "fair product" can be both Fair Trade, as well as non-fair Trade.
MUNIMUNI stands for equality, transparency, "Fair Trade" and "Fairly made," while having respect for the environment.
HattiHatti is another organization dedicated to empowering women from marginalized communities. Through education and practical training, the women get the opportunity to become skilled tailors and independent. For the HattiHatti products, the women "upcycle," or recycle old saris (traditional clothing of the Nepali woman), into beautiful bow ties and ties. In this way, these bow ties and ties, support the independence of the women, and as well the environment.
Our other environmentally focused products are the eco-print scarves and kimonos, made by Bora Studio. Meena Gurung, works by herself in her studio in Kathmandu, as a fashion designer. She creates the most beautiful eco-prints on natural fabric, for which she uses leaves and raw materials. Stunning results, while causing minimal harm to the environment.
And it doesn't stop here. I'm happy to also work together with Shanti and Sara, mother and daughter, who run Kakani Himalayan Natural Dyes. KHN Dyes is a venture, providing work for 25 women. These women are trained in the skills of natural dyeing and other skills. They create the most beautiful colors out of raw materials like madder, lac, myrobolan, rhubarb, onion skin, rhododendron, and many more ingredients. Natural dyes are healthy for the skin and the environment.
All the other stories are about women in Nepal, whereas this story is about a young Dutch woman, who lost a piece of herself (call it sanity) in Nepal, during her travels there.
It was April 2015, when I had just joined for a 10-day introductory course into Tibetan Buddhism in Kopan Monastery, just outside of Kathmandu.
Days were filled with meditation and teachings by a Buddhist nun, on different topics such as living and dying, karma and reincarnation, and (of course) suffering. It was a time to dive into your own mind and to ask yourself how you feel about these subjects—and also, a time for reflection. Just a few days after leaving the monastery, I went on trekking towards Langtang Valley.
I met so many kindhearted Nepali people and children along the way, in the mountains and the small villages where we spent the night.
The day after returning from this beautiful trek was the 25th of April, 2015. Unfortunately, a day, which changed everything. A disastrous earthquake of 7.8Mw. hit Nepal. That day, 9.000 people, and most likely many thousands more died. Because many rural villages aren't even located on a map and cannot easily be reached, even on foot, it is unclear how many actually lost their lives. Many families never heard of their loved ones again.
It was confronting to see death, suffering, and loss from so close. At the same time, it was terrifying, as the aftershocks were continuing every day and night, which made you feel unsafe wherever you went and made sleeping outside necessary. It was a harrowing experience, but an experience that has changed my life and my view on life completely.
Returning to The Netherlands after this sabbatical I had taken, I went back to my previous work as a Physiotherapist. I struggled with getting back into the work. What were those patients complaining about waiting lists of a few weeks? I had seen different problems and found it hard to put this into perspective.
Having been back home and at work for a few months, I could still feel the urge to go back to Nepal. I wanted to see where I could help. A second sabbatical was not an option, so I quit my job and went back to Nepal.
It was quite a decision to make, leaving the safety of a permanent job and my apartment, but my gut-feeling told me this was the right decision. So, with my backpack, a bit of money, and a rough plan, I flew back to Nepal in November 2015.
I had just come back from 5 months of travelling and didn't have much time to save up again, so I knew the word these months would be "simplicity," with emphasis on "simplicity." ;)
I started my stay in Nepal at the place where I had found so much during my last visit: Kopan Monastery. Every November, the monastery organizes a one-month course in Tibetan Buddhism, where around 250-300 people from all over the world come together to follow the teachings in Tibetan Buddhism.
You might read this, and think 'why is she elaborating so much on this time in the monastery?'. Well, this was where my intentions for MUNIMUNI find their roots. I traveled back to stay in the monastery and to see if there was anything I could do for Nepal. It was about half a year since the earthquake, and everywhere you looked, you could see the damages.
Besides some volunteer work, I wanted to do something that could be of help over a longer period of time, and give support, not just in one place. I think, in a way, I also wanted to commit myself to Nepal and its people. I often joke, "MUNIMUNI is a good excuse to come back to Nepal," and for me it truly is.
April 2015, I lost a piece of myself in Nepal, and I've been coming back since.
The name MUNIMUNI, has its roots in The Shakyamuni Buddha Mantra, in which it means "sage," or "wise one". I learned about this mantra in Kopan and felt a strong connection to it. I do hope that in using the name MUNIMUNI, I am not offending anyone.
My intention for this enormous project found its roots during my time here, during a time of pondering and reflecting.
Interestingly enough, in the Tagalog language, "Muni Muni" means "to reflect, to ponder or engage in deep thought."
When my "cargo-guy" and friend in Nepal heard the name MUNIMUNI for the first time, he started to laugh. In the Nepalese language, you use "munimuni" to call little mountain goats, in an affectionate way. You might guess.. telling Nepali people the name of my store, always brings up some laughter and a smile, to hear how I named my company, to how you affectionally call after a cute herd of mountain goats.