It’s our pleasure to introduce EG’s third business, Grameen Urjah. Grameen Urjah (community power) is selling and repairing clean energy (solar lamps and improved cookstoves) in Siraha District, with special focus on women belonging to the Kochila Tharu. Siraha is in the southeast of Nepal, shares a border with India, and has a population of about 600,000 people. Although the central electric grid reaches most villages in the district, most Tharu families don’t have electricity because they can’t afford the connection. They use kerosene lamps for lighting and open fires for cooking.

Screen Shot 2013-09-12 at 2.10.51 PMGrameen Urjah is turning the energy crises in Siraha from a life-threatening struggle into a life-changing opportunity. The business is lead by a team: Lalita Chaudhari and Rajendra Chaudhari. They are selling solar lamps and improved cookstoves to the rural Tharu community of Siraha.

Lalita is a Kochila Tharu mother of two daughters. She has dedicated her life to learning, so she can teach it forward, expanding the horizons for her family and neighbors. This motivated her to get a BA in education, and later work as a librarian. Lalita is a community builder. She wanted access to the outside world, so she helped her community build a library. Before that, Lalita worked with her village’s development committee to install a toilet in every household. Through these good works, she tried to build a strong reputation as mobilizer and advocate for Tharu women and girls. It’s difficult for Tharu women, who are traditionally seen as property of their husbands or fathers, to earn recognition in the social or business world. Lalita was not satisfied with her role as a librarian, or just the wife of her husband. She wanted to be respected as a businesswoman and a change agent in her community, lighting a new path for her daughters and all the Tharu women of Siraha.

So when Lalita met Rajendra, and he told her about Empower Generation, she took the leap that has now transformed her from housewife to CEO! Together, Lalita and Rajendra broke a barrier against women becoming business owners. Grameen Urjah provides a necessary service that is making a difference to everyone and Lalita has become known as a strong entrepreneur in a male-dominated society. She is responsible for all financial and inventory transactions and runs the Grameen Urjah shop, out of her house. Lalita turned her home from a confinement into an opportunity and it’s now famous throughout the district as the place where people can buy life-saving products. Lalita’s family doesn’t use kerosene anymore, and they just bought an improved cookstove to cut down on firewood and smoke. Her home is now busy with neighbors and friends, enjoying the smoke-free and lively atmosphere of a woman-owned business.

GU Photo

Rajendra has been a political leader in Siraha for the past 25 years. He has founded and presided over several development initiatives, including the Sirjana library, National Library Association, the Indigenous Community Federation of Siraha and the Landless Community Problem Solution Committee for Siraha, Saptahari, Dhanusha and Mahotari. When he met Sita and Anya in 2012, he saw the chance to improve the status of women and provide the energy they need to generate income.  For years Rajendra worried about fires caused by kerosene accidents, that would spread through several villages in Siraha. Most village homes in Siraha are very low, with poor ventilation and their roofs are made out of straw. Siraha is in a very hot and dry part of Nepal and getting enough water to put out a fire can be very difficult. Empower Generation provided Rajendra a way to solve an energy crises in his community and combine his social work with earning an income. As the sales manager, he is expanding Grameen Urjah’s reach throughout the district, using his connections to sell to government offices and schools. He is able to support his family for the first time, with his social work. This is a big improvement from his previous positions, which were great for the community, but all unpaid.

P1040968Together, Lalita and Rajendra have big dreams for Grameen Urjah to reach all the rural women who are living without electricity in Siraha and neighboring districts. They’ve already sold 200 solar lamps and a few improved cookstoves and we have no doubts that together they will continue to break down barriers and brighten people’s lives.