One of the prevailing problems in Nepal is the lack of economic opportunity. The majority of people lack vocational skills and basic education, and the society lacks jobs. At nearly 42% unemployment, income generation is an immediate concern for most families. Building earning power is a primary focus of Changing Lives Nepal, whether through organic cash crops, training in CEB natural building technology, or our latest program: gem-cutting skills. SODEC Director Parshu Dahal is creating a collaborative public-private training program by bringing CLN together with a government program sponsoring people whose homes were destroyed in the 2015 earthquakes, a local college to organize and deliver training, and the Nepal gemology center.
Why gem-cutting? Currently, 70% of craftsmen in the gem cutting industry are hired from India/Bangladesh due to the lack of skilled labor in Nepal. Nepal has deposits of gemstones (particularly tourmaline, sapphire, kyanite, and garnet) and a well-developed jewelry-making industry. However, gems are generally sent to India for cutting and then brought back to Nepal or are cut by foreign workers within Nepal. Beginning to train Nepalese people in gem-cutting means adding value within the country and creating jobs.
Highly skilled gem cutters earn over $7000 per year, which is substantial money in Nepal, where annual per capita income averages only about $1500 per year. Unskilled laborers generally make less than $1000 per year, so creating the opportunity to learn a skilled craft is highly valuable. Some of the teachers for the program are owners of large gem businesses, and they are ready to hire participants who successfully complete the program. This will ensure both employment and the opportunity for sufficient practice to improve skills. Initial salaries are estimated at $1300 per year, bringing participants above the poverty level, and salaries will increase as skill improves. The training program will continue in years to come, with the possibility of developing a vocational college degree program in the long run.
The new gem-cutting training program fits squarely with our mission: it is innovative, focused on alleviating poverty, and spearheaded by local Nepalis wanting to make a difference. The pilot program started this fall with 7 students and has expanded with 20 more students only a month ago. The students were selected with a range of criteria including: unemployed, from an underprivileged ethnic community, unable to continue higher studies, and from districts across Nepal. The government will provide scholarships for most of the students. CLN invested $1500 to help purchase initial machines and start the program. We need an additional $1500 for the next set of machines and training in 2017!