Large sheets of handmade paper dry on racks in the sun at SERRV’s partner Get Paper Industry (GPI) in Nepal. GPI is a remarkable artisans’ cooperative where the members make paper by recycling waste products such as cotton rags and paper, and using natural fibers like banana stems and water hyacinth.
The breadth of GPI’s work, along with its sister organization General Welfare Pratisthan, is an inspiration that reaches far beyond the artisans who make the paper. Milan explained, “Out of every order, 40% is set aside for our welfare fund, which supports four main areas: education, AIDS awareness, income generating activities for women, and the environment.”
GPI has a strong focus on enhancing the lives and the status of women and girls. “I remember one young woman whose husband died within a month after marriage,” Milan recalled. “She was in real trouble, because the support wasn’t there. She came to us and now is doing much better. She can make her own decisions and is more respected now.”
Through a Send Your Daughter to School campaign, scholarships for girls, and the support of five schools which educate 700 children, GPI touches the lives of countless girls in Nepal—a country where the education boys is prioritized.
GPI’s sister organization is also active in promoting AIDS awareness, particularly among long-distance truck drivers on the highways in Nepal. Hand-in-hand with this activity, they work to reduce the trafficking of women and girls by providing them with alternate economic activities including candle making, sewing, and agricultural activities like raising livestock.
GPI cares for people and their communities, and is committed to producing paper in an environmentally-friendly way. They focus on using recycled materials, the paper is dried in natural sunlight, and they have installed a waste water treatment plant to protect the environment. To enhance their community, they have planted more than 4,000 trees. And they conduct art competitions and programs with school children, so they too, learn to protect their environment.
GPI started in 1988 not as a cooperative, but as a family business engaged in traditional papermaking. As the family defined their business’ values, they took the extraordinary step of giving GPI to the artisans to run cooperatively. “We had been following fair trade values for many years,” said Milan Dev Bhattarai, the Director of GPI, a member of the family and now a member of the cooperative, “but this change was the only way we saw to really empower producers.” GPI is now a cooperative of 100 people, giving the artisans a powerful voice in decision making. During busy times, the cooperative can employ up to 500 additional workers.
When asked what he wanted SERRV’s customers to know, Milan said, “Fair trade values should be spread—more people should be educated. It is how the poor and those with hard lives can get better.” GPI is a strong partner for SERRV, and Milan added, “SERRV knows that supporting us is not just about buying products, but about helping in many ways and directions.”