Maya, her daugthers and a sister outside her shop
Maya, her daugthers and a sister outside her shop

Maya was born in a remote village in the Himalayas. Her mother was forced to marry at 9 years old with a 29 year old man and when she was 12 Maya was born. They had 8 children and could hardly afford clothes and they didn’t have any shoes, so Maya and her siblings had to walk barefoot regardless season.

Maya went to school a few years, but soon she had to work to help to provide for the family. She remembers that her biggest dream at that time was to continue school, but it was impossible. She was also very jealous of her school friends who had new clothes and didn’t have to wear their older sisters’ outgrown garments.

Maya walked up and down the mountains, sometimes as far as 15 miles, carrying up to 30 kilos on her back with a strap around the forehead. When she arrived she was never offered a meal, just some water. For all this hard work, walking barefoot, dreaming about an education, she got less than a dollar to give to her parents who struggled every day to give their children food.

Maya making dog leashes from vintage saris
Maya making dog leashes from vintage saris

Maya grew up, got married, had two daughters and moved to Kathmandu. Her husband was abusive and soon he left the family. From that moment Maya has provided for her family all by herself and she has been determent to give her daughters the bright future she never had. For her girls to have the education she dreamed about she started to walk the streets in the tourist area to sell small Chinese bags. In reality she was begging and with her sweet smile and gentle personality she managed to earn enough money to keep a small room and pay the school fees for her daughters even though she had credit everywhere and had to pay the most urgent dues, one after the other.

For the last 15 years walking the streets relying on the kindness of foreigners she has been living under tremendous tension. According to Nepalese tradition the oldest son is responsible for the family, but in this case Maya is and that means she has to give money to her poor parents and provide for her youngest unmarried siblings. They live up to 7 people in the small room she rents with no kitchen, no water and shared bathroom in the corridor.

The first time I met Maya was when we lived in India and went to Nepal to extend our visa. I got to know Maya and immediately felt her honest, kind personality. I was really impressed that she knew how to speak English and she told me she had learnt it over the years talking to passing tourists. Of course I gave her some money. It’s impossible to give money to all beggars, but I felt that if there was someone I wanted to support it was Maya.

When we moved to Nepal I got to know Maya more personally and every time we met I gave her money. I knew it wasn’t helping her in the long run, but I always kept her in mind and hoped for some business with simple handicraft she could make to earn her money in a more proud and respectful way than begging in the streets.

Meeting Maya after the earthquake
Meeting Maya after the earthquake

The 25:th of April 2015 Nepal was hit by a devastating earthquake and I contacted Maya as soon as the phones were working again, to make sure she and her family were OK. They were, but they didn’t have any money and her parent’s mud house in the village had cracked and was too dangerous to live in. I gave Maya some money to take care of the basic needs and then I reached out to our customers all over the world and asked for donations.

The kindness and willingness to help was overwhelming. I cried of gratitude when people I never had met in person sent money and set up benefit concerts and health events to collect money to help our friends. Among many things we were able to do with the donations we could rebuild Maya’s parents’ house and buy her a small grocery shop in her neighborhood.

The day Maya stood there in her own shop, with the pen behind her ear instructing her younger siblings where to put the bags of rice and chips my heart almost burst of happiness. Finally, after knowing Maya for years, I was able to make something life changing for her and her family.

For a few months the shop was thriving and Maya could stop begging in the streets. But then something happened that we never could have forseen. The political situation in the south of Nepal, near the Indian border, exploded. Masses of people were striking and the main border points were closed. At that time we could never imagine the strain it would put on all of us.

My mother-in-law Britt and Maya
My mother-in-law Britt and Maya

Nepal imports almost everything from India and after a few days the lack of petrol and cooking gas was noticeable. The strike just kept on going and the situation was desperate. The petrol prices were sky rocketing, the lines with empty gas tanks got longer by the minute and soon the petrol stations and gas shops closed.

The food prices increased to the point that Maya could no longer afford to buy groceries to her shop. Her business slowed down and she had to get back to the streets begging for money, while her youngest sister and brother kept the shop open in hope that the situation would change any day.

That day finally came, but months later and by that time the shop was almost empty. They had to slowly rebuild it again, but it has been difficult and the commerce hasn’t been the same as before the strike.

I’ve had some smaller business opportunities to give Maya and her family handicraft work and with the help of Earth Divas we can now start a new chapter in Maya’s life.

Kesh Maya

Kesh Maya

Kesh Maya had a similar upbringing like Maya, but in another village. The big difference is that Kesh Maya never went to school. Her parents didn’t think it was any use to send her to school since she was a girl. They were poor and only prioritized education for their sons. Kesh Maya spent her early years helping out in the household.

To tell the rest of her story I also need to tell about her husband Prem’s life.

When we moved to Nepal we often went by taxi since it’s a fairly cheap and easy way to commute in Kathmandu. Prem and his family lived in our neighborhood and he was driving a taxi, so after going with him a few times, we got his phone number and called him whenever we wanted to go somewhere.

We were invited to his home and got to know Kesh Maya, even though she doesn’t speak a word of English, their son and daughter and Prem’s adorable mother who is, according to Prem, 95 years old. Here in Nepal people rarely know how old they are, so 95 is probably not entirely correct, but she is very, very old.

All of them live in a tiny room with an attached tiny kitchen and it’s always very tidy and clean.

Prem has told me that he was very much in love with a girl in his village who he intended to marry, but the night after Holi, the festival of colors, she unexpectedly died in her sleep. He was completely devastated and to make matters even worse his father got hit by a bus and died short after. At this point Prem was in deep depression and refused to leave the house. Weeks passed by and his mother was sick of worry, trying to figure out how she could help him.

One day Prem’s mother brought a stranger to their house, a young Kesh Maya. She was now 18 and ready to get married and the mother thought she could get him out of bed and back to life. But Prem reacted with panic and escaped to Kathmandu. Prem and Kesh Maya was seen as married by the community even though they never had a formal wedding.

Prem started working as a trekking guide and soon he met Emma from UK and fell in love. Along the way he did his duty and had two children with Kesh Maya, who still lived in the village with his mother.

Kesh Maya and her daughter Muna is making necklaces of vintage saris
Kesh Maya and her daughter Muna is making necklaces of vintage saris

Prem married Emma and tried to live in UK for five years, but he could never come to terms with the western lifestyle. Emma lived for some time in Nepal, but she felt isolated and missed her life in Europe. Finally they decided to separate, but they are still the best of friends.

I can’t even begin to imagine how Kesh Maya felt about all this, but growing up without education and no input from the outside world makes her thoughts so different from mine. Was there any jealousy? Was she missing Prem? Did she feel abandoned? It’s hard to say. These complex emotions are difficult to put words on.

It’s easy to blame Prem for leaving Kesh Maya and the children for a few years, but Prem is one of the good guys and the traditions and expectations from the community is very different from what we are used to.

A lot of young people are still forced in to marry someone in their own caste they don’t know and love and divorce is very rare. Sometimes they fall in love and strive together as a family, sometimes they walk alongside each other on the bitter road and sometimes they leave their spouse to live with someone else. Since divorce is a shame they separate and leave the family behind with no obligations.

Prem took his responsibility and moved Kesh Maya, his children and his mother for a better life in Kathmandu. Kesh Maya has never had a work outside the home. She is very shy, but I’ve always hugged her when we meet and now she knows what to expect every time we see each other.

Prem has his taxi and some trekking trips, but giving the children a proper education is hard for them financially. The daughter Muna, Moon, is now going to college learning computer science and we are all very proud of her. One of our regular customers in The Netherlands, dear Diana, donated enough money for us to buy a computer for Muna, so she can study properly.

Kesh Maya has to stay home and take care of Prem’s mother since she is so old now that she is not able to walk and only stays in the house. Therefor it’s impossible for Kesh Maya to get a job and help Prem provide for the family.

For the last year I’ve been able to give Kesh Maya some handicraft work she can do at home and the tears of gratitude in her eyes she gets every time I give her the payment, money she has earned all by herself, is just heartbreaking and I always wish I could give her more work.

With the help of Earth Divas I can now give work to Kesh Maya so she can earn her own money and feel proud about herself. A very important feeling every human being should be able to experience.


Nicholas, Ani and Leya 2015
Nicholas, Ani and Leya 2015

The difference between my life and Maya and Kesh Maya’s is like we have been living on different planets.

Growing up in Sweden, with free school and a government taking care of their people’s basic needs makes life a lot easier and structured to the edge of boredom. But did I go for easy? Not a chance!

I grew up on a farm, a few miles from the nearest village, with my mother, father and younger sister. My childhood was a bit isolated, but we had lots of animals and for the most part of my school years my sister and I was in to horses.

As a 19 year old I joined the Navy, as one of the first women and it was really tough. A few years later I started working as a night guard and again it was really tough to get a foot inside the men’s world.

The workers union got my attention and at the age of 25 I was recruited to a one-year, paid, special training as an Ombudsman with a guaranteed employment. Yet again I was one of the pioneer women in the profession and on top of all I was the youngest Ombudsman employed in that particular workers union.

When I look back I was burned out only after one year as an Ombudsman, but I was really stubborn and didn’t take any notice of the signs. I had a really high profile job, high salary, a company car and I had met my wonderful husband Nicholas. I was determent to keep going and so I did for the next 7 years, with conflicts, desperate, crying, angry workers and nonchalant, inhuman employers. At that point I couldn’t sleep at night, my stomach and head was in constant ache and, worst of all, I started to lose my waist long, thick hair.

The 5:th September 2005 I collapsed in our hallway and couldn’t get up again. I had hit rock bottom and my life was never going to be the same again.

After a few months of resting and thinking I got out of bed and decided to start climbing up to the surface again. My mother helped me shave off the last of my hair and I buried it next to our long lost pets and I cried my heart out. For a long time I just sat there on the ground looking out over the lake and cried loudly, like I’d lost my best friend. Then I threw the wig in the closet and it hasn’t seen daylight since.

Losing yourself, both on the outside and the inside, is a big trauma, but after all these years I’m grateful I had to go through it all. Thanks to the burnout I had to change my life and live it my way and not to please or impress others. This life is too short to worry about things. I’m happier and appreciate life in a completely different way. I know love is the most important thing in life and thanks to losing my hair we now live our dream life in Nepal.

Who can resist a comment like “Nice hairstyle!” when you are completely bald.