By Shristi Kafle
KATHMANDU, June 23 (Xinhua) -- In two small rented rooms near Kathmandu's Ring Road, more than a dozen women aged between 22 and 40 gather every morning and spend the whole day together.
They all come from different family backgrounds and from different parts of the country. Some have been married for years while others are young, but everyone has one thing in common: they are all burns survivors, with their body parts bearing scars and marks.
They are members of a group of burns survivors called Radhako Burn Ladies Group, initiated by 39-year-old Radha Shrestha, who herself is a burns survivor.
"I know how difficult it is to live in our society with burns. Thus I formed the group in 2010 so that we could share our stories and express our feelings with each other," Shrestha told Xinhua recently.
Since last year, the group has been engaged in entrepreneurial projects, which "has turned our vulnerability into strength," Shrestha said, while making scented candles with her fellow friends.
Shrestha's burns were caused by the accidental explosion of a gas cylinder in her home in 2006. She lost her mother and has severe burn injuries all over her body. Although she was discharged after 39 days in hospital, she could not get back to her previous life and routine.
"People used to gaze at me with fear and shame. I often felt like a showpiece when everyone stared at me on the street and public transport. Later, I gathered my courage and started counseling the survivors like me, which led to the formation of this group," Shrestha said.
The group, which was formed with five members, has 19 members in total now. The group's entrepreneurial activities include exploring the market for handmade products.
They make handicraft items like scented candles, necklaces, earrings and bracelets of beads and crystals and cotton shopping bags and sell them at trade fairs and weekly markets.
They invested half a million rupees (about 4,600 U.S. dollars) to start the work after gaining financial support from friends and communities living abroad.
Burns survivors often face social stigmas in Nepal as they are seen as being helpless and dependent.
Besides the physical and emotional pain they face, they have to struggle through the questions, shame and fear of family members and society.
However, the members of this group are powerful examples who have chosen a path to fight back against social conventions and to be self-reliant and live a dignified life.
Thirty one-year-old burns survivor Sita Bhandari told Xinhua, "People used to look at us with disgrace thinking that we can't do anything as we are both disabled and female. But now, we have been able to shout loudly that we too can do something worthwhile. Although we are physically weak, we have a lot of confidence and we are mentally strong."
Bhandari, who was caught in fire at a very young age in her village in the Dolakha district, lost both of her parents. She has participated in different national and international games as a para-athlete, and said that entrepreneurial work has given her a new outlook on life.
The group has not started selling their products commercially on the market yet, but they have been receiving a good response and demand for their goods from trade fairs. They are planning to register the group as a government body in the coming fiscal year.
The burns survivors said that they have found a new life through the group while entrepreneurial avenues have given them a livelihood option.
"In this group, we are not just sharing our feelings or learning from each other but also enhancing our skills. Now, I feel like I am completely capable of doing something positive in my life, it has given me a great deal of confidence," 25-year-old group member Muna Magar told Xinhua.