Chamsen SHG (Self Help Group)

Once part of the ancient Silk Road that linked India with China, the Middle East, the Mediterranean and Europe, the Nubra Valley runs parallel to the Ladakh Valley and is now home to a CETOP development project in the village of Chamshen.

In 2005, a local NGO called Skarchen travelled through the Nubra Valley to encourage women in various communities to form “Self-Help” groups. The aim was to bring women together to manufacture local products and at the same time gain strength and independence in a changing world. In Chamshen village, population 395, this has been a great success. The women now produce apricot jam and seabuckthorn juice, and sell it to other villages in the Nubra Valley and beyond.

In 2008, the village chief, Tsering Angchok saw the potential of this project and made a substantial loan to the women to build a small workshop and purchase the machinery they required. One year later they had repaid half the loan and were looking to expand and diversify their production.

The women make apricot jam from apricots harvested from their own gardens and from other villages. They also produce juice from a local plant called the “seabuckthorn” (called tsetse lulu in Ladakhi). The plant grows wild in the region and the juice is rich in vitamins C, A, B1 and B2. The products are mainly sold within the Nubra valley, with some going to the Ecology Centres in Leh and Dharamsala. Current production levels do not meet the available supply of both types of fruit. There are bountiful apricot trees throughout the village and the valley, while the seabuckthorn plant grows wild. By-produce from the jam and juice is organic and goes back to the soil.

The SHG comprises 41 women, who are divided into three separate groups. During the short production time in late August, five women from each group work together to make the jam and juice. This ensures the workload is evenly spread and the groups remain harmonious. Revenue goes towards the cost of production and the repayment of their loan. The profits are then divided equally amongst the women. For those with children this money is saved for their future education and health care. The women all hope for their children to have the best education possible, however schooling can be expensive beyond 10th year.

The women say that their lives have changed a lot in the few years that the project has been running. They have learnt how to make jam and juice and how to sell the products. They have learnt how to collect the proceeds, save money and go to the bank. Previously, only men handled money. A particularly important aspect of the project is that it gives strength and independence to the women in a village where many of the men are often absent due to being employed outside (in tourism, armed forces, etc).

In April 2010 the women said they wanted to increase their production of apricot jam and seabuckthorn juice. They also wanted to diversify into different products such as tomato puree and sweets. They also talked about making traditional clothing and baskets. They understand the value of creating Ladakhi products for responsible tourists who want to support local industry.

To achieve this they needed sponsorship to build a new and larger workshop. CETOP decided to get behind this and raise the necessary funds for then to build it. During the 2010 Cranbrook tour of Ladakh one million five hundred thousand Indian Rupees (approx $28000) was handed over to the SHG during a very joyful ceremony in Chamsen. In October 2010, just before the onset of winter, construction was started.

Last August 2011 World Horizons’ Director Matthew Swait visited the Nubra Valley with a motorcycle tour group and reports that progress is well underway on the building. The group was warmly welcomed by the community and given a tour of the construction site. By the end of September the building is excepted to reach lock up.

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