Here I am, “breaking” all kinds of stereotypes: Muna Ghimire Shrestha

She is the Story

I want to be known as Nepal’s first female heavy equipment operator rather than my name. I was raised in a lower middle class family with two little sisters in Aabukhaireni, Tanahun. My father and mother were farmers. My parent’s farm was the only source of income in our family. I was a good and hardworking student. As my father and mother were getting old, they couldn’t work in the farm anymore. Due to this, we faced a lot of financial problem and I was forced to leave my studies. The circumstances were such that I had to start looking for a job.

It is evident that our society values a son more than a daughter. Because my parents had no sons, our neighbors loved to highlight the difference between sons and daughters. Too many gossipy mouths were always telling my parents that their daughters were useless because we wouldn’t take care of them in their old age and we would not be able to perform the death rituals. All of these apparently was a son’s responsibility and not a daughter’s. I didn’t like when people spoke like this.

Is there any difference in the birth pain a mother goes through regardless of the gender of the child? No.

These gossipy neighbors would also often say that a girl child is not capable to generate an income for her family and be responsible of her family members. I had a burning desire to shut all of their mouths and show them that a daughter can also earn and be financially responsible of her family. After I left school, I went to Nepalgunj for a job. I got a job as an office helper in a construction company (Lama Swadesh Nirman Company).  I never imagined being a heavy equipment operator. While working there, I started to have an interest and curiosity in all the equipment rather than my work. One day the director asked me why I always looked at the equipment. I was 16 then. He told me if I wanted to learn how it works, I could come in morning and evening without hampering my office work. I began to invest my mornings and evenings to learn about the equipment’s parts and how it operates. Looking back, I wonder how I was so courageous.

After six months of my employment, someone who had worked as a heavy equipment operator left that company. Our director came to me and said, “I am losing a lot of business because there is no one who can take responsibility as an operator. Will you take that responsibility?”

I told him I would give it a try. I was nervous and scared at first but gradually I became more confident. This is how I began my journey as a heavy equipment operator.

It all feels so surreal.


The same gossipy neighbors would tell my parents that I had eloped with a man. Every week I had to wait for Saturday to call my parents because it was cheaper than other days. While talking to them, my parents would cry and ask me to return back. I always refused them because I had to earn money and take responsibility of my family.


While working in Kohalpur one time, a journalist wrote an article about me in the daily newspaper, Gorkhapatra in 1999. My father’s friend who usually spoke badly about me had read that article.  He then went to my father and told him what a great daughter he had. When I heard this, I felt like my struggle had been worth it. I had won the battle. I never looked back in my life then-after.


After a certain period, my company suffered a huge loss and all of a sudden, I was unemployed. I knew of a manager at Kalika Construction Company. I called him and went to work there in Narayanghat. I didn’t have a license but they hired me as an equipment operator because they didn’t have another choice. In Nepal there is a provision that in order to get a license for heavy vehicles, one must have a license for four wheel vehicles. I didn’t have a license so they hired a female assistant for me. Basanti Gurung, probably the second female heavy equipment operator in Nepal.  I trained her to operate heavy equipment within six months. After that, I left that company because I wanted to work in Kathmandu.

In Kathmandu, I struggled a lot. I went to different companies to get a job but people usually stared at me. Many said, “Men think thousand times before working as a heavy equipment operator, how do you think you can work as an operator?”


I worked at multiple hydro-power sites. However, I still did not have a license.

Two years after getting my four wheel license, I finally got my heavy equipment license on 2005.  It took me six years to get this license.

One fine day while working on a site, I met Suresh Shrestha. He was the manager of another company. He used to borrow equipment’s from our company. We fell in love and got married. Suresh didn’t know how to operate heavy equipment and initially he was not even interested to learn. But eventually he lost his job and that’s when I trained him to operate these heavy machines as well and we started working together.

At one point of my life, I decided that I needed to work for the government instead of private companies. I applied but learnt that I needed to have finished high school to work in a public company so I re-joined school. I would go to school early in the morning and went to my job by 10AM. After work, I would often go for extra classes to help me. Finally in 2012, I got my high school diploma. Three years later there was a vacancy in the heavy equipment division of the government. I applied and succeeded. 10 months later I was promoted to a senior level position.


IMG_4398Growing up, my mother had to walk long distances to fetch drinking water while my neighbors had access to tap water. I used to feel really bad about it. After working, with my first pay I installed a tap at my house. One time, my father was really sick and the doctors in our town had given up hope. But I worked hard, saved my money and brought him to a hospital in Kathmandu where the treatment was better and he survived. In doing that, I shut the mouth of my neighbors who would say that only a son takes care of their parents in the old age.

People have all kinds of stereotypes about women and about people who work on construction sites. They think women are weak and cannot handle machines. They also think people who work on construction sites are illiterate, and uncivilized. But ever since I was a child I liked to break boundaries. And today here I am, breaking all kinds of stereotypes.



Everything happened for a reason: Laxmi Tamang

She is the Story

When I was small my father left us. I don’t know where he went. My family members spoke about it in our native Tamang language but since I didn’t know how to speak it, I couldn’t understand where he had gone. So, my mother was both my father and mother. When I was still very young, we left our village and migrated to Kathmandu.

In Kathmandu my mother opened a bhatti. She worked very hard and did very well in her job. When we came home from school, she always fed us delicious snacks. My mother was doing so well, that people would borrow money from her. She helped many from our village who would ask her for some loans. Most of these loans have never been paid back to her.


I still remember that day, when I came back from school and she wasn’t there to serve us any snacks. Me and my little sister looked all over the shop but we couldn’t find her. My aunt came to the shop and took us with her. No-one told me where my mother had gone but I listened to my family members speaking and found out that she had been arrested and taken into jail.

Since my family members only speak our native language, it was very difficult for them to look for my mother. They speak no Nepali and so navigating themselves in Nepal’s bureaucratic system is almost impossible. After few months, the police sent us a message saying that we could meet my mother. She was beaten very badly so she was sick at that time. We took some fruits for my mother. When she saw me and my sister, she hugged us and cried a lot. She shared all the sufferings of jail with my aunt. Since then we started visiting my mother every Saturday.

My aunt took care of us when my mother was in imprisoned. But she had a lot of mouths to feed so it was very difficult for her. She was also taking care of some of my cousins. We were often hungry and would do things for money like going to the construction site and collecting nails. We would then sell the nails and buy dalmot for lunch. During our lunch at school, we would eat the packet of dalmot very slowly since we had no other food. We would also go to forest nearby to collect plastic wrappers and make daalo, which we would sell.

One day, we got word that our mother wanted us to come and stay with her in jail. Perhaps because my aunt was having a hard time taking responsibility for us, they decided we should join our mother. I spent some good time in there with my mother and saw the wounds on her body from when they beat her. She was still in pain from the beatings. I then found out that my mother was in prison for smuggling drugs and that her friend and partner had actually turned her in. I also found out that a few months later her partner was also arrested but she committed suicide in prison.

After a month of being in jail, the jailIMG_4325er told us that we should go stay outside of jail so we could study and have a sort of a normal life.We then met Pushpa mamu who took us and we stayed in a hostel not far away. We would come every weekend to visit our mother. I felt really good whenever I would spend time with my mother. She would cook for us and we would sleep together.  I loved the way she cooked food and played with my hair. My mother would also sew clothes, knit sweaters inside jail and earn money that way. She also made new clothes for us during the festivals.

Every time I was sad to leave my mother after the weekends were over she would make me feel better by telling me that the jail is her school and in the same way that I had to stay outside and go to school, she had to stay in jail and finish her school. She said she was getting her education in jail but I would be getting my education in school. She was also very protective of us when we spent time with her in jail because there were many women who were mentally not stable. They would often get violent, cause fights and create problems. I would get very scared in prison when the aunties would fight with each other and the police would come and punish them for fighting. The ones who fought would get tied to a big iron wheel with heavy chains.

Mother thought she would get free after 4 years but it turned out she was imprisoned for 10 years. During those 10 years she was often beaten very badly. She needed an operation for her uterus once and one of her eye went blind as well. She would save the rice, lentils and grains she got as her ration in prison and instead of eating it she would sell it to the other inmates. She would then send us the money. Because of this, she is now very weak and often sick.

After all these years of separation, now it’s difficult for me to readjust to being with my mother. We have a distance between us because of the 10 year separation. I don’t live with her now even though she is out of prison. I still stay at the Butterfly Home at ECDC because I feel like this is now my home. In the art that I do, I try to show the emotional distance between me and my mother. I feel blessed to have a home like the Butterfly Home and to be able to continue my studies and do what I want in my life.

I do however understand that people will do what they can to feel their children. It’s poverty that made my mother desperate and I know she tried very hard to be a good mother and take care of us to the best of her ability.


Fine arts has always been something that I have been interested in. Initially I thought I wanted to study math and be a banker so I would be able to make lots of money for my family, but when I consulted Pushpa mamu at ECDC she reminded me that money is not everything. To be able to do what you love in life is more precious than anything else. So, after finishing high school, I asked her to enroll me in the Fine Arts Program at Kathmandu University where I am studying now.Here, I can share my ideas and things that stress me with my mentor and friends. We often talk about emotions, and how out expression relieves our stress so I think this has been the best decision in my life. Studying art has taught me a lot about myself.


Various family members would often try to put pressure on me by telling me that everyone else my age was earning money and supporting their families but my mother has continually supported me. She says to me, if they are earning money then you are earning knowledge. So don’t listen to them and focus on your studies.

I want to study art therapy in the future. Although I love to paint and make my own work I don’t see the value of staying alone and painting my whole life. I want my skills to help other people, just like my mother and all the other aunties in jail who had immense stress, mental instability and various illnesses. I want to spend my life as an art therapist in prison and I know that Pushpa mamu and ECDC will make this possible for me.

IMG-df8a3170253594d78dc45070bd43a47c-VMy mother reminds me that everything happens for a reason. Even when bad things happen, there is something good that comes out of it. I feel very fortunate to be a part of the family that I now call my own. If I hadn’t gotten a chance to stay here, who knows, maybe I would be one of the thousands of young girls working in the Gulf. When we go back to my village, people are proud of me and appreciate that I am so focused on my studies. Even though my mother suffered a lot, she ended up creating a life for us that is a very good life.

I am very thankful that I didn’t spend my childhood wasting my time but actually learnt how to struggle since very early on. My struggle is my strength now. I know that I am making my own way and that everything will be good.

My name is Laxmi Tamang. I live at the Butterfly Home which is run by Early Childhood Development Center. I am currently an arts student at Kathmandu University’s Fine Arts Program. I am an aspiring artist. And this is my story.


Most importantly, I wish for the betterment of my family: Phoolmaya

Phoolmaya was born in the early 1970s in the Terai region of southern Nepal. Her young mother abandoned her while she was an infant, followed by her father also leaving to pursue a life outside of the responsibilities of being a parent. She was left with and raised by her grandparents, both of whom she experienced a deeply loving relationship with.

A few years after relocating from the Terai to Kathmandu at the age of 11, Phoolmaya’s grandparents passed away, and she was left in the care of an aunt, until she was married at the age of 19. Uneducated and illiterate, Phoolmaya moved with her husband to the rural village of Dandatateri in Sindhupalchok, where the two of them shared a single room home as well as a plot of land.

Phoolmaya’s marriage proved to be the cause of many hardships, as her husband, who was a construction contractor, fell into the world of addiction.

Amidst the years in which she birthed four children, alcohol was a constant in her husband’s life.

As he became immersed in the ways of drinking and gambling, Phoolmaya worked to keep their children’s needs met by doing local labor, filtering sand for plaster, moving loads of stones and cleaning stoves on the side.
Throughout the years, Phoolmaya suffered both verbal and physical abuse at the hands of her husband until, when her third child was four years old, he was convicted and sent to prison for money laundering. He remained in prison for the following 4 and a half years.

Upon his release, Phoolmaya became pregnant with their fourth and youngest child.

A few years later, without consulting her, Phoolmaya’s husband sold their plot of land for 7 lakhs. He spent the money within a matter of months, leaving the family destitute but for the money she earned working labor.

“In April 2015, Phoolmaya was one of the many people in Nepal who experienced the devastation of the 7.6 magnitude earthquake. She and her five years old daughter were inside the house when the earth shook and the house began to collapse around them.”

In a state of desperately wanting to better the circumstances for her three oldest children, Phoolmaya sent two of them to Kathmandu, where her oldest son found work and her oldest daughter, a teenager at the time, took on duties as a domestic worker sewing and cleaning for a family. Finally, through Phoolmaya’s efforts in approaching multiple homes seeking domestic work, she was introduced to a local aid organization through which her two oldest daughters were successfully sponsored to attend boarding school and receive a quality education, as well as the necessities of physical care and nourishment.
Phoolmaya remained in the village with her youngest daughter, who was not yet of age to attend school.

In April of 2015, Phoolmaya was one of the many people in Nepal who directly experienced the devastation of the 7.6 magnitude earthquake. She and her daughter, five years old at the time, were inside of the house when the earth shook and the house began to collapse around them. Escaping the house with their lives intact, a wall of the house came down upon Phoolmaya’s leg, crushing her knee and leaving her unable to return to any kind of labor work moving forward.

Their family home destroyed and her husband’s whereabouts after the earthquake unknown, Phoolmaya returned with her daughter to Kathmandu to join her other three children, now aged 21, 20 and 14.

The five of them are currently living in a single room apartment. While her 20 year old son has a labor job in iron work, the family continues to struggle economically, having nearly been evicted onto the street more than once due to their inability to make rent payments.

Through the efforts of Phoolmaya’s eldest daughter seeking help, their basic needs including rent and groceries are currently being met through the donations of international friends who have offered to temporarily assist them until their economic situation improves. Her daughter is currently in the process of pursuing work overseas as a housekeeper or factory worker in order to support the family.

Phoolmaya’s husband has recently been located in Kathmandu. He has expressed no interest in reconnecting with or supporting their family, and has made verbal threats against Phoolmaya’s physical wellbeing should they see one another again.

When asked what her wishes for the future are, Phoolmaya responds simply. She wants to live happily. She wants to be free from trouble, from the problems that she has experienced, and she wishes to be healthy. Most importantly, she wishes for the betterment of her family, for her children to live without the trouble she herself continues to experience.

To see her children happy.

To see her children succeed.

story & photos contributor: Mandy Glinsbockel