Seeing Hands Nepal
Seeing Hands Nepal is a social enterprise providing training and employment opportunities in massage therapy for visually impaired people. Operating 3 massage clinics across Nepal, each employing teams of professionally trained blind therapists who provide massage to visiting guests. Part of the fees earned are used to fund the training and employment of more blind therapists so the business can grow and develop. Over 25 blind individuals have now benefited, and their professional remedial massage services are well reputed, with excellent ratings on Trip Advisor and in guidebooks.
- In Nepal, at least 600,000 people are either partially or totally blind. They face a desperate future, entirely dependent on others with limited or no opportunities for education or work.
- In other countries in Asia, blind people have worked as masseurs for centuries, but the profession had never been established in Nepal.
- Blind people are particularly suited to becoming masseurs because they often have a heightened sense of touch and perception.
- There is a strong demand for professional massage services in tourist areas, where many popular Himalayan trekking routes start and finish.
Where it began
Seeing Hands Nepal was set up in 2005 as a UK registered charity by British founders Rob and Susan Ainley, with funding from private donors, charitable trusts, and companies. The project began with a small massage training programme, initially with just four blind students. Their training course, following UK standards, was rigorous and delivered over 18 months by a team of experienced volunteer massage tutors. With support from local hotelier Kul Bahadur Acharya, the first Seeing Hands Clinic was officially established in Pokhara, and the qualified students began working as remedial massage therapists, treating foreign travellers.
Over the next few years, more students were trained and in 2010 Seeing Hands opened a second clinic in Thamel to provide more jobs for a growing team of massage therapists. The goal was to create a self-sustaining social enterprise that could be run by the blind and for the blind. In 2012 that goal was realised, with Chrian Poudel, one of the first students of Seeing Hands being promoted to Manager of the Kathmandu clinic operations, and the business being handed over for him to run.
Today & moving forward
Today the organisation is running independently, with very minimal support from international founders, charity members and volunteers. Since operations were localised, with support from Change Fusion, the team has successfully opened a third clinic in Patan, and begun a training programme with 6 more blind students.
The aim of Seeing Hands is to continue to train, employ and help more young visually impaired Nepalese, with at least 2 more clinics planned for the future.
About Blindness in Nepal
Worldwide, there are over 50 million blind people and a further 180 million suffering from serious visual impairments.The World Health Organisation estimates that 90% of these live in developing countries.
Nepal shoulders one of the largest burdens of global blindness with around 600,000 people to be blind or partially sighted. That figure is expected to increase by 20% per annum.
There are a number of reasons for the high prevalence of blindness in Nepal but poverty is by far the most common cause. With 25% of the population living in rural areas and below the poverty line, access to medical care and education is extremely limited. Causes of blindness include:
- Malnutrition - Vitamin A deficiency(VAD) is the leading cause of blindness in children and pregnant women.
- Corneal scarring - Agricultural workers often get infections when they remove the chaff from the wheat and rice by hand, this material can hit an eye, damaging the cornea.
- Traditional remedies - Locally used remedies for eye injuries include dirty water, honey, mud and even cow dung.
- Civil war - Injuries from faulty weapons and land mines are on the increase.
- Insufficient medical care - 80% of conditions are preventable if caught in time.
Scientists are currently investigating whether the intense UV sunlight or genetic predilections could also be contributory factors.
Impact of Blindness
In Nepal, blindness is not merely a medical issue but a developmental issue with social and economic ramifications.
When a person goes blind in a rural area, he or she can expect to live for about 3 years. In the Himalaya, where there are few paved roads and the terrain is rugged and mountainous, mobility is extremely difficult. No social services exist and blind individuals cannot contribute to family income. Their need for constant care from another family member reduces the family earning potential still further and as a result, many feel that they are a burden to their families and have very little self-confidence. They are marginalized and neglected and often become objects of pity within local communities.
Blind people in Nepal need vocational opportunities that economically empower them & enable them to generate their own income & lead dignified, independent lives. For this to happen attitudes must change and the promotion of new professions for the blind like massage will be essential.
The Seeing Hands team is working to create a unique opportunity for the blind in Nepal, one that capitalizes upon their inherent skills, and offers them real prospects for work and to be rightfully respected within their community.
For more information please see www.seeinghandsnepal.org