40-year-old Suntali Maya Tamang lives alone in her rented room at Imadole, Lalitpur. She has been working as a tempo driver braving the dusty roads and traffic of the Gwaro-Kalimati route for the past 12 years. Tamang was earning a decent income with her regular tempo trips prior to the lockdown, however, with the pandemic and the nation-wide lockdown that followed in late March, Tamang is struggling to make ends meet. “In the past seven to eight months I have exhausted my savings for rent and food. Now, paying rent and arranging finances for my basic need with my current income is an ordeal .”
29-year-old Binda Thapaliya shares a similar story. Her husband and she, who are both public vehicle drivers in Kathmandu, were earning more than Rs 4,000 per day prior to the lockdown. Their daily income was spent on house rent, tempo battery charge, vehicle instalment payment and other miscellaneous expenses. They would also manage to save a fraction of their earnings. But the pandemic has brought their regular income to a halt with public-vehicle services being disrupted time and again due to lockdown and unavailability of passengers. She says, “Because my husband and I are involved in the same profession, life has not been easy. Savings are running dry while we have to continue to pay our rent and vehicle instalments.”
Hundreds of tempo drivers in the Valley share similar stories like Tamang and Thapaliya. They rely on daily wage income and are struggling because of the pandemic. As per data from Nepal Safa Pariwan Sangh, there are more than 200 female tempo drivers in Kathmandu valley and almost all of them are under enormous pressure. Ram Prasad Ghimire, President of the Sangh shares, “Over 90 per cent of the female tempo drivers are the main bread earners in their families. Many of them are single, self-employed, strong women who have been facing difficulty to feed, clothe and educate their children.”
Suddenly on September 22, 2020, their fate changed. Prabhu Bank Ltd. and Idea Studio Nepal launched the jointly initiated project ‘सहयात्रा समृद्धिको-Partnership for Prosperity. This project is a bid to alleviate problems that women tempo drivers are facing and restore human dignity and uplift financial literacy among them. On September 22, 2020, Rs 1,00,000 was handed over to 10 safa tempo drivers. Tamang and Thapaliya were among the 10. “This is not just a loan it is a huge support for me.
This subsidised loan without any collateral and the low-interest rate will be helpful for me to pay off my debts, pay rent, educate my child and so on.” The loan scheme also focuses on creating financial management and discipline for a lifetime. Thus, she learnt about the loan processes and this is the first time she took a bank loan.” On the other hand, for many, this is their first bank account.
On the day of loan disbursement, 10 joyful faces stood outside Prabhu Bank ATM at Babarmahal with new debit cards in their hands. They were excited and nervous at the same time using an ATM card for the first time.