“Now I can look at the future with hope”

March 24, 2021

By Padma Kumari Tamata

Padma Kumari Tamata was born into a bonded labour family, in which debts are passed from one generation to the other.  Her life has turned around following ILO-supported skills training in Nepal that aims to rehabilitate former victims of forced labour and empower vulnerable groups.

Photo: Padma Kumari Tamata in her garden © ILO


My name is Padma and I come from Vashi, a small hamlet in Nepal’s far-west Kanchanpur district. All my family was working on a farm as bonded labourers. People call us Haliyas. We were working for the landlord to pay off our debt. This debt came from my parents or maybe my grandparents, I don’t know… But it has never been paid so we continued to work without being paid. All we received from the landlord was a sack of rice and a pair of clothes for a whole year of work. We did not have the freedom to leave him or to make our own decisions.

You know, I never went to school, I was only able to sign my name and do small transactions.

In 2008 the Nepalese government abolished the Haliya system and said we were free. But my people still struggle to find work and means of subsistence.

But my life changed when I was offered intensive skills training to grow off-seasonal vegetables and further trainings on business and life skills.

My family has always worked on the farm, however I realized that we did not know that many things about farming. The training was very useful to learn about seeds, different types of soils, ways to enrich it and the appropriate amount of fertilizer and water that needs to be applied. As a result of the training, I now understand why direct sunlight should be avoided in vegetable farming. Earlier, we took farming for granted and blamed the seed or weather for poor yields.

Eventually I leased a small plot of land from my neighbours in order to grow vegetables.

The first time I went to the bazaar to sell vegetables, I was awfully nervous. My heart swelled with excitement and anxiety. A flurry of questions filled my mind… What if a customer hands me a big bank note and I cannot give them change?

It was a very special day for me, the first day of sales after having started my own business of growing and selling vegetables.

Now I feel I can look at the future with hope.

Demand for off-seasonal vegetables is high in the market, especially, cucumber and tomatoes. Sometimes, people visit my farm to buy fresh produce directly.  Even though I don’t sell vegetables every day, I am still saving some money!


Fast Facts:

  • The ILO Forced Labour Protocol commits governments to take effective measures to prevent forced labour and provide assistance to victims. Fifty countries have already ratified the Protocol.
  • Padma Kumari Tamata was one of 25 women, all former Haliyas identified by the Rastriya Haliya Mukta Samaj Federation and trained in vegetable farming by the Human Resources Centre Bajura, Nepal.
  • The training is supported by the ILO Bridge Project, which is funded by the US Department of Labor.
  • 600 former bonded labourers received training in 14 different trades, including plumbing, tailoring, masonry, house painting, mobile repairing, motorbike repairing, and the beauty trade.
  • More than 60 per cent of trainees started their own businesses.
  • More than half of trainees began earning income for the first time in their lives.
  • Women trainees were able to break into traditionally male-dominated trades such as motorbike repairing.