a touch of independence
Mr Chiranjeevi Poudel’s dream was to help people who were like him; to be able to function in society independently. This resulted in the beginning of an innovative yet sustainable business, through the art of massage therapy.
I bet they would not let me in. They would probably make me fail, even though I have a Bachelors Degree in English,” said Mr Chiranjeevi Poudel, who is fully blind, on the prospect of applying to be a primary school teacher.
This 31-year-old’s initial dream of being a teacher changed in 2005 after a British couple, Rob and Susan Ainley, came to him and a few other blind students about the idea of starting an organization that trains visually impaired people in massage therapy – known today as Seeing Hands Nepal.
After a year and a half at Seeing Hands (the first one was established in Pokhara), Mr Poudel completed his training and earned the trust of the couple. They then gave him the responsibility of teaching newcomers too. In 2010, Mr Poudel realized that only 30% of their customers were trekkers that frequent the Annapurna circuit, and 70% of the people actually resided in Kathmandu.
This led to the opening of the start-up Seeing Hands Massage Clinic in Kathmandu in November of 2010.
About 50 60% of the money paid by clients is set aside to serve as funds for scholarships for new students and for the construction of new clinics. Renovation and expansion plans have been in progress, with talk of opening a new branch in Patan in mid-April of this year.
“The more businesses we have, the more progress we make, the more money will be collected, and again more clinics will be open.” This method of sustainability, explained Mr Poudel, will allow more job opportunities for students.
A typical training course for a Basic Diploma takes about a year. There are currently only four massage therapists working in the Kathmandu clinic, including Mr Poudel himself, who has been doing this for eight years.
The application process to work here is extremely selective. To qualify for the course, applicants have to have basic education, fluent in spoken and written English and most importantly, not hold any form of scholarship or employment.
‘Why massage therapy’ some may ask.
“The training made me realize that this is the only job for blind people that we can do without relying on other people,” said Mr Poudel. “For instance, if I was a teacher, I would have to ask people to check examination papers and or even prepare questions. How can I trust that nothing is altered? In the massage room, we can communicate with customers ourselves and solve our own problems.”
Mr Poudel’s efforts paid off when he was awarded the Surya Nepal Asha Social Entrepreneurship Award in 2012 as recognition. for his efforts to address the challenges and lack of employment opportunities for the blind. After his win, support for the Seeing Hands Clinic has poured in. Organizations like Helvetas Nepal and Vishal Group have respectively offered to provide more scholarships for the trainees and assist in the development of training centers and clinics.
His end game is to ultimately train at least 100 blind people within the next 10 years. As much as he wants to help all of the blind in Nepal, his goal is focused on helping only the educated ones for now. This is due to the fact that the course in massage therapy theory requires a certain level of comprehension for difficult terms in anatomy and physiotherapy.
An individual cannot take all the responsibility. I will be very happy if other people would do something for the sake of the uneducated blind community.”
In the long run, he hopes to develop sustainable methods and continue setting up more clinics all over Nepal – in places like Lumbini, and even progressing up the mountains to areas like Namche Bazaar and Lukla.