SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP BLOG SERIES ISSUE NO. 16: Burn but not Undone; The Story of Radhako Burn Survivors

By Suraj Subedi - Bikas Udhyami
January 21, 2019

How it hurts when your skin exposes to fire. It hurts badly no? And it takes time to recover.

Radha Laxmi Shrestha's life changed after that gas explosion. Home got damaged. She lost her mother and survived after staying months in the hospital. Her whole body burnt not to be recovered again.

But the story is different thereafter. The fire burnt her body, not her courage. She went on starting something of her own not only for her but also for other women burn survivors. And now have been the example of what a burned body can do. There are 19 other burn survivors working with her.

This interview with Radha Laxmi Shrestha, founder of ‘Radhako Burn Survivors’ covers her story of pain traveling through determination and reaching to become an example initiative in the society.

When we went to interview them, they welcomed us from the candle smell made of essential oil, one of the products made of their burnt hands. The pleasing smell plays a symphony in mind. These handmade candles, bangles, beads, earrings, and other gift items handing in the wall pose beautiful smile. We start talking.

Radha Ji, can you tell us something about yourself?

I got a fire accident in 2006. Our house was in Kapurdhara. I remember it was a late night. Me and my mother were in the house. She was in the kitchen cooking something. Suddenly the gas cylinder exploded. The only thing I saw first thereafter was the hospital ceiling. Somebody told me I lost my mother. She survived only 3 days. I got discharged after staying 39 nights at the hospital.

I was totally shattered. I could not return back to that shattred home where I spent my childhood. It took my beloved mother. Destiny had another plan for me.

What did you used to do before the accident?

I was studying but could not complete the inter level study because of the home condition. My drunkard father wanted a son. Poor mother could not give so. He later married another woman and didn’t come back. Mother raised four of us on her own in immense economic crisis.

Before that, I used to work in a guest house run by a Swiss national. I was working there as a manager. Whatever chance I also got there, I went on doing my best. I learned many things. I worked there for 9 years. When everything was about to go well, that happened.

Were you not married?

I was unmarried because I wanted to serve my mother. She got into trouble because she could not give birth to a son. I wanted to prove the society that daughter can do what man is capable to do. I wanted to be by her side forever. Another reason why I didn’t get married is I saw my father misbehaving with mother. He wanted to put her under his feet. Maybe that was not ok for me from my married life. I decided to be single. I am not saying all males are wrong but my situation and observation made me think that way.

After the massive accident, how difficult it was for you to recover and convert your weakness into a strength?

After returning from hospital I was almost blank. The route I have been walking had changed. I had to find the new one. There were some organizations who were working form burn survivors. I contacted them and visited to meet other burn survivors with me. That gave me feeling that I was not alone. I also had to go to Susma Koirala Hospital at Sankhu for my regular check-up. I also met other survivors who came there for the treatment. We used to talk. Share each other’s pain. Dr. Andreas Settje, a German national was our doctor. He was so worried about our condition.

During that time, I used to think to start an independent initiative that would help survivors like me and that would be self-sustaining. I had a belief that if we can learn skills and that would help us if we go professionally. I shared this concept to Dr. Settje and he was happy enough. He also promised us to manage some money till we set up our business and start earning a profit. That gave us a big boost. Muna Magar, Restha Kc, Sunita Maharjan, Padam Dhimal, Gayatri Tamang and myself, we 6 sat in a meeting and decided to move ahead. This is how Radhako Burn Survivors started in 2017.

How much investment do you need to do this? Where do you get the raw material?

We struggle sometimes to pay the rent but other machines don’t cost much. It is easy to start from our own home. Candle production needs a small master key to design and put the thread. Packaging is also manageable. For the raw materials, we buy beads from a wholesale shop at Indrachowlk. Then we knit it and make different items. We buy the candle wax from Patan. Everything is available in Nepal.

What kind of products you have now in your store?

We have candles made with multiple flavors and types. We also produce small to big sized candles to be sold as gifts. Another thing we have is gift items made of beads. We make a necklace, bangles, key rings, small bags etc from it. These items too are available in multiple designs and colors. Candle pricing starts at Rs. 100. We have both scented and non-scented versions can be used for different occasions. Products made of beads also start from Rs. 25 up to Rs. 500. We rate everything at reasonable price. We also prepare Christmas decorations.

Where did you take the training to do all these things?

We have not taken any formal training from anywhere. We learn from YouTube and discuss together to replicate the learning in our designs. We also use the traditional skills that we learned from our parents. Now Muna Magar, Sunita Gole and I see the daily operation here. We meet every Saturday and work on the designs. We have now 19 people including me working with us. All of us are burn survivors.

How you are running your business? Have you taken any donation?

We first make these goods and went on searching the market. As I said earlier, Dr. Andreas managed us a small donation from Manmaya Maid, e.V German organization to help us grow and built our business. With their support, we are focusing to grow our market. We visit every trade fairs and festivals possible with our products. We get such information from our own friend circle. For the first time, we went to trade fair organized at Hotel Heritage organized by the Federation of Women Entrepreneurs of Nepal (FWEAN). This was helpful for us to connect to our potential customers. After that organizers like them call us. It is a good opportunity for us to sell our products.

Who are your customers? How has been your outcome till now?

Now we are targeting only Nepali customers. We want our products to go in the market and make space by themselves. We are working to build the foundation. Till now we have not earned that much profit. But as our primary focus now is to sustain this a bit, so that we can be strong for the supply. I am expecting lots of other women to come with us. We are almost in a position to cover our monthly expenditure on our own. The organization is providing us with the monthly amount for sisters beginning from Rs. 3000 to 11,000. Now we are registered as a business. Hopefully, we could be able to pay to our sisters soon.

What has been your greatest impact till now?

The major thing is this place is becoming the space where lots of burn survivors like us come together and work. They now believe that they can do many things despite odd reality. You can see we have a sister who has lost almost all fingers, but she is also making candles. The design that she can carve is wonderful. We have accepted our condition and went on living from there regaining the confidence. We visit the fairs in pride and show/sell whatever we have done. This is different satisfaction.

And with all the appreciation we receive, we now are confident that society will listen back to us. We now feel that we belong to this society.

What message do you want to convey to the public?

As you have seen, most of us survived their greatest scare of our life. Some of us have no complete hands. We have to go through lots of hardship to come to this stage and do something. If people like us can do this much with our several limitations, then other people who are able could also do much to serve the society. They should appreciate our effort so that many others who are not able to come out of home could come.

And to the people who do kitchen works, they really should be careful while using electric and gas products. It can do serious damage within a second.

For more information:

Facebook Page: Radhako Burn Survivors

Contact number: +977 9851197855.