SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP BLOG SERIES ISSUE NO. 5: Seeing Hands- A special sense of touch

By Bikas Udhyami (Anusha Neupane)
September 4, 2017

"When you touch a body, you touch the whole person, the intellect, the spirit, and the emotion."

Are you thinking of relaxing your mind and body after a tiresome workweek, after a long journey, hike, or trek through hills, and have been looking for a place that provides a body to rejuvenate your body and soul? Then “Seeing Hands” might be the perfect choice for you! A massage clinic led by visually impaired persons, “Seeing Hands” has branches in Pokhara, Thamel and Patan. “Seeing Hands” provides three types of massage treatments for relaxing the body and mind. "Seeing Hands, means that, though we are not able to see through our eyes we see through our hands," says Chiran Poudel, the founder of Seeing Hands and the first visually impaired therapist in Nepal.

Bikas Udhyami talked with Mr.Chiran Poudel to find out more about this initiative.

How did the initiative start?

Rob and Susan Ainley, a British couple, which used to visit Nepal in the 1990’s realised the enormous possibilities of massage Therapy. In 2005, the couple found out that there is an organization in Cambodia working on massage therapy and run by visually impaired people. Thus, bringing the same idea back to Nepal, Seeing Hands was established in Pokhara in 2005 with the support of a local person, Mr. Kul Bahadur Acharaya. I was the first student and visually impaired therapist in Pokhara.

After working as the trainer and professional therapist there, I thought why not establish my own enterprise? Searching for my own identity, I established Seeing Hands Clinic in Thamel in November 2010. Likewise, after the success of the Thamel clinic, we established another branch of the clinic in Bakhundol, Patan in 2014. In the coming months, we are also expanding our business to Bouddha and, we are planning to expand it to Chitwan in the future years to come.

What is your Business Model?

We are a social enterprise and run on a business model. We do not depend on foreign aid or anything like that. We sustain on ourselves. Our main operation, the massage therapy is the only source of income. We divide the revenue generated from the services to our clients into three parts:

1. Operational Cost: This covers all the operational activity.

2. Therapist Fee: This includes salary of the therapist. We are the best salary provider to visually impaired people in Nepal.

3. Reserve Fund: The money besides operational cost and Therapist fee are included in the reserve fund. We provide trainings to visually impaired people through this fund. The food and accommodation throughout the training period is compensated through this fund. Similarly, if any of our trainees wants to establish their own organization we use that fund. We establish the Bakhundol, Patan Branch with the funds generated from the Thamel Branch and the Bouddha Branch is being established by our trainees as a franchise of Seeing Hands.

How is this initiative is different from others?

Unlike, donor dependent organizations for visually impaired people, we create opportunities in a sustainable way. We provide training to visually impaired people in massage, develop them into professional therapists, and prepare them for leading an independent life and business. We not only provide free trainings to visually impaired people, but also bear all the expenses incurred like food accommodation during their training period. We have created 27 professional visually impaired therapists till date and 23 are working with us in different branches.

Photo credit: Simon Paudel

How do you find the probable visually impaired therapist?

We locate the probable therapists from educational institutions where visually impaired people are studying and other organizations, which have accessibility to visually impaired people. However, word of mouth is the most powerful tool to spread our message. As I have already mentioned, we are the best salary provider in the sector for visually impaired persons. We are also able to create a notion that visually impaired persons cannot only pursue a teaching career, but that there are other jobs too for visually impaired people that they can do very well.

What kind of changes do you see in the lives of therapists?

First of all, our business has provided a good opportunity to visually impaired people by opening the door to an enormous array of possibilities for them. We have been able to make positive changes in the life of visually impaired persons. It would have been best to ask some therapist working here. However, if I have to say as an employer, I would say that they have gained independent living skills, the ability to support their family, a sense of self respect, trust building and self-confidence within themselves. Likewise, the way other people look at visually impaired persons is changing, which has brought positive motivation to the lives of the visually impaired.

Who are you major customers and what are their feedback after your service?

Our major customers are foreigners, who come to visit our country as a tourist. Almost 97% of customers are foreigner and 3% are Nepali local people in our Thamel Branch. Talking about Patan Branch, the ratio is almost 70:30.

We visually impaired people have a good sense of touch, thus we are getting good feedback from customers. We are at the top position at trip advisor.

As we say our customers "don't come only, because of the noble cause but also because they look for quality. Word of mouth communication spreads so fast that there are customers visiting our clinic, because of other customers. Therefore, we are lucky in terms of customer feedback.

What are your key successes and challenges?

Opening the door for possibilities for visually impaired is what I see as a major success. We have been awarded the "Surya Nepal Social Entrepreneurship Award", which was one of the happiest moments for us. I think it is our success for being able to gain that trust and recognition from the society. We have been able to create a separate identity in the visually impaired sector as well as doing business. The way society sees us has changed.

Talking about challenges, establishing the clinic in Thamel was a major challenge itself. It was like going against the wind. People started pinpointing negative comments. Why Thamel? Why not any other place? What kind of service do you provide in Thamel? We received lots of negative comments over the word Thamel. Obviously, there were financial challenges at the beginning.

Talking about the Patan Branch, there are challenges from competitors. There are many such clinics around Patan, but I accept challenges and I think that competition increases quality.

What are your future plans and long term goals?

We have a vision to employ at least 100 visually impaired within 10 years. We are planning to get recognition for this training from CTEVT. Likewise, I want to create awareness in terms of the massage sector. There is a lack of people, who can massage well in villages. In every house, there is a need for massage. So, if we can reach the nooks and corners of the country, many visually impaired can get employment in their households. Similarly, by transferring the skills of enterprise development, I want to expand more of such clinics in various parts of the country.

What suggestion do you have to other youths?

Not just wait for government jobs or teaching jobs. There are millions of other opportunities lost while waiting for government jobs. Identify your skills and ability. Take the necessary training and be prepared and develop your own enterprise based on your skills and ability. Don't only blame Government, NGOs, INGOs, or any other sector for not doing anything, think once what have you done for yourself? Whatever you do, be honest, passionate and do it with dedication. At the end of the day, your hard work will really pay off.

Anything else you would like to add about your enterprise?

Don't exercise random judgement. Massage is an alternative medicine therapy. Come with us, take the massage, if you like it share your experience with your friends and family. If you don't like give us feedback, so that we can improve quality. Thank you Bikas Udhyami for this wonderful opportunity.

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