A while ago, I wrote on the rainbo blog how one of the most empowering and exciting elements of running one's own business - however small - is the freedom to choose where you spend your profits. In other words, to be able to give money gained by your toils to the cause of your choice. For me, this is one of the fundamental bonuses of setting up your own for-profit company, and one that is all too often overlooked in the food industry.
From the outset, Ben and I wanted to incorporate giving into our business as a fundamental part of how we do things. Spurred on by the work of Life Water, Blake Mycoskie of TOMS shoes (his book Start Something That Matters is a must for anyone looking to give through businesses both big and small), and Lauren Bush Lauren (of FEED success), a huge part of our motivation for going it alone was to be able to directly generate money for a cause that is close to our hearts. It has taken its time to finalise, as these things always do, but we are very excited to be giving 20p from every meal we sell to the rainbo kitchen garden project, in tandem with Nepalese NGO BASE Nepal. The equation is simple: eat, give, grow.
A small yet highly effective charity, BASE helps educate and support those from the Tharu caste, who occupy the Terai (or Himalayan foothill region) in Southern Nepal. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, their land was invaded by neighbouring groups from India and the Himalaya, and they were gradually displaced. In 1854, Prime Minister Jung Badahur created the Mulki Ain (a land redistribution act which divided land according to caste) and placed the Tharus in the penultimate position, one above the Dalit (or 'untouchable') people. Their land was taken and their position in society worsened in the 1950s when malaria was effectively cured in the Terai region and higher castes in neighbouring areas flocked fast toward their fertile and farmable land. The most common solution for most was to enter into bonded labour in wealthier households, where they are 'loaned' land in return for their work, the price of which is far too high for them to ever feasibly pay off. They can then become indebted for life.
It was not until 2000 that the use of bonded labourers was recognised as an illegal practise by the Nepalese government, and the kamaiya (or labourers) were formally freed and rehabilitated. Unfortunately, the practise still goes on across the country in spite of this, and it is difficult and costly to monitor. Those who do become independent get very little land from the government - often not enough to subsist on - and their communities lack sufficient schooling and resources to fully educate them as to the alternatives to bonded labour. It still goes on today, and BASE are one of the leading charities who rescue and rehabilitate those unlucky enough to have been sent away as modern day slaves by their parents.
In 2009 I went to stay with BASE for two months and saw their work first hand. We stayed in towns and villages and met Tharus from many different districts, among them children who had just been freed from labour in Kathmandu, and kamaiya who had been freed many years ago but were still sequestered to a small government-funded camp where the land provided to grow food was barely enough for a fifth of the community. Providing microfinance schemes, proper rehabilitation, advocacy and better education, BASE have been helping the Tharu people find their feet again since 1990 and their work continues to gain momentum. Through their help, more children can go to school, more women can gain literacy and business skills, and more parents can learn about viable alternatives to sending their children away to work.
It is very exciting for Ben and I to make our pledge to BASE and to start the rainbo kitchen garden project with them. Focused on food - a necessity we very much enjoy but so many do not - we will concentrate on a small group of kitchen gardens in schools and villages, helping them to provide the tools and knowledge to grow their own produce for food and income, with a view to visiting the projects ourselves next year.
So if you like what you see, come eat with us, give through us, and help grow gardens that will make a lasting difference.
Follow Xochi Balfour on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rainbofood