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Umsang – A village of yathra-weaving women

A centre, first set up by YVIA, and later constructed by YDF, has helped transform lives

Lifestyle: Leading a village life as a single mother of two school-going children is difficult for Lhamo Yuden of Umsang village in Chumey, Bumthang.

Lhamo has been a single mother for the past 10 years, after she divorced the father of her children.

While farming is already tough for Lhamo Yuden, increasing wild animal attacks on crops and Umsang’s steep topography make the profession look even bleaker.

Umsang is a small hilltop village located behind Tharpaling monastery.

“Even if crops were cultivated, the wild animals would damage everything,” Lhamo Yuden said.

And sharecropping which the villagers of Umsang practice cannot be relied upon for half the harvest has to be shared with the landowners.

“Since majority of the adult population in Umsang is either divorcees or widows, yathra weaving is the only doable and reliable source of income for us,” said Lhamo, adding most of the six households have at least two or three school going children to raise.

Only two or three households have male family members.

“Even these men hardly stay in the village, as most leave for construction works,” a weaver from Umsang, Dechen, said.

Eventually the community gave up farming completely to rely on yathra.

Weaving yathra, however, had also become a problem without a proper shelter for the weavers of Umsang.

According to the weavers, yathra weaving earlier was possible only outside, as its presence inside homes produced wool dust, causing illness for family members like the flu.

“But weaving outside was also affected by unfavourable weather conditions like cold, rain and snow in winter,” Dechen said, adding it took almost a week to complete three metres of yathra in the open, as frost and rain in the mornings prevented weaving.

The villagers could also not weave at night.

But circumstances changed for the weavers in 2010.  Students of Young Volunteers in Action (YVIA) from Chumey middle secondary school helped to build a small house as an interim centre for the village.

Conditions further improved when Youth Development Fund president, Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Tshering Pem Wangchuck visited Umsang in early 2011 and instructed that a better centre be constructed.

Accordingly, a single storied centre was constructed which the weavers started using from 2012.  Known as the Gakid yathra weaving centre, it has provided weavers with shelter from rain, cold and darkness.

“After the YDF constructed the centre, the weavers are completing the three-metre long yathra in two days,” Dechen said, adding the weaving is expedited by the centre, as the weavers can weave round the clock even late into the nights.

With the establishment of the centre each weaver can complete at least 15 pieces of yathra monthly.  According to the weavers their monthly income has risen to Nu 10,000-15,000, depending on sales from just over Nu 7,000-8,000 before.

“Though it’s still difficult to make ends meet with the income from the weaving, it’s far better than before when I was financially worse off,” Lhamo Yuden said.

The centre has also helped students from Umsang to earn cash from weaving in winters.

“Every winter, the school-going girls from here weave yathra to earn cash to finance school expenses,” a student from Usang, Sangay Choden, said.

With the establishment of the centre, the yathra tradition is also likely to continue in Umsang, as most of the children from the village are females, she said.

Meanwhile, the community is now challenged with a dropping profit margin from the rising costs of raw materials like wool.

“Difficulty in selling the products and rising costs of the raw materials are our new constraints now,” Namgang Dema said.

YDF coordinator, Chimi Dhendup, however, is working on improving the marketing network of yathra from Usang.

“We’ll also try to explore dairy farming as an alternative source of income for the community,” Chimi Dhendup said.

YDF handed over the Gakid yathra weaving centre to the community recently.

By Tempa Wangdi, Umsang

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