URBANDALE, Iowa (AP) — When a 2015 earthquake struck Nepal, killing more than 9,000 people, including 19 climbers on Mount Everest, and causing up to $10 billion in damage, Dr. Anil Regmi wanted to help.
A Des Moines-area vet born in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, Regmi wasn’t sure how to contribute.
“If I just donate money, it won’t work because of corruption,” Regmi said in an interview with The Gazette. “So I said ‘Why don’t I just start my own business?’.”
He first started with yaks, shaggy animals known for hauling heavy loads across the Himalayan mountains.
On a trip home, Regmi bought several yaks and found Nepalese who lived in the mountains to tend the animals.
His plan was to use yak milk to make churpi, a hard cheese fermented for a smoky taste. People in the Himalayas eat churpi, but it’s also a high-protein treat for dogs, Regmi said.
The cheese, which looks like small wooden slabs, is sent from the mountains to Kathmandu, where it is stored in Regmi’s childhood home. Once there is enough for a shipment, it is barge and trucked to Urbandale, where Regmi packages it as pet chews.
The treats are sold at Regmi’s veterinary practice, online at UrbanPetSupply.com and at Des Moines-area Hy-Vee and Fareway stores, he said.
“I don’t make money on it,” Regmi said. “Pretty much everything made is spent there.”
In 2020, Regmi decided to invest in Araniko Art & Craft, a small factory in Kathmandu that manufactures felt products including slippers, gloves, hats, coasters and decorations.
If you’ve ever bought a felt Christmas tree decoration or a garland of colored felt balls, chances are it came from Nepal. More than a million Nepalese are involved in the handicraft industry, which accounted for 20% of the country’s exports in 2018, according to WorldBank.org.
Wool felt is not woven with yarn. Instead, Araniko workers – mostly women – gather handfuls of colored sheep’s wool and rub it on plastic mats with soap and water until the fibers bind together into one. new substance, what we think of as wool felt.
Once the pieces of wool are joined together, they enter a machine that looks like a clothes dryer, spinning the water from below. The pieces are then dried in the sun before the decorations are sewn by hand.
Renuka Shrestha, 42, from Kathmandu, has worked as a felt for 15 years.
“In Kathmandu, there are a lot of felting businesses,” she said through an interpreter at the Araniko factory on September 7, 2022. “I like this job.”
The factory currently has about 15 employees who work from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., but when they have a large order, they may need to bring in temporary staff, said Kumar Pariyar, general manager of Araniko.
“At Christmas the market is busier,” he said. “These mushrooms are going to the United States or Germany. Japan too.
It refers to colorful mushrooms which, when felted and adorned with white spots on their tops, are strung together in festive garlands popular in the United States and Europe.
Regmi sells felt caves for cats through his veterinary practice and online.
These hollow domes are among the largest pieces made at Araniko. They use over two pounds of wool and a felter has to spend about two hours handling the wool to get it to bond into felt.
“When we buy the things, they (the felts) get a living wage,” Regmi said.
He estimates that he has invested at least $1 million in Nepal since 2015.
Regmi applied to USAID, a US government program that leads international development and humanitarian efforts to save lives, reduce poverty and strengthen democratic governance. He would like financial support to buy more yaks to make more churpi.
Regmi thinks that by providing a market for Nepali products in Iowa, without so many middlemen, he makes more money for workers. For example, Regmi is in Nepal this month, traveling the mountains to talk with his yak farmers.
“Most of my customers know what they are buying…they know they are helping Nepalese,” he said.
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