In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8, we sat down with our COO Poonam Gupta to talk about women’s empowerment, female solo travel and more. Here’s what she had to tell us:
What’s your role at Community Homestay?
I ensure that all of the communities running homestays see the maximum benefit from the business and identify the possibilities for growth. I’m always watching for and measuring the social changes that we’re responsible for in the communities.
How many communities are you working in across Nepal?
There are 22 communities and 270 homestay owners in our network. About 359 locals participate in our culture programs, offering guided tours, cooking experiences and other activities for travelers.
How did you first hear about Community Homestay?
My mom is one of 13 women from Panauti who gathered together to establish the homestay there. Most of the women in the group were uneducated. Most of them couldn’t speak English or understand it. I had college in the mornings, but I helped my mom when there were guests at my house. I was really a translator for her, and I knew most of the women from the group, so I became their frontman. I would brief travelers about Panauti and give them a tour of the town.
What did you think about the experience in the beginning?
I was a business student. I didn’t know much about tourism but I really liked meeting people from all around the world. I could learn about their culture. After a year or so, we could see the impact it was having on all of us. The greatest example for me was my mom. She had become more confident. She was earning her own money and learning English. There were so many positive impacts on both the personal and community level.
Can you talk more about what you saw at the community level?
Yes, there has been a drastic change in the women of my village. They are more confident and outspoken now. Those women who had never been to school are now able to communicate in English. With the extra income, their living standard has improved. They are sending their children to better schools and colleges. They are now role models and an inspiration to many of the other women who want to step out and do something on their own.
Have you seen the impact spread even beyond the women who run the homestays?
Yes, the impact is not only on the women but the whole community. There are new job opportunities for many other locals as guides, drivers, trainers and more. We also introduced the 80-20 business module in these communities. Twenty percent of our company profits are set aside in the Community Development Fund, which is used to fund projects for the entire community. This way it’s not just the families involved in the homestays who see the benefit.
What do you see in Community Homestay’s future?
We’re really focused on community empowerment. We work with the rural communities so that we can provide the benefits of tourism directly at the local level. When the women of the community are empowered, their families are empowered too. Ultimately it benefits the whole community. We want to empower as many rural communities as we can.
What do you think travelers take away from a homestay experience?
Homestays are a greater way to connect with the locals and to get to know their lifestyle and culture. Travelers don’t see the authentic Nepal staying at a hotel. They have a lifetime experience staying with local families.
You’re from Panauti. Why should travelers visit?
About 20 miles outside of Kathmandu, Panauti is one of the oldest towns in Nepal. It’s blessed with mesmerizing natural beauty and authentic culture and history. It’s also both a small town and a village. There are such different experiences and things to see in just a few minutes walking through town. People from different castes, religions and ethnicities all live there, so it’s quite diverse and travelers see all of that culture.
In the spirit of International Women’s Day, what are your recommendations for female solo travelers (besides Panauti of course)?
It depends on what they are interested in. If they want to see more of the rural life, they should go to Patlekhet. It’s a farming village, and it’s so picturesque. You can take organic farming classes and then learn to prepare local foods from those ingredients. There’s also a beautiful hike to Namo Buddha, one of the most sacred Tibetan Buddhist sites.
If they are really into nature and wellness, they can visit Nagarkot. Many love to watch the sunrise over the Himalayas from Nagarkot view tower. There’s also a great yoga class, and you can hike to a waterfall or visit one of the oldest temples in Nepal, Changunarayan Temple.
Thanks so much for your time, Poonam! To learn more about Community Homestay’s impact, read more at https://www.communityhomestay.com/impact.