UNAKO is an initiative of the IWEN Charity
IWEN is a non-profit organization registered in Canada and led by a volunteer Board of Directors. Since 2005, IWEN raises funds to help marginalized girls and women in rural Nepal become self-reliant through educational programs such as academic scholarships, literacy classes, mothers support life skills and micro-credit groups.
The adventure began with a trip around the world in 2000. At 53, Michelle Bonneau left with a backpack to explore the world and its cultures. Nepal was a month long stop on her one year journey. Michelle, a teacher and counselor was struck by the unspeakable condition of women in the many countries she visited yet it was Nepal’s women that spoke to her heart. Back in Canada, life took its natural course until Michelle experienced an inner call to work with Nepal’s marginalized women. Five years later, she sold her condo on Lake Okanagan, left her job as director of a Family Counselling Center in Kelowna and moved to Kathmandu to volunteer full time. With the help of friends and family IWEN came into being with its goal to empower women through education and livelihood opportunities.
THE UNAKO PROJECT
Since its inception, IWEN used scarves as a source of financing. Initially, they came from shops in the Nepalese capital, but in 2012, IWEN bought the necessary equipment and trained a group of Tharu mothers so they would be the ones to manufacture and supply IWEN’s scarves. Their creations are named UNAKO which means “her” in Nepali. These Tharu mothers whose meager income depended on daily labor on a landlord’s’ farm now manage a small sewing workshop. They now proudly call themselves “UNAKO Ladies” and have gained more than just financial independence but a new sense of self and a dignity they never believed possible.
The UNAKO project weaves links between the UNAKO Ladies and all those women who wear their scarves. Imagine a woman in Canada or elsewhere in the world, which wears an UNAKO scarf, is actually linked to another woman in rural Western Nepal that is surviving despite the cruelty of poverty. Together, we create a sustainable future for these women who now believe in themselves and have hope for their children’s lives. This is the power of one UNAKO scarf. Wear it proudly because the impact is enormous.