Sustainable Training & Employment Program for Blind Nepalese as Professional Massage Therapists

Sustainable Training & Employment Program for Blind Nepalese as Professional Massage Therapists

$10,000 - $50,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

I want to establish massage as a new profession for disadvantaged young blind people in Nepal, who desperately need more employment opportunities. As professional massage therapists, blind people can lead dignified, independent lives, earning a decent living and contributing to family income. There is strong potential to develop a completely self-sustaining blind massage training and employment program in Nepal, with the income from paying clients funding more vocational training for more blinds. I also want to change perceptions about the value of massage as a profession in Nepal and prove that sustainable, locally-run projects are the way forward.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

The blind community in Nepal is believed to exceed 600,000 and most face extreme economic and social prejudice. Blindness is believed to be a curse for sins committed in a previous life and even thought to be contagious by some. Blind people are pitied and marginalized and few people believe they are capable of living independently or working. Less than 150 have jobs and no government support structures exist. Consequently most are dependent on others and have low self-confidence, believing themselves to be a burden to their families. SHN works closely with the Nepal Association of the Blind – a local ‘grassroots’ NGO, run by the blind that engages in advocacy initiatives with the Government (recently secured voting rights for the blind and some teaching opportunities in Government schools) and helps to arrange schooling and training scholarships. Thanks to their efforts, around 1000 blind Nepalese have now gained SLC (School Leaving Certificate) qualifications, but with 50% unemployment in Nepal, the vast majority are unable to use their education to find gainful employment. The blind community in Nepal is tightly-knit and operates with a different, self-regulating set of norms and values to mainstream society. Inter-blind (love-based) marriages are common and those blinds who are able to make a living usually work hard to share their success and support those without opportunities in the community. In the absence of formalized support structures, there is also a ‘culture of survival and dependence’ which means competition for scholarships is fierce and there is an expectation for institutionalized care. SHN has challenged the latter by not providing accommodation or food for its beneficiaries, and the result is a group of blinds who are able to lead independent lives, doing their own cooking, washing and cleaning and commuting to work by bus.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Blind massage is a completely new profession in Nepal. Although blind people have traditionally worked in the profession in many other countries in Asia, until SHN began its activities, there were no blind masseurs in Nepal. This is also despite a strong demand for professional massage in tourist (trekking) areas and the fact that blind people are particularly well suited to the profession due to a commonly increased sense of touch and perception. SHN is also radically different to most projects operating in Nepal because it actually creates jobs (as opposed to just delivering vocational training) in a safe and sustainable way, and to our knowledge, there are no other projects in Nepal for the blind doing this. There are also very few projects in Nepal that could be defined as truly sustainable social enterprises. SHN has leveraged the benefits of the tourist trade in Nepal to develop a project that has an entirely sustainable future and has the potential to be fully localized (run by the blind, for the blind) in the long term.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

SHN provides training for its blind beneficiaries in professional sports and remedial massage. Courses last one year and are taught by volunteer tutors from overseas, with assistance from local staff. Scholarships are provided to cover the living expenses of beneficiaries for the duration of their training, and SHN also conducts advanced training (training of trainers or TOT) for qualified therapists, to develop their capacity and involve them in the running of the organization so the project can be increasingly localized in line with our sustainable goals. SHN also operates an employment programme, where jobs are provided for qualified therapists (course graduates) within income generating massage clinics (2 presently in operation) with the revenue from paying clients helping to cover overheads, fund the training programme and the continued and sustainable expansion of the project. Primary activities include: - Training of blind beneficiaries in massage, business management and administration skills, training of trainers (TOT) - Coordinating volunteers – administration, inductions, placements - Managing the day to day operations of 2 income-generating clinics, with 14 staff (including blind and sighted support staff) - Administration – marketing, fundraising and maintaining necessary institutional registrations. - Developing & expanding links and partnerships with relevant local and international agencies.
About You
Seeing Hands Nepal
About You
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About Your Organization
Organization Name

Seeing Hands Nepal

Organization Country
Country where this project is creating social impact
How long has your organization been operating?

More than 5 years

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What stage is your project in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project

In 2005, my husband and I went for a blind massage at a clinic in Cambodia, and wondered why this initiative was not being implemented in Nepal – a country we were very familiar with and knew about the problems with blindness. I initially contacted a number of agencies to see if anyone was willing to start such an initiative in Nepal but had no success so I contacted the Association of Blind Cambodians and sought their permission to replicate their project (and use the same name - Seeing Hands) in Nepal. In 2006 we did preliminary research and began to develop the project. A curriculum was devised, equipment donated and we began training an initial group of 4 blind beneficiaries. Links and partnerships were forged with local agencies (The Nepal Association of the Blind/NAB) and a team of international volunteers were recruited, along with a local project manager. A purpose-designed training centre was constructed, and a separate practice clinic to provide employment for trained therapists and a source of income generation / cost-recovery for the SHN initiative.

Social Impact
Please describe how your project has been successful and how that success is measured

To date, SHN has delivered training for a total of 16 young blind adults, 13 of which have completed their massage studies and been offered employment in our massage clinics. With less than 150 blind people presently employed throughout Nepal, it has been calculated that SHN has already increased blind employment levels by approximately 10%. It is anticipated that future clinics will have a similarly positive impact.
SHN has also successfully achieved its sustainable goals. The clinic established in Pokhara 2007 is already completely self-sustaining, and our second clinic in Kathmandu is expected to reach its sustainable potential at the end of this year, funding both overheads and the cost of the continuing training programme. As a result, SHN’s funding needs are now limited to covering the cost of expanding the employment programme by establishing more massage clinics.
In addition to the quantitative outputs listed, the project is also having a positive impact on the local communities close to the established massage clinics. Seeing blind people earning their own incomes and travelling independently to and from work has already directly challenged local beliefs about the blind and their capabilities, and locals now assist and converse with SHN’s blind students and therapists, greatly aiding their social inclusion.

How many people have been impacted by your project?

How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?

How will your project evolve over the next three years?

SHN will grow by opening more income-generating massage clinics in Nepal. As it takes a year to train new students, several months to establish a new clinic, and at least a year before that clinic can generate enough income to cover overheads, 2 more clinics could potentially be established within the next 3 years, and beneficiary numbers doubled to around 25. Note: although beneficiary numbers seem low, it should be recognized that SHN is providing long-term, life-changing employment for its beneficiaries, and the lasting value of doing this cannot be compared to other less permanent social initiatives. By building the capacity of local staff, SHN also hopes to evolve this project into a self-sufficient social enterprise, run by the blind, for the blind.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

Lack of external funding may hamper SHN’s employment programme expansion plans. Although clinic incomes are expected to cover the cost of training new students, several years would be needed to develop sufficient reserves to cover the cost of establishing more clinics(which are needed to provide jobs for future graduates as each clinic has a max capacity based on no of rooms/beds and revenue levels/no of clients).In the absence of sufficient external funding, SHN intends to explore alternative employment opportunities for qualified therapists – potentially in hotels, spas or hospitals. However, this model of expansion is not preferred since it would not generate further income for the project and external working placements may expose our vulnerable beneficiaries to a greater degree of personal risk.
The success of this initiative could also be hampered by Nepal’s political and economic instabilities. Rising inflation is already increasing project costs significantly and a resurgence of Nepal’s recent political conflicts could potentially affect the organization’s chances of success. To mitigate economic risks, SHN intends to accumulate contingency funds to guard against economic pressures. New political conflicts could affect project incomes (due to reduced tourist numbers), and the willingness of volunteers to travel and work in Nepal. Further localization of SHN’s activities should help to mitigate conflict-related risks.

Tell us about your partnerships

SHN has partnered with the Nepal Association of the Blind (NAB), a local ‘grassroots’ NGO that is working to protect and promote the rights and interests of blind people in Nepal. The NAB has helped us to meet, get to know and understand the blind community, assisted with finding suitable candidates for training and has provided Braille training materials free of charge.
Key individuals have also assisted us with institutional development and legal matters in Nepal.
SHN also partners with the Institute of Sports and Remedial Massage in London (ISRM).
The ISRM helps with the preparation and delivery of course materials, recruiting and inducting volunteers,and fundraising. SHN also has strong links with the Royal National College for the Blind in the UK & Braille Without Borders who provided initial advice on best practice in blind training initiatives and helped us to learn from their experiences.

Explain your selections

To date SHN has received funding from five UK-based charitable trusts/foundations and private individuals and businesses. This support provided the kickstart funding needed to establish the training programme and the two massage clinics that are presently operational. Of these, one is already fully self sustaining (operating costs covered by income from customers) with the second is expected to be in a similar position by the end of 2011.

Training programme costs are still partly covered by the charity & although the need for this is diminishing, more kickstart funding is needed to cover the costs of establishing new clinics. New clinics will allow us to provide more jobs for graduates, diversify our sources of project income and strengthen the Seeing Hands brand, which in turn helps to raise awareness about the capabilities of disabled people in Nepal.

How do you plan to strengthen your project in the next three years?

By increasing localization and building reserves of local project income so dependence on external assistance (funding & international volunteers/staff) can be minimized. Localization will be increased by developing the capacity of local blind staff (providing training in leadership, business management, marketing, training of trainers). One blind therapist has already been promoted to a board-level management position and is supplementing his income by working as a massage tutor for new students. We plan to do this with more of our experienced blind staff. Building reserves will also enable the project to run (but not expand) in the absence of overseas funding.

Which barriers to employment does your innovation address?
Please select up to three in order of relevancy to your project.




Lack of skills/training


Restricted access to new markets

Please describe how your innovation specifically tackles the barriers listed above.

By providing professional training & employment for underemployed, unskilled blind people within new, previously inaccessible markets (tourism & health sectors) tackling social prejudices against the blind, raising awareness of their capabilities (particularly in the massage profession) & providing the investment needed to facilitate their employment within it.

Are you trying to scale your organization or initiative?
If yes, please check up to three potential pathways in order of relevancy to you.



Grown geographic reach: Multi-country


Repurposed your model for other sectors/development needs

Please describe which of your growth activities are current or planned for the immediate future.

SHN is currently growing its geographic reach by relocating training to Kathmandu (so blinds from a greater area can benefit) and opening new clinics in different regional locations. Additional funding will allow SHN to grow its geographic reach further with more clinics. There may also be future opportunities to repurpose the model for other sectors or development needs or even consider more advanced routes such as physiotherapy or chiropractic medicine. Also, although the initial focus is on Nepal, the directors have not ruled out the concept of replicating this initiative in other countries without established blind massage programs. (SHN has already been approached by people in India and South Africa wishing to start similar programs there).

Do you collaborate with any of the following: (Check all that apply)

NGOs/Nonprofits, Academia/universities.

If yes, how have these collaborations helped your innovation to succeed?

Collaborations with NGOs (specifically the NAB) have helped us to understand both the operating environment in Nepal and the blind community. Without help from the NAB it would have been extremely hard to find beneficiaries and establish our training programme. SHNs collaborations with the ISRM have provided accreditation and credibility for our teaching course, helped us to procure equipment at reduced prices, recruit and induct a team of volunteer tutors, and raise funds from individuals and businesses working within the massage profession.