Gunaraj Khatiwada and Govinda Khanal both had polio in childhood, which affected their physical mobility. There were no rehabilitation centres nearby, or hospitals to provide timely operations and callipers.
Govinda used to crawl to school, once he was too big for his mother to carry. And he recalls the heart-stopping moments for his mother when he and his friends jumped into the river to swim across to secondary school and back each day: there was no bridge. Gunaraj has used a sturdy stick all his life to help him walk.
The two young men went through many struggles by the time they met at the special school in Kathmandu where they completed their education. Govinda trained as a teacher, and Gunaraj began working with village development committees and forestry cooperatives. They gained a deep understanding of what disability meant for them and others, and gradually took up these issues in their lives and work.
In 1994, the two friends established Dhading Welfare Association (DWA), a pioneering DPO working for equal rights and opportunities. Their first Sewing and Cutting training project continues to this day: each year, at least 20 disabled people from different parts of Nepal complete a diploma-level tailoring course; on graduation, each receives a sewing machine and kit to start a tailoring business. 540 disabled women and men have been trained to date, and at least 90% are still in business.
Govinda has managed this project with steady support from Gunaraj, who took on the task of sensitizing the community through disability awareness programmes, advocating for disabled people’s rights and welfare, including benefits, accessible infrastructure and clean drinking water.
Both men have been tireless campaigners for better services, inclusion and equality for disabled people and for gender equality, becoming highly respected figures in the Dhading community. Along with DDP and DHRC-Nepal, DWA is implementing the Women-led, disability-inclusive livelihoods project.