In 2005, a British couple, Rob and Susan Ainley, visited Nepal to provide massage training to visually impaired people. This small effort helped people like Chiranjeevi Poudel to become independent, regardless of their disabilities.
After working there as a massagist for five years, in late 2010, Poudel started his own massage clinic named 'Seeing Hands' to further provide training and employment to other under-privileged visually impaired folks.
Seeing Hands is a social enterprise or massage clinic established with the aim to make visually impaired of Nepal independent. It is now located in Thamel, Patan, and Boudha. Each of these clinics includes professionally trained blind therapists who provide a range of massages to customers. Here you can pick one of the three different massages: Remedial Sports Massage, Swedish Relaxation Massage, and Foot Massage. "People tend to think we are just another massage center. What they don’t know is that our services have medical benefits,” says Poudel.
The name 'Seeing Hands' here means that hands too can be used to see things. According to Poudel, blind people often use their hands to ‘see’ things and their hands have strong and unique sensing capability. Their hands, Poudel reasons, can be regarded as their eyesight as it in many ways makes up for the lack of it. “Seeing Hands respects this unusual skill of visually impaired people,” he says.
Seeing Hands Nepal is affiliated to London School of Sports Massage. The selected students are given training by experienced and expert tutors from London. These students are also facilitated with free food and lodging. Once the intensive workshops are over, the students are then hired by Seeing Hands itself.
However, not everyone gets a chance to be a part of it. Only a few promising visually impaired people are selected. “It may sound selfish but this is the reality. If we are investing on them, we naturally expect some sort of a payback,” he says adding that the payback does not need to be monetary but they expect the people they hire to be actively involved in the organization and work hard. “And not all people have this spirit," he says.
Talking about the funding, Poudel says that Seeing Hands does not expect or reply on donations. It is a self-sustained organisation and their only source of income is the payment given by their customers. He believes that donations work for an instant only and can never support programs made for the long run.
Seeing Hands has its own way of managing its budget. The total fund is first divided into three parts: the operational, therapist, and entrepreneurship cost. While the amounts of the other two parts are distributed among the staffs, profits from entrepreneurship cost are deposited in their reserve fund. This reserve fund is then later used to manage the training sessions of students and new recruits.
Though their business is good, Poudel talks about the challenges they face every day. He mentions that Seeing Hands is sometimes a victim of with many groundless accusations and criticisms. “Just because of few unprofessional massage centers, other good ones are also seen in a bad light,” he says. He says that if the government were to punish those unacceptable trades then that would help change the perception of people towards massage centers. “And that would, in turn, help businesses like ours where the first and foremost priority is the upliftment of the society,” he concludes.