An interview with Mina Thapa, Mina's Whole Foods
Creative Life Foundation’s mission is to,
CONNECT VULNERABLE AND MARGINALIZED PEOPLE TO RESOURCES IN ORDER TO BREAK CYCLES OF POVERTY, EXPLOITATION, AND RISK.
Veteran staff member, Mina, is making peanut butter and breaking cycles.
She shares her unique perspective of the early days of CLF, where her project-Mina’s Whole Foods-is today, and her hopes for the future.
She shares her journey in her own words. Words that are impressive considering English is one of 5 languages she speaks!!
When we started [at CLF] we were all working hard together. In the beginning we did not have normal working to do. We just only pray together. We have a small office in Silom. We focus and try visiting soi 4 and go at night time [to visit kids and women working in the streets]. We take lots of books and coloring and fun and make happy time. We find the children who [were] working on the streets at night time. We saw so many sad things- and children who were not safe. Amy (CLF’s co-founder) take the games there and books. We sat down next to 7. We buy mama (Thailand's brand of instant ramen noodles) and water and give space for coloring and the kids come and join. Slowly, slowly we meet people and that is how we meet the students at CLF now. Then we open the school and they have opportunity to learn.
So that begins CLF’s education initiative. You are Creative Life’s small business co-founder and manager. How did Mina’s Whole Foods begin?
I love to cook and creating the food with natural things, but I am not a person for business. I never think in my life that I will do the business things. We have a volunteer who made pesto and that gave us the idea. I make my own kind of pesto and peanut butter. At that time, we don't have a selling place. I just sell only little by little to coffee shop [and other places].
Then Amy found something about Bangkok Farmer’s Market. Then Amy said, ‘Mina, can we do?’ Then I say, um, yeah sure, we can do. And Amy said, ‘let’s go and see.’
That time, my first day, I will never forget. Everyone has very professional, very clear, labels and nice product [with] beautiful signs and packaging. And we don't have any good packing! (laughing). We had no label; no brand name; Just a table, and peanut butter, and pesto-no label. I feel so shy! I feel in my heart, ‘Oh how can I explain to people! This is hard to explain.’ But Amy say, ‘This is our table. Mina, you set up and I’ll go get us coffee.’ Then I feel very nervous. I turn around and pray, ‘God help me. I don't know how to tell the people all about the product. I feel very nervous.’ Then Amy bring coffee. We drink coffee and we set up table and I watch Amy explain to the people, ‘You know, we are just starting the business, that’s why we don’t have a sticker or no name yet and everything.’ But that time, we sold out by 1o’clock! Yeah! We prepared a small amount, like 10 jar peanut butter, maybe 5-10 jar pesto, but we sold out at 1 oclock and we say, ‘Oohhh our product is good. Next time let’s make more.’ And slowly we started making up and up more product. Slowly we have label, sticker, day by (expiration date), everything. And now it is perfect. We are professional now.
Wow! You are not nervous now, at the Farmer’s market you are so confident with customers and vendors on your own. At your first Farmers’ Market you sold 15 items. How has that grown? What is the most you have sold at one time?
First day, 15 jars. My highest earning day-18,000 Baht in one day. So many jars. That is a big change.
Your small business has grown and changed so much over the years. How about you, personally? What has grown or changed in your life since you first joined CLF?
I think it’s very different. Before, I feel like [in] Nepal culture, a woman cannot work. You have to be under husband. [The] husband make the money and woman have to take care of [the] children. You have to ask for money from your husband. But I feel now, I am very proud of myself. I make money. I take care of my family. I decide what I need to buy, how much to spend, where I can go and spend (laughing). I take care of my children [in a] different way. Yeah, I can do it myself; Not just my husband. I am the money maker so that means I can decide. So that’s power. I have power.
What are your dreams for Mina’s Whole Foods? What do you hope for the future?
You know, before I just like cooking but now, I also do selling. I think I would like to not only be here, but also in other countries helping people have a small business and handle things in their own communities. Maybe we can help more people work. Maybe make it bigger. Right now we are just in Bangkok and the US, but I hope in the future to be around the world. Help women start businesses and have power without having to have the big big loan. I can teach and train how to make products and they can make a business. That is my dream.
Now, Mina has power and it is her dream to one day empower others. She was able to make this power for herself because someone came alongside her and said, “Let’s go and see”. Who else can we stand alongside and invite on this journey? “Let’s go and see” together.