Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Last couple of days

- Went to Dhulikhel hospital with Ashok to visit some people that he helped bring in from the remote western part of Nepal for treatment. The nurse Bijaya Chaudhary Karki (peoples surnames are usually their tribe or caste, in this case Bijaya is from the Chaudhary tribe and has married into the Karki tribe) travelled for 24 hours, over 2 days with 3 patients for them to receive treatment at Dhulikel hospital. Two women require surgery for a prolapsed uterus. One boy Lalit Chaundhary requires heart surgery. There was also one other woman with a prolapsed uterus but she was unable to bear the pain of the long bus journey for the treatment. Bajaya is a local village nurse who has been offered a place for 3 months training at a hospital for disabled children. She has been offered this training because of the high number of disabled children in her district. The cost is prohibitive at US$600 however the Dhulikhel Rotary club has sponsored $400. If you want to help please get in touch.

Ashok, Lalit, Bijaya and Ben at Dhulikhel hospital

-Also FINALLY got our banking sorted. Nepalese banking is awesome with lots of cups of tea and being treated like VIPs. We get greeted by name and ushered into the managers office. A level of service western banks could definately learn from.

-We have been 'teaching' at a local school for a couple of afternoons this week. The children are very bright but the strict 'copy what the teacher writes on the board' style of learning seems to stifle imagination and self confidence. We showed some classes how to draw mind maps and made them come up with their own ideas, very cool to see them think for themselves. They seemed to enjoy the change in style.
School assembly

-Loks place is getting pretty full, there are now 13 of us volunteers here. Couple of English, a Dutchie, a Dane, a German and a few Aussies, (seems you can't get away from them). Good vibe and cool people.

- Nepali food is pretty damn good. Even if you can't get beef. Lok has a cook called Rena and she is super mega awesome plus. All you can eat breakfast and dinners and the occasional snack if you ask nicely. For lunches we are usually out and about or grab some food at a restaurant. Its usually only a couple of hundred rupees for 2 meals and drinks.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Balbikas Kendra - Disabled School

We have spent a few days in the last few weeks at the disabled school in Banepa.  This is a childrens development centre for intellectually disabled children.  The centre also has a vocational training program for intellectually disabled adults.  Around 14 adults partake in this program, they spend their time making candles and paper files.  These are sold, with any profit going back to the adults.  This is a great facility for them, as it gives them a purpose and a small income. 

The school has approximately 23 primary children and 8 secondary children.  The school has a number of toddlers who attend, they are not disabled and will attend a normal school when they are older.  This mix of children is good for both the toddlers and the intellectually disabled children as they get to mix together. 

It has been challenging witnessing life at the centre.  The teachers do an awesome job with the limited resources that they have.  There are only 2 (sometimes 3) teachers for the primary level.  The teacher to child ratio is far to low with the demanding needs of some of the children.  This is unfortunate as with greater attention some of the children have a lot of potential.  Many of the disabled children have no diagnosis, or a very limited one.  Most children are described as being 'mentally retarded', there is no further assessment of their condition.  In addition, the teachers have not had any training as to how to care for the special needs children.

Lunch at the school

The day is started with a brief yoga session, in which both children and adults participate.  During the day basic lessons are conducted with the younger children, with some free time also.  Lunch is provided.  Once a fortnight a physiotherapist comes to the centre to treat some of the children. 

Resources at the school are limited, but we also know that these children are fortunate.  They are able to come to the school and do learn slowly over time.  However, we have heard stories of disabled children being locked up at home (mainly in more remote areas), as their parents are shamed.  Alternatively, they live to remotely to access any specialist centre. 

There are plans underway to build a dedicated centre for disabled children and adults to provide better premises, and more room.  Land for a centre has been donated by the parents of a disabled child.  The centre is proposed to have a school, vocational training centre and hostel for the adults.  The site has enough land for a small farm so the adults can learn basic farming skills.  It is proposed to cater for 2 primary classes, 2 secondary classes and an 15 bed adult hostel.  Fundraising is needed to make these plans a reality. 

Site for new centre

Friday, June 24, 2011

Eye Hospital

For the past two days we have been busy observing and learning at the Reiyukai Eike Masunaga Eye Hospital.  This is an eye hospital based in Banepa that provides patients with all their optometry needs. We are learning how to do basic vision tests of patients so we can assist with vision testing in the remote villages over the coming months.
Patlekhet Village Co-operative

During our trips to various villages observing the micro-finance schemes we met Jomoona, a lovely lady who has become our friend - despite the language barrier.  Jomoona is the chairperson of the co-operative in Patlekhet Village.  While visiting her home we learnt that her father, Jamang, lost all the sight in one eye a number of months back.  Ashok (CDRA director) was able to refer him to the eye hospital for treatment. The family was unaware of the possibility of treatment.

Jamang at his home - photo taken for hospital referral

Assessment at Hospital

Jamang came to the hospital for an initial check-up and it was discovered he had a cataract.  He returned the following day for surgery.  We were able to watch this take place.  Every two weeks a surgeon from Kathmandu will come to conduct cataract surgeries at the hospital.  The operation was amazingly quick and efficient, no more than 10 minutes to remove the cataract and insert a artificial lens.

Cataract Operation

Jamang was one of around 30 patients to receive a cataract operation that day.  It was very special to see him return the following day to remove the eye patch - he was very happy to be able to see again.

Jamang - post operation

We look forward to Sunday - when we will be putting our vision testing skills in use at an eye clinic in a remote village.

One of CDRA's projects is to raise funds for 50 cataract operations for people who cannot  afford the cost.  An operation costs $US20.  If you are interested in helping someone regain their sight please let us know.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

general life in Nepal

Just some thoughts on life so far

The Nepalis are too nice to visitors;

Everytime there is a small problem, they will do anything to fix it. When I bumped my head on the low doorway Lok, (our host) wanted to extend the doorway until we persuaded him that I can just duck. Or whenever you are at a shop and they don't have an item they will send someone running to find it.

There are stray dogs everywhere in towns;
But you get used to them, some of them seem to have every disease known but they know not to mess with people so its OK really.

There is marajuana growing wild everywhere;
Its technically illegal but its everywhere.

PDA between a man and woman is inapproriate;
But two men can cuddle all day long.

There are probably some road rules;
But I'm buggered if I can figure them out, just toot your horn and go for it.

The more people they fit on a bus the more money the bus makes;
Therefore if one bus overtakes another then it gets to the passengers first, leading to some interesting overtaking.

The roof of the bus has the best leg room;
But you have to keep an eye out for low power lines.

Nepalese hills are much bigger than NZ hills;
Some climbs when trekking are measured in km vertically

Rotary hoes are used for road transport not agricultural work;

The govenment annouces some public holidays the day before;
Bit confusing really.

Beer is expensive but hard liquor is dirt cheap;
180 rupees (NZ$3) for 500 mls of whiskey, gin or vodka.

Cheap liquor gives the worst hangovers;
Same as home really.

Local wine is as strong as whiskey;
But tastes worse, refer above

Nepal is awesome
Nuff said.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Womens Micro-Finance Co-operative's

Goats brought with loan from co-operative
Organic cucumber farm

Co-operative Meeting in Kusadevi Village

A bee-keeper showing of his honey - it was delicious!

CDRA looks after several womens co-operatives in remote villages. These operate as micro finance institutes at a village level. The basic break down is that members of the co-operative deposit savings monthly into the co-operative, they can then withdraw a small loan at a much reduced interest rate which they can pay off with their monthly installments. As the villages are all rural the loans are used for agricultural devolepment, usually seed or livestock (goats, cows or buffalo). As CDRA's motto is 'helping people help themselves' the loans must be used for income generation or education. This means they must support the loan application with how they will use this investment to better their lives, and buying a T.V. doesn't cut it. Some examples are taking a small loan to buy seed and fertilizer and selling the crops once they mature or buying a goat and selling the offspring. The co-operatives are run by volunteers from the village who receive literacy and accounting training from CDRA, for many of these women this is the first formal education they have received. In fact many other village women, when they see the benefits their peers are getting from this training are requesting more courses so they can become literate. CDRA is trying to source more funds to hold more literacy classes, and to provide additional capital funding for the growth of the co-operatives. CDRA also provides oversight and ongoing training to all groups.

Several of the village c0-operatives are beginning to source training for their members in organic farming, beekeeping and IPM (Intergrated Pest Management). This all helps improve the standard of living for the villagers. The co-operatives also involve a saving program for children, with children depositing money in a money box that is counted at the monthly meetings. This forms good habits that will last a lifetime. For the last week we have been lucky enough to visit several villages attending their meetings, experiencing wonderful Nepali hospitality and amazing fresh produce cooked superbly. It has been great to hear from the women themselves how beneficial this project has been to them. If anyone wants more infomation on this very worthwhile project or wants to help in any way please get in touch.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Baluwa Village

Gorbinda beside the large crack in his house

Sunmina showing her arm after it was kicked by a cow 3 months ago

The roof on Sunmina's house, in need of repair

Local water source

Site for new secondary school

Primary school toilets

Inside a classroom

Handing over of water tanks

Using the drinking water

Young girl carrying a doko

Baluwa Primary School

Delivery of water tanks and filters to Baluwa Primary School

Inside of classroom

Baluwa Primary

Drinking water at School - prior to new tanks

Baluwa Village is located in a poor area in the plains below Dhulikhel. It took us a good 45 minutes to get there over dirt roads, winding gradually down into the valley. We first visited Baluwa Primary School where we had the privelege of bringing two 750 litre water tanks and some water filters which had been donated to the school by the Rotary Clubs of Papamoa, Tauranga and Matamata (New Zealand). The students were very excited to see us, and the staff also very appreciative. The school (no bigger than a half acre) provides an education for 300 local village children. The school has no water supply - meaning buckets of water are carried in. Plans are in progress to build a well for the school that will provide constant and safe water. The school has 2 long drops (with no water) that left a decidly unpleasent odour through the entire school. Plans are also underway to build a new toilet block, with piped water. At present there are many cases of sickness and diesease due to the water and sanitation situation. Resources (books etc. ) are also very limited. Any assistance to the school is greatly appreciated and definately needed!

There is no secondary school in the village, those families that can afford to will send their children to neighbouring areas for a higher education, others simply end their education after primary. Some children receive no education at all. Land for a secondary school has been purchased and the community are currently trying to raise funds for the construction of a school.
The majority of villagers earn less than $1 a day from selling vegatables. Life is very hard. We met one villager, Gobinda, whose home was struck by lightnig a year ago. His house has a large crack in it and he needs to rebuild, this will cost $300US. He is very concerned about the safety of his 5 children, but cannot afford the rebuild. We also met Sumina, a village woman with a broken arm. She was kicked by a cow 3 months ago but has not received any medical treatment. Her arm was swollen and in pain. We were fortunately able to recommend a free health camp to her that was being held the following week for treatment.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Arrival in Nepal

We arrived in Nepal on the 25th of May 2011 (2068 by the Nepalese calender). Arriving around midnight in Kathmandu we wondered what we were getting ourselves in for. Our taxi took us through the dark dirt roads of Kathmandu, street children sat round fires and stray dogs roamed freely.

Daylight brought with it an altogether brighter picture, the streets bustled with life. Hawkers, vegetable stalls, ricksaws and taxis crowded the streets. Small shops of every kind imaginable spill onto the street. Shrines of various sizes and deities are visible everywhere, large stupa (religious shrines) can be found on every corner. Amazingly old buildings with intricate wood carved joinery demand our attention.

With a few days absorbing the vibrancy of Kathmandu we were ready for the peacefulness of the countryside. With the monsoon approaching we opted for the Helambu Trek - a week of trekking through small sherpa villages, past small farms, and through national parks. We were challenged with steep climbs and descents. The highest point at Therepati (at 3600m) was unfortunately in the cloud. But we were rewarded with stunning views of the Himalayan range the following morning. On our trek we experienced the friendly hospitality of the local people, and were introduced to the reality of life in the small, remote villages we passed through. Woman and children could be seen carrying loaded Dokos (basket carried by a strap around the forehead) full of hay or grass for the animals up steep slopes. Many of the villages we passed through have recently had roads built to them, but vehicles only make infrequent visits, and the roads become impassable in the monsoon. No doubt many will wash away. However, these villages are fortunate to be on a trekking route, where the tourist dollar really supports the local economy.

Following the trek we got in touch with CDRA and moved to Banepa - a town of approximately 40,000 people, an hour out of Kathmandu. Banepa is a relativly prosperous town in Nepal as it is situated at the crossroads of highways to both China and India. Yet there are striking differences with the infrastructure and systems we are used to at home. Every day there are power outages (load shedding), many homes do not have running water in the home and hot water is a real luxury, the roads are all unpaved (except the main street) meaning lots of puddles and mud, and there is no rubbish collection. Many locals and surrounding villagers make a living selling vegetables or other goods in roadside stalls. Street kids live in the no-mans land and stray dogs roam freely. This is to be our base for volunteering over the next few months.