Thursday, November 8, 2012

Return to New Zealand

A few days ago we bid a sad goodbye to Nepal, and packed our bags to return home to New Zealand. We were lucky to have been able to join in on the Dasain festivities with different friends during our last week in Nepal, visiting the villages one last time and being treated to lots of good food.

Receving a tikka/blessing during dasain

Saying goodbye to CDRA in Banepa
We've had a truely amazing stay in Nepal over the past 5 months and really want to thank everyone who has supported us through helping with the projects we have been working on.  We'd love the opportunity to come and speak to the various Rotary Clubs who have been following our work and supporting us now that we are back. Please get in touch!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Donation of books and sports equipment to Bara School

We headed down to the Bara region for a quick visit to check up on progress on one of our projects there. We are helping a very poor community build and supply some new classrooms that they are sorely in need of. Check out our previous posts on the school via Our Return to Bara School.

With us we had our friend Eric from the Rotary club of Matamata, one of the sponsors for the project and my brother Gray who is over visiting. It was great to take these guys to the seldom visited areas of Nepal so they can see the work they are supporting. We also took a good supply of school books and sporting gear to hand over to the school. These were supplied separate to the matching grant thanks to kind donations from friends and family.
As we arrived in the poor farming area that the school is located in we were surprised to see a large crowd gathering holding signs that read ‘long live Nepal – New Zealand friendship’.  We were welcomed with tikka and garlands of marigolds. They had even spelt out our individual names in chalk to welcome us! As this poor area is often overlooked for development projects the people are very keen to make the most of the opportunity to welcome us. It was truly overwhelming, to be received by so many people in such a manner.  Then came the speeches…. For the next 3 hours we were welcomed by everyone of importance in the area at great length. It is a sign of honour to be able to speak at events so often many different people stand up to say the same thing. The people were grateful for our support and requested more help to build some classrooms as the government hasn’t delivered on its promised help. Sadly, the promised government assistance looks to be a long way off due to a lack of consensus on the national budget.

We were on a tight schedule however and had to head back to town shortly after the conclusion of the speeches. Our thanks go out to all the rotary clubs that have supported this project as well as CDRA (as always) and JJYC for their assistance.  Without all your help this project would not be possible, and it truly is an area of great need. The school management is very active, and is working hard to improve the situation at the school so it is our pleasure to be able to help them to achieve this.       
Photos to come... we are having a hard time loading them lately.

Warm welcome back to Bara

Long Live the Nepal New Zealand Friendship!

Speech by Eric Muckle from the RC of Matamata

Welcome from village leader

Ceremony for the handover of textbooks and sports equipment

New handpump built with money fundraised by JJYC

Lots of interested students and parents - and it was Dasain (equivalent to christmas day in NZ)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Helping a grandmother and her grandkids...

Recently we became aware of a grandmother, Shaili, in a nearby village who was in need of some help. She is 79 years old  is raising 3 of her grandchildren by herself, with no real income except for some small amounts she can earn as a labourer. 

We went out to visit the Shaili to get some more information.  She is of the Dailit or untouchable caste. The 3 kids are the granddaughter Roshani 12, grandson Roshan 9, and the littlest granddaughter Rajani 5. Shaili’s husband died 5 years ago and her daughter in law died 3 years ago. Her son , the father, of the kids sadly abandoned his family and has no contact with them.  Her other children, another son and two daugthers sometimes support their mother but none are in a position to do much. The children go to the local government school but stuggle to afford  books, uniforms etc.  Shaili said that she has trouble feeding the family and often has to beg from her neighbours. She is a very hard working woman who is in a very sad position.
She is fortunate to still have the family home, this at least means that they have a roof over their heads and the house is meticulously cleaned and looked after. She has no real means of making an income aside from a few square metres of land to grow vegetables on or working as a labourer on neighbours fields. She has been gifted a goat from people in the village but every second baby the goat produces will be returned as payment. She has also been gifted a heifer calf but it is still young and a long way from producing milk. She and the children work during the day to gather grass and fodder for their animals and carry home.

When we visited Shaili she implored us to help her grandchildren. She asked us to provide an in milk cow to help provide a small daily income for her. She said that she worries over the future of her grandchildren as without an education there are few opportunities for the Dailits. The children also worry about their own futures, and are enthusiastic about going to school.  They realise the importance of education.  
After being touched by Shailis story we decided to help her. We asked our friend Kuber to start looking for a suitable cow immediatly, as it takes some time to identify the best cows for sale. Kuber did very well in finding a young, two year old cow who had just had her first heifer calf. This cow is just begining to give milk and will be a valuable asset for years to come. The hefier calf can also give milk in a couple of years. We also contributed to build a shelter for her to keep the cows in.
The day we delivered the cow was a very happy day for Shaili, and for us too. The children were very excited to see the new addition and welcomed us into their home. We hope that this cow will make life a little easier for the family, providing a small income to put food on the table and providing dignity to a hardworking lady who is trying to do the best for her grandchildren. Thanks go out to my mum and brother who generously donated to help Shaili and her family.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Micro Finance Interviews

Lately we've had the chance to interview the chairwomen of two local micro-finance co-operatives to hear first hand about the impact of these on life in the village. We spoke to the Nala and Patlekhet co-operatives, which have been running for around 6 and 2 years respectively.  These co-operatives both primarily provide loans to their members for agricultural activities - including to buy goats, cows, chickens, vegetable seeds, or to undertake bee keeping or fish farming. We heard that the majority of members who take out loans were engaged in similar farming activities before hand, but that the co-operative has allowed them and encouraged them to expand their business and thereby generate a bigger income. Before, people could not get loans as banks are very hestitant to loan to subsistance farmers!

The co-operatives are only for women to join, but they are supported by their husbands - as only few men in these villages have outside jobs. Joining the women's co-operatives has given them a certain degree of financial independence, and greater decision making power. The women spoke of the increase in confidence that this has given them.  The women speak of receiving greater respect in their villages, and of now being able to speak to other men (outside of their own families) in the village.  The communities are working together better than before, and saving habits have developed with people planning for their futures.    Only a few women in these villages are not part of the co-operative.

One of the big, noticeable changes is that the children's education is benefitting. Families are investing in their children's schooling so that they can obtain jobs - outside of the village.  If they can afford it the children are sent to private schools.

Interview in Nala

Cow farm in Nala
Community Development and Relief Agency helps these co-operatives with regular mentoring and training.  Each month the 10 co-operatives under CDRA's umbrella come together to discuss any problems that they have had and potential solutions. These co-operatives are doing a fantastic job of raising the economic status of the villages, as well as improving the social standing of women. The co-operatives can only work with what they got - and they spoke particularly of the need to access greater capital funding so that they could provide bigger loans to their members.  Members are all responsible to one another to repay their loans, hence defaulting on loan payments is not an issue. These co-operatives would also like to help their members more through offering training programmes for their members - for example on leadership, budgeting, and industry specific courses ie. on dairy farming and seed harvesting.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

A day to remember

Yesterday we went out to donate some items to some of the needy people of our district. We borrowed a bus for the day, loaded it up with goodies and piled in. We first headed out to Palinchowk, to a school for intellectually disabled children - the 'Mentally Challenged Rehabilitation Center'. It took us about 2 hours to get to this school, along winding cliff hanging roads. We were quite surprised to find the school located in what felt like the middle of nowhere.  This school does a fantastic job of looking after some of the most vunerable children in Kavre District, as well as providing primary and secondary schooling for ordinary children. Sadly many intellectually disabled children are badly neglected here, often being locked up and hidden from the public. The 19 children and young adults who come to this school have mostly been placed here because there are hostel facilities provided. Many have downs syndrome, while others conditions are undiagnosed.  The few staff there are to manage the classroom and hostel are very stretched, but work hard to provide a good level of care. The children all looked very happy, and particularly enjoyed their muscial performance for us. We donated tracksuits to all the children on behalf of the Goodwill Community Foundation, USA. 

The Children waiting for their new tracksuits
One of the young boys proudly displaying his new clothes

Thanks to the Goodwill Community Foundation, USA
While on the road we also took the opportunity to donate 2 wheelchairs, one to an elderly women in Baluwa Village and one to a young boy living on the outskirts of Dhulikhel. 

The wheelchair on its way to its new owner

Elderly women with new wheelchair in Baluwa
In Baluwa we also met the young women whose son has been treated for club foot thanks to the kind generosity of Jim Carroll from New Zealand. She was all smiles showing off her sons corrected foot.

Young boy who received club foot treatment

Lastly we took the bus down a road that perhaps no bus has travelled before (it was not designed for such a large vehicle, but lucky we had a good driver).  There we stopped to donate the 2nd wheelchair to 15 year old Van Bahadur Gauten who has no ability to move his legs, and limited ability to move his left had since birth.  The wheelchair replaces an old broken chair, and will enable his friends to take him with them to school. Unfortunately, due to the steep terrain he has limited mobility personally, even with a wheelchair. His house is perched on the edge of a steep hill, and access anywhere is difficult for him. However, the wheelchair will mean he will be able to continue his schooling.

Van Bahadur with his new wheelchair

The boy's bedroom - downstairs as he is unable to go upstairs

This road was not designed for buses!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Trek to Annapurna Base Camp

We've just had a week long break from Banepa with a trek up to Annapurna Base Camp.  Below are some pic's from the trip. We were blessed with beautiful weather and awesome views of the mountains to make our climb up to 4300m worthwhile!
Local porters carry everything up to the villages and lodges higher up the valley. We saw watertanks, tables, gas bottles, cages of live chickens, and lots of food being carted up the hill.

Lots of amazing huge waterfalls...

and many funky, dodgy looking bridges too.
A view back to where we'd come from (down the bottom of the valley (than up and down and up again...)

Ben admiring the view of Mt Annapurna at Annapurna Base Camp

Breakfast views of the mountains from Chomrong

Donkeys doing the portering

Machhapuchre Peak

Stunner of a view from Annapurna Base Camp

We made it!

Moon rising over Machhapuchre

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Teej festivities

It sometimes seems that every week there is a new reason to celebrate in Nepal with the numerous festivals that take place, infact I believe there are over 200 each year. Some festivals are only celebrated by certain caste groups, while others only take a few hours or so, meaning that life and work keeps ticking over even during festival times. Early this week was the annual teej festival celebrated by women from the Brahmin and Chetri castes.  The festival takes place over 3 days, and I was fortunate to be invited to Phulbari village to celebrate with our friends. Unfortunately, for Ben being a women's festival he would've been a bit out of place. On this day all the women fasted - not eating or drinking for the entire day combined with that it was a day of non-stop singing and dancing. The two don't seem to work to well together for me! The festival is held for the good health and long life of ones husband ... and a myriad of other reasons.

Phulbari is a village about half an hour by bus from Banepa, than a steep walk up the hill.  Its a beautiful place, where CDRA has been involved in building new classrooms for the local primary school.  Teej was really a celebration that everyone got right into, with many women travelling back to Phulbari from their husbands homes or places of work. First off everyone got dressed up into striking red saris (well red saris for all the married women).  Everyone helped each other as their is a bit of an art to putting on a sari - and I definately needed assistance!  Than on goes the nail polish, make up and jewellery.  All set we walked along the small village trails back to the temple area where there were about 50 women gathered. So we danced and sung, with the women singing a doori back and forth amongst them.  Very impressive - this is where one group (pretending to be men) try to woo the other group, and new verses are made up on the spot.

The real highlight for me was to be able to spend time in the village, with our friends and their families. It was great to see the family come together for this cultural celebration, and to see the women enjoying a day of no work!  Staying the night, conditions were very basic, but the family was so very hospitable I felt right at home. 

Women dancing outside the local village temple in Phulbari

The kids get right into it too

In our saris ready to join the party
Practicing our dance moves beforehand

Awesome view of the Himalayas in the morning

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Goat Donation for Prakash

This is the story of Prakash who, as Robert Rose says in his story below was badly burned when he was young due to falling into the cooking fire while suffering an epileptic seizure. We meet up with Prakash while in Pokhara for the eye camp and were able to present him with 3 goats to help him with his dream of rearing goats in his village. The goats were donated by John Price from Australia, the Goodwill Community Foundation, USA and our friends Pam and Pete Schon from New Zealand. We also provided him with $30 to go towards building a shed to house his goats.  We hope that the one male and two female  goats will provide the start to a positive and profitable future for Prakash.

Prakash receiving his new goats

Story of Prakash Gurung
This article is about a young man named Prakash who is now 22 years old.  He lives with his grandmother in a village about two hours bus ride outside of Pokhara (about a 6 hour drive from Kathmandu).  Prakash suffers from epilepsy and when he was only 14 years old he had an epileptic fit and fell into the fire suffering severe burns.  The local doctors helped heal the wounds but didn't have any plastic surgery knowledge so he lived on in the village, disfigured, teased and ostracized. 

Last summer Rotarian Ashok Shrestha from the Rotary Club of Dhulikhel (Nepal) met Prakash while visiting that village area and he vowed to find support so that Prakash could have the needed treatment to control his epilepsy as well as repair his facial deformities.  Ashok contacted myself and two other Rotary Nepal trip-alums- Judy Ginn from RC Seattle International District and Susan Sola from RC University District.  Their clubs agreed to provide the needed financing to make this happen (only about $1,350) Rs.114,000. The first surgery was done on February 28th 2012 and there were several weeks of in-hospital recovery required.  Prakash also began taking a medication to control the epilepsy. 

Rtn. Ashok brought Prakash to my host-family's home in Kathmandu to meet me.  The plastic surgeons have done a remarkable job in creating a lip (as well as other corrections) which, as you can imagine is a critical part of being able to eat and drink properly.  Prakash was a very happy and engaging person.  He is excited to return to his home and plans to raise goats to help provide the money he'll need to live and pay for his medication.  He'll need future surgeries so that the doctors can help re-form some of his other facial features but this was a fantastic start.  Since he started taking the epilepsy medication he hasn't had a single seizure!
Rtn. Ashok is an prime example of what you are able to accomplish through Rotary.  He isn't just 'in Rotary', he 'IS Rotary' living its ideals and connecting the dots to many projects and opportunities that change lives. 
Rotary has given me the opportunity to be so much more as a human being and to impact lives in ways I could never have imagined.  If you are a new Rotarian or one who is searching for ways to make an impact in the world, please 'dive-in' and see how rich an experience you can have through Rotary! 
Robert Rose, Rotarian from USA  

The goats on the way to meet their new owner

Prakash inspecting the new goats

Monday, September 10, 2012

Australian Eye Camp

We've been busy, very busy, this week working with a team of Australian volunteers on their annual eye camp.  This camp is conducted by a fabulous group of people who come over for 2 weeks and serve remote communities all over Nepal with free eye care. This year the camp has travelled to Myagdi Beni, Baglung, and Parbat, all in the vicinity of Pokhara. Myagdi Beni our first destination was located about 80km outside of Pokhara, but due to the river flooding overnight before our arrival the main bridge providing access to the town was washed away. We were forced to take a slow, alternative road as a detour. This provided a few interesting hours on our way out to Baglung, when a truck became stuck on the road infront of us. Everyone keenly got involved in 'building the road' for the truck to unblock the road so we could continue on our way!  This seems to be a bit of a theme this year with our last destination, Machapuchre Village  inaccessible due to a large landslide a few days ago. Nevertheless we will hold the camp as close as possible to the village in the next few days.

The eye camp really gives us an opportunity to meet a wide variety of people, young and old. Some come easily on their own, well dressed, speaking english, others come assisted with a relative or friend, hobbling along, walking stick in hand, mostly deaf, dressed in little more than rags, blind as can be.  Young children who at first sight look like they are fine, come through the vision screening room with terrible eyesight. Others have great or okay eyesight in one eye, but have damaged the other eye or have a cataract.  Many women in particular come complaining of constant headaches, but their eyes are fine. No doubt the blinding glare of the sun, in contrast with the dim interior of village houses, open smoke cooking fires inside, and the dust all contribute to straining the eyes. Unfortuntaly there is little we can do for these people - we give eye drops but know its not really going to solve their problems. We advise they buy sunglasses. To some we provide sunglasses, but the real aim of the camp is to provide glasses to those that need them due to short sightedness or long sightedness.

Each day there are people waiting, always more on the second day in the same location. We screen them with a simple vision chart. Those that need glasses (the majority) are sent through to visit the optometrists. They are prescribed glasses or referred for cataract surgery (to be provided for free at a local hospital). In the dispensing room these are provided - and rewarded with many happy smiles. Its an efificient system that churns non-stop all day long, but even so the lines are long and its difficult to see the unlucky ones at the end of the line turned away at the end of the day. Even so we are seeing between 700 - 1000 people each day.
First stage of vision screening

Visitin the optometrist

3 optom's at work

Truck blocking the road between Beni and Baglung

Big queues in the hot sun

Happy school girl with her new glasses