Thursday, August 30, 2012

Eye camp in Baluwa

Namaste from Baluwa
To warm us up for the wandering eye camp next week we tagged along with our friends from the Banepa eye hospital on a one day eye camp in Baluwa village. This was a good chance to brush up on our skills before heading off for 2 weeks on a big eye camp in the Pokhara area. As we have already covered Baluwa is a poor village around 30 minutes from Banepa and we work on several different projects there.  Many of these projects are made possible due to the specal relationship between Rotary New Zealand and Baluwa village.

I am a giant! Raaaarh!

We tested 175 people throughout the day and identified 21 people in need of cataract surguries. There surguries will be performed at the eye hospital in Banepa. The great news is that 6 of these people have already come for surgery in the few days following the camp. The remainder will come as they can.  Unfortunately some of the very old are alone in the village, many are alone because younger family members are heading off to Kathmandu or overseas for work.  They are unable to come in for surgery on their own - due to their almost complete blindness. We are hoping to organise for a group to travel in together to ensure they can get the surgery they need.

These two photos show how a cataract can affect vision, first 6/6 (normal) vision
Second 6/60 vision, many people we test have even worse vision than 6/60. It is only a $20 operation to turn this picture back into the one above it
Next week we will be heading off to remote villages in the mid western hill regions (think close to Pokhara) for a two week long eye camp. We know that we will be coming across many many people in need of cataract surgery. During last years camp over 200 people were identified and referred for free cataract sugery. They all had 6/60 vision or worse in both eyes. See some photos from this trip on our last blog:  If you want to help than please get in touch. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Birthday surprise

Yvonne organized a surprise birthday party for me on the rooftop of our house. I was completly taken by surprise and it was a wonderful night with all our friends here in Banepa. We had a delicious feast followed by some Rahski.

I (Yvonne) even managed to roast a chicken, despite the power cut which occurred halfway through cooking it. Unfortunately the generator was also not working - had a serious leak going on. So ended up having to finish cooking it in a pot.  It was quite an experience to go out shopping for the chicken - with the chicken practically being slaugetered right in front of me. Atleast that way I was sure it was fresh. It was great to share some food from home with our friends here. 

Enjoying the feast

Still enjoying the feast

Cutting the delicious cake

Birthday dancing

Everybody having a good time

Monday, August 20, 2012

Baking Class

For the last few days we have been teaching a baking class for local Nepali women.  This class is an initiative by CDRA Nepal to improve the skill-set of the Nepali people. It is one of a number of training courses that are and will be undertaken (others include: computer classes, beauty therapy, electrical and hospitality).  The classes have been in high demand, with many women interested to learn new cooking techniques. In Nepal everyone eats Dal Bhat (twice a day), and cooking other foods, especially western foods, is virtually unknown. 

The class focuses on teaching the basics of baking, with recipes such as scones, cake, biscuits, cinnamon pinwheels and slice. In the future we will also start doing pizzas, and other savoury recipes.  The women enjoyed learning how to make these, with one even coming back the following day with a cake she had made at home for the first time following the class.  It has been a learning experience for us aswell, with the challenges of insufficient space, water, cooking utensils and only a small bench top oven.  The ingredients we can access here are limited, and its been a challenge with the butter being so different.

Its been interesting for us also to spend more time with the women, and although its a challenge with our limited understanding of the language, its been a good chance for us to learn more about the role of women in Nepal.  One of our volunteer friends, Dillion, a 18 year old scottish lad was a fabulous kitchen hand washing all the dishes - much to the amazement and consternation of the women. They kept trying to send him away from the sink.

Its also very clear working with a group of women the differences between those from town and those from the village. Obviously there is a big difference in the level of education, and their confidence as a result.  The women from the village are very shy and it took a lot of encouragement to get them involved in the group. 

While many of the women are interested in learning baking to feed their families, some will also be using the skills they have learnt for small scale bakery businesses.  This is one way to empower women, as through earning an income they become more influential in the family.  With the ability to earn they are no longer as reliant on their husbands for money, and with financial independence they have the ability to look after the affairs of the household better. For example, many women will use the money to send their children to school.

Showing how to use an oven - convection ovens are very rare here, and it took us a while to track this one down

Paula and Rashil explaining a new recipe

Making bread

Working in groups to make a cake

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Cruisin' Nepal

We have spent a lot of the last few days on the road here. Lots of sights so see. Here are some of the highlights...,



A typically loaded truck

Horses and buggies are common sights on the flat country

Another truck

A man riding his buffalo home along the roadside

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Our return to Bara School

We finally managed a return trip to Bara School yesterday. It was beginning to feel as if everything was conspiring against us returning, with a big landslide on the main highway postponing our last planned trip 2 weeks ago. While yesterday, a strike almost stopped us. These strikes were fairly regular a few months back with the deadline of the constitution looming, now frustration with the lack of a constitution and with the various political parties each trying to force a change of the president and prime minister there have been strikes the past few days. Basically this means that the streets are shut down, with no vehicular traffic permitted. People who risk driving risk their vehicle being damaged by the political party supporters (who have called the strike). Yesterday a strike was called from 6 till 10 am in Kathmandu and the other major cities. It’s a long drive to Bara, so we made a particularly early start getting on the road at 4am to get through Kathmandu before the strike started. One the way we saw lots of police in riot gear preparing for any conflict that might take place.

Safely through Kathmandu we took the winding short cut road through from Pharping to Hetauda. This road is only suitable for cars (no trucks or buses), with the frequent landslides reducing the road to single lane traffic in many places. In the early morning the scenery was absolutely amazing and we climbed up and over the mountains out of the Kathmandu valley.  We got our first glimpse of the Himalayas for the year. Just stunning!
Awesome views at breakfast - you can just see the snow peaks in the background
Overloaded trucks - doing the job of a local bus on the narrow mountain road
At breakfast in a small roadside village we saw our waiter had a damaged eye. We were able to refer him to the eye hospital in Banepa – simply providing him with this information means he will now be able to seek treatment. It seems to us that everywhere we go, we come across people with eyesight problems – and they often do not know that treatment is an option.
In Hetauda just before 10am we left our car behind (due to the strike) and walked around to Kamalas brothers house for a catch up and a cup of tea before continuing on our way after the strike was over.

We arrived in Kalaiya in the early afternoon where we met Bhaiyaram, our local NGO contact who came to tell us about the problems facing  Shree N. R. Higher Secondary School in Bara District last year.  They were holding a political meeting, with local parliamentarians speaking to the community about the work (or lack of it!) they have done in the past year. It turned out to be quite a heated debate, and went much longer than planned so we continued onto visit the school without Bhaiyaram.
Political Program
Slums - The view out of the window from the Political Program in Kalaiya
Driving to the school we pass through small villages of mud huts, children run around almost naked, and the poverty just sinks to a whole new level. At the school we are greeted warmly by some of the teachers and the headmaster, it’s a lot less formal than our visit last year. We were pleased to be able to see and ask questions, with only a ‘small’ crowd of onlookers crowding around.
Driving through the villages on the way to the school
Since our last visit (check out our blog from our last visit and this short video on the school) the government has provided funding to the school to build 4 new classrooms. The damaged rooms that were leaking (with snakes in the roof) and holes in the walls have been demolished. In its place the foundations have been built for 4 new rooms, raised up off the ground to avoid flooding in the monsoon season. A new toilet has been built for the girls (they now have 3 toilets for around 700 female students). Theres also a new hand-pump and 1000L water tank which provide all the water to the schools 1700 odd students. We saw the school library which really consists of one half filled cupboard - crazy!

The library!

The school is severely overcrowded with some classes having over 200 students (even 250 in one class!). This creates a lot of difficulty for the teachers with discipline, and resources are very stretched. The government is supposed to provide textbooks to all students, but in reality one textbook is shared by around 6 students. Around 500 students are taking additional classes at the school, after normal class hours, where class sizes are smaller. They pay for this (around Rs200 per month) which helps the school to pay for additional teachers etc.
Despite all of these difficulties the headmaster was very proud to inform us that the school has one of the highest pass rates for school leavers in the Bara District (83%).  The school has in the past year also started holding 10+2 classes (the equivalent of the last two years of high school). Around 200 students are taking these classes.

All in all it was great to revisit the school and see the progress that has been made there in the past year with support funding from the government and the community. We really feel that the fundraising we are doing for the school to provide classroom resources etc. will really complement the work being undertaken by the school at present to build new classrooms. Bara really is a forgotten district, and we want to thank those Rotary Clubs that have jumped on board with this project for helping a community in such need.

Ashok and Yvonne meeting with the School headmaster

Meeting with School teachers and the community

Extra class for year 9 students - usually this room holds 210 students for the normal day class

The school - this currently caters for almost 1700 students

The new girls toilets

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Needs assessment visit

The other day we headed out to Baluwa village for a needs assessment visit. While this sounds like an impressive title for simple visit, it really means that we headed out to visit some of the villagers we work with and listened to what they had to say. After we wrote a report and now we have to figure out how to get funding to help them out. Pretty simple process really.

Anyways here is a copy of the report I knocked up last night.

Water Well Needs Assessment, Baluwa villages 30-07-12

Baluwa is located in Kavre district, Nepal. It is located on the plains at the bottom of a large valley and it the home to around 4000 people. The Baluwa area consists of many villages and is home to many different ethnic groups including marginalized castes such as Dunuwar, Magar, Kami, Sarki, Damai and Gurung. The main economic activity is subsidence farming of crops such as rice, potatoes and corn with the typical land size being less than one hectare per family. Some families will also raise livestock such as goats, buffalo and chickens to supplement their income.

The site of the current first well
One of the main problems facing Nepal as a whole and Baluwa in particular is access to safe, clean water. Most waterways are highly polluted and unsafe to drink. In the warm monsoon months the rivers flood and fill with contaminates and disease. As Baluwa is located at the bottom of a valley, many water sources are tapped by other villages further up the hills, leaving very little options for the people of Baluwa. One common method is to locate either a spring or underground stream and construct a well or, in some cases a deep bore. This underground water is free from contaminates and disease.
Collecting water from the spring

In Baluwa we visited 2 sites that are in need of water systems. They are all located in Baluwa area 5 and area 6. The first in Baluwa – 5 is located near to a main village area, close to a school and Co-operative building. Currently there is one well used by 5 surrounding villages, serving a local population of over 1000 people. Some people walk an hour each way to collect water. During the rainy months there is a strong flow of clean water, however in the cold winter months the flow dries up to a trickle, leaving people to wait many hours for their turn to fill their water containers and begin the carry home. Water is rationed severely during these times. Some young girls miss out on their education as they are kept home from school to help collect water daily. The local women’s co-operative group has requested our help to build a well closer to their village, enabling them to have year round access to clean water. They have identified a small spring located minutes from the village and estimate that a bore depth of 60 feet will be sufficient for year round supply.
Begining the carry home

The second site is located in Baluwa-6. It serves a group of 150 houses ( approximately 900 people) located off the main track. There is one private well in use by 20 of the houses but due to scarcity of water the others must collect water from the local stream. Currently the villagers use a small spring that feeds into the stream as the stream is unsuitable for drinking. The spring provides good clean water but it is prone to being destroyed by flooding due to its close location to the stream. This means these villagers must walk to the next village over to collect water during times of flood.  It also has a very small flow and people can have long waits there also during morning and evening peak times. During the winter the spring dries up completely leaving the villagers with no choice but to collect water from a dam site in the stream. The villagers have located an excellent site for a well. There is clean groundwater available and it is estimated that a depth of 60 feet will provide safe, clean water year round. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

The low down on the co-operatives

One of our most effective projects we work with here is our women's micro-finance co-operatives. These community groups help the villagers manage their finances to escape debt and to grow their income. The concept is very simple, like most good concepts and provides very real benefits to the members.

We also provide saving boxes for children, to help build good saving habits. Here Ashok counts the monthly savings.
To start with the basics we work with the women, this is because that the women are usually more responsive to changing how they operate and also are more responsible. The villagers are vulnerable to exploitation by loan sharks and middle men. Many go into debt to buy seed at the start of the season and struggle to service the massive interest or are contracted to sell their produce at a lower price at harvest time. We begin with basic literacy and numeracy training in the village. This also empowers the rural women, some of whom used to find going into town overwhelming as they were unable to read any signs. After the initial training the women form their co-operative by voting their representatives in and doing all the exciting paperwork. At this stage of the process CDRA is heavily involved, providing guidance, structure, funding and auditing. Once the co-operative is established the members start saving into the communal pool of money. CDRA usually funds a small start-up fund to help get the ball rolling. Once a member has proven a good saving history they can take a loan out at a greatly reduced interest rate. This loan must be for business purposes, such as buying new seed or livestock and buying a new TV just won't cut it. The member will then pay the loan off over the next year and be able to reap the proceeds of their investment.

This family used a micro loan to start a bee keeping business
This way all the money is coming from within the village and they are helping themselves instead of waiting for a hand-out. As each group gets more and more self-sufficient then our role reduces. We still provide guidance and auditing monthly but the groups are more than capable of doing the day to day running themselves. Another benefit of these co-operatives is that it provides a motivated community group within the village for other projects. We often utilize these groups when running projects such as health camps or school programs. Instead of a collection of individuals we begin to see a community group. As the groups grow they sometimes begin to create their own business, for example several of our co-operatives will bulk buy fertilizer in town for a greatly reduced rate and sell it to their members for a rate far cheaper than they would get from the middle man.
Doing some exciting paperwork at a monthly meeting
Most of these co-operatives have been running for some time and are firmly established in their community. It is encouraging to see so many people who can see the opportunity in front of them and are willing to work to make it happen, rather than wait for a hand out.
The women in charge