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

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Happy Fathers Day

Last week we celebrated fathers day here in Nepal - yes it is held a little earlier than in NZ.  We were fortunate to be invited to our friends home, to partake in celebrations with the family.  Fathers day in Nepal is really a chance for the whole family to get together, in particular siblings with their parents. This means that sons and daughters make a special trip home.  It is fairly common for sons to live at home in an extended family situation, so it is mostly daughters travelling home.

Fathers day is celebrated much the same as Dasaai and Tihar (brothers and sisters day), with fathers receiving a tikka from their daughters. They also offer food, with hard boiled egg, and dried fried fish on offer at our friends house. We really enjoyed being able to see fathers day in Nepal as we missed it last year.