Archana Gurung

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Recommended reading: http://www.practicalaction.org

Posts by Archana

  • Selling vegetables to educate wife, a moving story of Gopal Mahat

    June 29th, 2017

    Gopal Mahat just turned 24 and is a local denizen of Ghagar Village of Badimalika Municipality in Bajura. This young and energetic man with a high school education passes almost all his day in his vegetable farm. Gopal lives in a family of five along with his parents, wife and a child. He is among a very few men in Bajura who support their wives in pursuing higher studies. Gopal makes a special exception because he also takes care of his new born to let his wife study. If we look at Nepal’s rural societies, women’s career stops before it even starts mainly due to patriarchal mindsets. And Gopal sets a beautiful example of breaking the odds.

    Gopal Mahat with his wife in front of their home

    I am living my dreams through my wife by educating her – Gopal Mahat

    However, only a few years ago, his life was full of hardship. After completing school, he borrowed some money to continue with high school but the loan money was not sufficient to support his education since he also had a family to look after. So he decided to be engaged in an income generation. Clueless about what to do, Gopal came across a demonstration on cultivation of tomatoes under plastic roofing for better yield conducted by the POSAN FS project. He was quite impressed with the practice and decided to give it a hand. He then cultivated tomato, brinjal, cucumber and some other vegetables in one ropani land (1 Ropani = 508.83771 m²) land he owned. Each season then, Mahat’s yields kept multiplying and he decided to continue cultivation of vegetables and expand the business further. So he added some more land in lease.

    Gopal working at his vegetable farm

    In the spring of 2016, he cultivated tomato, capsicum, some leafy vegetables and coriander in more than four ropani land taken in lease. Mahat made use of improved varieties, micro-irrigation and other improved farming technologies due to which his annual income has increased by about six folds. Mahat shares,

    “I earned NPR 25,000 (£186) only in four months’ time. Also due to creation of market with support from POSAN FS project in form of collection centres here in Rapka, sales has been easier for me. In 2016 alone, I sold fresh vegetables worth NPR 1, 00,000 (£745). This money has not just helped improve my living standard but my dream to support my wife’s education is being fulfilled.”

    Fresh tomatoes ready for harvest inside the tunnel house at Gopal’s farm

    Improved irrigation techniques have helped Gopal increase the production

    Mahat has paid back his entire loan and is also paying premium regularly for his child’s life insurance. Most of all, he is supporting his wife’s education which he said is his dream. Though it was challenging for him to study, he wanted to live his dream when he wanted due to financial crisis, he wants to support his wife’s education in every way possible. He shared us that his main motivation towards working hard for better income was to see his wife getting a good degree in future. His wife is getting a promising results in her studies and wants to become a civil service employee after gradating. He is looking forward to further widen his agri-business in the coming years and of course invest more in educating his wife. As an educated young farmer of Bajura, Mahat is also gaining popularity for improved farming practices as he had been involved in many varietal and improved farming practice demonstrations at his farm in coordination with POSAN FS project.

    Gopal’s wife preparing for her exams

    By investing his income, time and effort for his wife’s education, Gopal is not just helping her get a better future but is setting a milestone in breaking stereotypes of Nepal’s rural patriarchal perspective. Where women after their marriage almost loose all their identities, Gopal is helping his wife build one. He is passionate about the way she reads and writes as he sees her in a better position as an empowered women in the village. What he is doing is quite bold for where he belongs and is worth sharing far and wide.

    POSAN FS project recently concluded in four district of the far-west, Bajhang, Doti, Achham and Bajura. The project was co-funded by the European Union.

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  • Students building nutrition smart communities

    June 28th, 2017

    Malnutrition is the most chronic health problems globally. According to Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), in Nepal around 39.9 per cent of national population consumes minimum calories than prescribed. Above 46 per cent children below the age of 5 suffer malnutrition and 45 per cent are underweight while 43 per cent have stunted growth. Of the various development regions in Nepal, the situation of malnutrition is rather worse in far-west where nearly 50 per cent people are consuming fewer calories than that of the prescribed level.

    School goers of far-west, Nepal

    Students, the change agents

    To tackle the problem of malnutrition, POSAN project has tried to build nutrition smart communities through School Led Nutrition System (SLNS) approach where school students are involved in different extra curriculum activities like art, quiz, debate, essay and drama competitions on nutrition theme. Such nutrition sensitive interventions help them understand importance of nutrition and also pass on the message to their families. Students can indeed be the vehicle of social transformation and students of this school in Bajura have proven that. Shree Nepal National Secondary School of Jadanga VDC in Bajura District is a great example of passing knowledge of nutrition to the communities through their students. The school hosts different nutrition themed activities every Friday. The students are learning the importance of homestead gardening, and how the nutritional values in vegetable can affect physical well being. They are also educating their families about the importance of nutrition, and supporting in homestead kitchen gardening. Their parents are more than happy to apply the new found knowledge into practice. In addition to the
    in-school competitions, the project has also envisaged school garden called “live laboratory”, to give practical knowledge to the students and teachers. About two-third schools have established school garden to give practical knowledge to their students. The extracurricular activities related to the nutrition and kitchen garden are well integrated in the calendar of their school.

    Art competition on homestead gardening at a school in Bajura

    Students are also major change agents of nutrition knowledge, attitude,

    behavior and practice to promote nutrition smart communities

    Extracurricular 

    Chakra Bahadur Shahi, has been teaching in the school for 7 years. He leads the Friday nutrition themed extracurricular activities, “We here try and do activities once every week on Fridays to increase student’s awareness on nutrition. These kids are not just enjoying extra activities; they are also partaking in vegetable gardening at home. After these sort of efforts, kids have been really interested in vegetable farming. The kids go on to share the information to their parents and neighbors.”

    Shahi said the school has started the activities since a year and a half now and the impact is huge. First of all, students are capacitated in different extracurricular activities through which they also acquire knowledge on importance of nutrition which is affected by consuming vegetables. The school has also been discouraging consumption of junk foods such as noodles towards which students seem highly attracted these days. Moreover, consumption of neglected food like millet, buckwheat, taro, among others is being promoted through school. One of the students who recently won an art competition on homestead gardening in the school, Manoj Kumar Khadka shares, “I came to know I cannot grow strong if I am not consuming enough nutrition. So I asked my parents to grow vegetables at home. We have taro, radish, cauliflower, and other veggies at home. They are all tasty and nutritious. I also help my parents in kitchen gardening.”

    Farm produces at homestead garden of a student in Bajura

    Learning by doing

    Although the students acquire nutrition and hygiene related theoretical knowledge through their course curriculum, that seems to be insufficient to bring practical knowledge and awareness. Previous researches have demonstrated school as a healthy role model for improved and smart eating where students are key players. Students are also major change agents of nutrition knowledge, attitude, behavior and practice to promote nutrition smart community. It has also been proven that that there is a positive reinforcing relationship between health and learning. Thus practical approaches like “learning by doing” and “doing by learning” have been helpful to influence students and their communities on value of nutrition. If such methods of disseminating knowledge are implemented across Nepal, it can generate about positive effect. The excitement in kids regarding vegetable farming is heightened by the culture of growing fresh vegetables back at home.

    Farm produces at kitchen garden of a student in Bajura

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  • Life as a Barefoot Agro-vet; Govinda Khadka’s Story

    March 14th, 2017

    Things were bleak for Govinda Khadka (47) of Gajra village in Achham District a few years back. After being a primary school teacher for over a decade until 2014, Khadka quit his job due to low remuneration and instability. Before being a school teacher, he was a migrant worker alike most of his fellow villagers. He lived and worked as a labour in India for many years. His meagre income never paid enough for his family of five including his wife and three sons. With mere three ropani (1 Ropani = 508.83771 m²) of land and Indian labour job, there was no way that his children could be educated and well brought up. Hence, just like most of the youths in Achham, two of his sons were off to India to manage two square meals. At his mid-forty’s, Khadka had no job and just a small plot of land. All his sons had to take care of their own families. He and his wife barely had a source of income.

    Alternative? Taking an Indian labour job!

    Still healthy and fit, taking an Indian labour job crossed Khadka’s mind many times. But it was not an easy decision to leave his wife Rajyaswari Khadka (45) all by herself. Just like Khadka, many of the Achham dwellers opt for Indian labour jobs. Every year, 28,323 men and boys of Achham District leave to neighbouring India aspiring for a better living. In absence of better livelihood options back home, India seems most palatable platter in their plate. However, migrant labourer is not a great choice of life given the hardships and consequences that come along. Khadka, despite bearing a School Leaving Certificate (SLC) level education had such a thought; we can imagine the livelihood choice of more than half of Achham population who are not literate.

    Transformative Barefoot Agro-vet Career

    Khadka might have to leave as an aging migrant worker but thanks to POSAN, he was offered 35 days agro-vet training when things were at edge for him. After the training, he was able to pass test to receive an official agro-vet license. He was also supported by the project to establish an agro-vet shop with financial assistance of NPR 25,000 (£ 193). His fellow villagers came to a great sigh after his agro-vet was established to cater them veterinary and agriculture related services. Since many villagers residing uphill and away from his agro-vet shop also started demanding his service, his wife started looking at the shop while Khadka started providing a barefoot agro-vet service whenever he is called. Khadka shared with us, as a barefoot agro-vet, he found more satisfaction than any other profession. It has not just been a source of income for him but he gets to socialise with fellow villagers. He also thinks the profession has given him more happiness than ever as he loves to interact with people.

    Govinda Khadka providing barefoot agro-vet service on an urgent call by fellow villager at night

    Govinda Khadka providing barefoot agro-vet service on an urgent call by fellow villager at 8:00 in the night

     

    “Being a barefoot agro-vet, I am able to make above NPR 40,000 (£ 310) annually. This is a lot of money for me. I have been saving most of the income for my retirement and possible medical expenses for me and my wife in future. However, it is not just about money, I get to socialise in every nook and cranny of this village and sometimes even beyond. People regard me for my service which means a lot to me. I imagine, only if I was not given this opportunity, I would not be leading such a respectful life.”

     

    A Sigh that POSAN Brings….

    Khadka is also supported by the project in vegetable farming techniques. While the Khadkas never grew enough vegetables for their own consumption due to lack of knowledge, now they barely spend any money in buying food. This also in a way has helped them make more saving. In fact, they sell the surplus once or twice every week in nearby Bayelpata market through which they make enough for their day to day expenditure. All in all, Khadka’s plans to save the income made through barefoot agro-vet service for his retirement explains how a small contribution from POSAN has helped ensure social security for him and his wife. His service is not just a business for him but is also associated to his wellbeing.

    The Khadka couple today leads a happy life with least things to be worried about. They have food growing abundantly at their backyard and an agro-vet shop as a small scale enterprise. Above all, Khadka has his barefoot agro-vet profession which gives him pleasure and decent pay at the same time.

    Almost every other household in Achham rear goats and barefoot agro-vet is high in demand

    Almost every other household in Achham rear goats which clearly signals high demand for barefoot agro-vet

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  • Inside Nepali Kitchens

    December 29th, 2016

    I remember when I used to go to my maternal uncle’s ancestral home in Nepalgunj as a kid, my grandmother asked us not to step inside the kitchen while she was cooking. She wanted to prevent us from the tough smoke from the burning fire. Few years later, she started using LPG stove and things got better for her. But even at her 70’s, she is somehow paying the expense of cooking in smoke filled kitchen for half her life. After about twenty years my granny bid farewell to smoke, the traditional cooking still persists in Nepali kitchens.

    Lately, I saw reflection of my granny again in this adorable elderly named Sona Gurung from Khalte of Dhading. Years and years have passed, Nepal got facelift in many different ways but Nepalese kitchens are still reeling under the cloud of smoke. This smoke is a silent killer, every year it claims lives of as many people as TB, Malaria and Aids combined across the world and specially women of poor communities and children under the age of 5. The primitive way of cooking is undoubtedly an outcome of poverty and lack of awareness. There are many approaches underway to address this issue and is yet insufficient. Let’s try from each of our side to speak of it and act on it.

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  • A “road trip” to Gujrana

    June 14th, 2016

    February’s beautiful few days kept me in the mid-west Terai. This part of Nepal is filled with the unusual beauty and especially Gulariya of Bardiya is at nature’s special rank. The sun’s radiance and crops spreading far and wide feed your eyes with a greenish-yellowish colour symphony, red-silk cotton trees catching up with you every next minute, give pleasure to the mind and heart. Gulariya holds unique flora and fauna; it is widely known for the Krishnasars (black bucks).

    A view of setting sun from Gujrana, Gulariya.

    A view of setting sun from Gujrana, Gulariya

    Gulariya is a cluster of diversity and has a unique indigenous way of life. With so much of nature’s generosity and cultural wealth, this place is a heaven on earth. But nature and culture’s lushness do not always make a land fortunate. Many reasons including illiteracy, lack of infrastructure, poverty, natural hazards such as flooding, among others have been a barrier to development in many parts of Gulariya. However, many parts are moving ahead too.  While on a field trip, I spent some time in this beautiful village named Gujrana, a settlement of Gujars, a Nepalese ethnic/minority Muslim community.

    After a 30 minutes drive on the highway from the main town, our course diverted to an unpaved road. We drove off leaving billows of dust behind us. I looked back at the billows and contemplated how this short dusty ride made quite a big difference to the Gujars. The road we were driving over was a long awaited one for the Gujars  and ‘WE’ walked shoulder to shoulder with them to bring the road to their village. I was proud to be driving on the road which finally connected the village to a brighter future.

    A road that has many stories to tell

    Upon arrival at Gujrana, the village’s warmth gave us a big hug. Unlike other poor communities, Gujrana has a different personality. A neat, tidy and well managed little village, Gujrana also has an abundance of nature’s beauty. The people I met there had stories to tell about the road. Some shared the road linked them to higher education, some were just happy because access to hospital was easier, some said the road just pulled markets nearer, and the others were grateful that life essential infrastructures and services were now within their reach.

    A Gujar girl posing with her cycle in the new road

    The first ambulance entered the village only in 2015 and this very road took it there. Before last year, it gave the villagers distress to have their lives at risk because an ambulance could not cross the mere 800 metres of distance. Many shared experience of rushing patients on bamboo made stretchers over muddy trails until they met the main road where ambulances waited.

    Less than one kilometer of distance and the entire village had been pushed back by half a century. Gujrana’s facelift is mainly attributed to the road. It is not black-topped yet but is wide and well maintained. Thanks to the financial support of UK government’s UK Aid match fund through DFID, Practical Action could reach to the Gujars with Safa & Gulariya project and as part of the project, the idea of Community Action Plan (CAP) came to the Gujars which remained instrumental in bringing the road to them.

    School time…

    The whole time at Gujrana, I was surrounded by bright children inquisitive about the camera I was using. They mostly responded by big smiles but their inquisitiveness and curiosity allowed me to anticipate their bright futures.

    The Gujar children went to school by walking few hundred metres from home. Before the road was there, the monsoons were way too hard on them. The muddy and slippery trails led to regular absence of school-goers. Many children would get back home with cuts after tripping and some were badly injured too. In poor communities like Gujrana, only light of hope for the children’s bright future is their education and failure to attend schools can hamper them from what they can be. A few children timidly said me they don’t miss schools anymore because the way to school is ‘walkable’.

    This road is a step towards Gujrana's brighter future

    This road is a step towards Gujrana’s brighter future

    Better road is better economy and better life

    Tractors can finally reach the fields of Gujars now. The road has brought technology in the farmers’ backyards directly showing results in their yields. The labour involved in agriculture has dropped tenfold and harvests have increased. Most importantly, they can now easily get their produce to the nearby markets loading on ox carts, horse carts and tractors, even in the monsoon. Selling their produce takes less efforts and they have been able to make good savings. All thanks to the newly arrived road; many Gujars’ living standards have gone up.

    The road helps transport the produces to the market easily

    The road helps transport local produces to the market easily

    What’s CAP all about?

    Government of Nepal (GoN) has a provision of accepting community-led proposals for their local development as part of 14 step planning process under Local Governance and Community Development Programme (LGCD). The municipalities and Village Development Committees (VDCs) accept a participatory plan of action from different communities. This Community Action Plan (CAP) involves the community people directly in selection of community problem, prioratisation of them and proposal to the locally based governance body, VDC or municipality offices. However, most of the poor and marginalised communities commonly remain unaware of many provisions and services introduced by the government due to many gaps; gap in education, gap in information, gap in knowledge, among others. CAP’s provision is also unknown to many. Many times, merely knowing about CAP is also not about everything; there needs to be capacity to develop CAP. Gap in such capacity is also hurdle to many small developments communities themselves can lead.

    Using various instruments like: social map, seasonal calendar, situation analysis, problem tree analysis Practical Action with partner Environment and Public Health Organization (ENPHO) involved the Gujars in rapid CAP developing exercises. At initial stages, it was bit of a challenge to teach Gujars such serious proposition. But our social mobilisers did all it takes to simplify everything using local resources as metaphors drawing maps in the mud, creating different games and showing dramas in the local dialect, communicating more and more ̶ door to door and at a personal level, among many more techniques.

    Gujar community

    Beautiful sun kissed Gujrana village during dusk

    The CAP approach actively involved the villagers in preparing an inclusive and priority based plan of action. It played a crucial role in unique team building, identification of village needs, preparing plan of action and dragging municipality’s attention to address them. Team building bound the Gujars and adjoining village dwellers in a thread of unity to jointly work in bringing road to their doorsteps. Besides Gujrana, the intervention has enhanced capacities of 10 communities of Gulariya Municipality in participatory planning and has helped them develop their Community Action Plans (CAP).

    A GREAT BEGINING

    It’s really interesting how developing simple skills can bring such significant change in their lives. While harnessing my Gujrana understanding, I caught a moment to speak to its Chairperson, Nokhe Gujar. Responding to my query about how he felt about the change in his village, he expressed his views.

    “The change has brought the village out of captivity of backwardness. We felt imprisoned without a road. Our children missed schools and we ourselves had difficult time to sell our produces in the market. CAP has helped us understand our needs and get the municipality address them. Nowadays, we sit for regular meetings to discuss our problems and we make strategies to solve them. We develop our priorities and design CAP on our own. Even in future we will be able to plan our development on our own.”

    Gujrana’s village chair sharing experience of being without road

    Over a year’s rigorous teaming up with Gujars and they were able to get themselves a road.  However, it does not end right here on the road. It’s just a stepping stone and is a great beginning. With that capacity, they can shape further community level developments themselves in future. And if other parts of Gulariya replicate the good practice here, the face-lift of entire Gulariya is certain. With the nature’s abundance and rich cultural heritage that Gulariya holds; people participated development can open many doors of opportunities for the Gulariya and its people.

    Someone rightly said, give a person a fish and you feed them for a day; teach the person to fish and you feed them for a lifetime!

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