Archive for December, 2012

In praise of Practical Action

Friday, December 21st, 2012 by

Sadly, today is my last day here at Practical Action because in January I will be starting a new job at another international development charity. I have worked here for three and a half years and been writing my blog for the last two and a half years. As one of the youngest people in the UK head office, I feel like I have done a lot of growing up at Practical Action. I have worked with, and learnt from, some brilliant colleagues across the organisation. They are bright, committed, passionate people, and I have been very lucky to know them.

I am leaving with some very happy memories of my time here. My trips to Sudan and Kenya are particular highlights, and I will never forget the warmth, hospitality and helpfulness of all the overseas colleagues I have had the honour of meeting.

I have been very privileged to have had the opportunity to meet and interview some of the millions of people Practical Action has helped. Those conversations are perhaps my most treasured memories.

When I was in Kenya I met a woman called Syprose. Syprose was a beautiful woman, with the most magnificent face – the sort of face which has a whole life etched into it. She lived in a slum village called Nyalenda, just outside Kisumu city. She was a mother, and a grandmother. Her husband Daniel had died 3 years ago after stepping on a nail and contracting septicaemia. She was 63 years old, and she had the responsibility of looking after her five little grandchildren alone because she’d lost her four children to AIDS.

Syprose’s village did not have a system of clean water, although it did have a natural spring. But because it just flowed along the land, it was often polluted by animal and human waste. So people would get cholera, and die. Sometimes there were as many as 10 deaths a day. Syprose’s big fear was that her grandchildren would die too. So we worked with the villagers to protect the natural spring by constructing a low concrete wall round it and directing the water through a pipe. This simple technology means that people in Syprose’s village no longer die of cholera, and they have a constant supply of clean water.

And everyone was delighted, particularly Syprose. When I asked her how this made her feel, she took my hand, and her hand, and placed them both onto her heart. And then she said “it makes me feel like God is here.”

Syprose’s words will remain locked in my heart forever. I am leaving Practical Action safe in the knowledge that as an organisation, we do change and save lives in a very real way. I feel really proud to have been a small part of it.

Thank you for reading my blog over the last few years.

Wishing everyone a peaceful, relaxing and happy Christmas, and all good things for 2013.

Ella

 

Safari to a new era

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012 by

On November 22, 2012 Practical Action Consulting (PAC) Asia embarked on a three day field trip to Chitwan and Nawalparasi Districts. The objective of the field trip was to learn first-hand experiences about some of the projects undertaken by Practical Action and to see which lessons could be used in other projects in the Asian region, mainly India and Bhutan.

In three days and covering hundreds of kilometers, we were able to stuff in as many project sites as possible, learning and understanding Practical Action’s work along the way. We managed to visit the Gravity Goods Ropeway at Fisling, Climate Change Adaptation Site at Jugedi, Early Warning Site at Devghat, Market Access for Smallholder Farmers (MASF) site in Chainpur and Pithuwa, Strengthening Water, Air, Sanitation and Hygiene Treasuring Health (SWASTHA) site in Bagbazar and Renewable Energy site at Hurhure Danda.

MASF site in particular was very interesting to see. The Practical Action office in Nepal, with financial support through the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) implemented the dairy component of MASF in 30 Village Development Committees (VDCs) and two municipalities of four districts in Nepal – Chitwan, Tanahu, Gorkha and Dhading. The objective of this two-year project is to reduce poverty of smallholder farmers in Nepal through improving the incomes of 10,000 smallholder dairy farmers.

We decided to visit a few MASF project sites in Eastern Chitwan. The first site was Panchayan Dairy Cooperative in Pithuwa VDC. The team was able to interact with the cooperative members and observe their dairy resource centre, feed mill and the chilling station. At the dairy resource centre, the cooperative had kept dairy cows and calves of different breeds. The calves were bred there and cows were milked twice a day and sent to the cooperative’s own chilling station. The chilling station and milk collection centre services the surrounding villages. Not only was the cooperative able to collect and chill the milk but they had also installed a feed mill where they made high-quality feed for cows. It was really impressive to see how the project has helped the cooperative to be self-sufficient and it could be seen in the proud faces of the cooperative members. Panchayan Dairy Cooperative is truly an example-setting dairy cooperative that shows the success of MASF project in Nepal.

The second visit was to Kamdhenu Dairy Cooperative in Chainpur VDC and we observed the dairy farm operated by the cooperative. Although smaller in size as compared to Panchayan, Kamdhenu has also, in its own right, made successful gains in milk production and sales. With the help from the MASF project, they have successfully progressed towards more efficient production and effective market access. In the same VDC, the team also interacted with a few Dalit beneficiaries – traditionally regarded as ‘untouchables’. We were able to witness another extraordinary impact from the project. The project had set up a revolving fund which could be accessed by the neediest Dalit families. They would use the fund to buy cows and slowly pay back to the fund from selling the milk. The fund would then help other Dalit families to buy more cows. They were able to purchase dairy cows because of the revolving fund activity without which they would not have had the capital to invest. It was inspiring to see this socially disadvantaged group benefiting from the project and their positive attitude and eagerness to add more cows.

By visiting the field sites, the PAC Asia team has gained first-hand knowledge regarding the projects. We were all able to understand, through interactions with beneficiaries and stakeholders, the impacts made through the work of Practical Action. It was also understood that most of the beneficiaries are happy and are thankful to Practical Action and have invited to do more in their community. We were amazed to meet and interact with the communities we work with and at the same time proud to be associated with the organization that has worked with them to improve livelihoods and change lives! PAC Asia is developing new work and projects in India, Bhutan and beyond, so we need to take these lessons and grow them for an even bigger impact.

The story ends here but the journey continues for PAC Asia especially with two projects already in the pipeline: Gravity Goods Ropeway in Bhutan and Early Warning System in Afghanistan. Here’s to the future.

Hobbits, Hyacinths and Happiness

Monday, December 17th, 2012 by

Hobbits, hyacinths and happiness

Who would’ve thought that hyacinths and happiness would go together so well? But they do in flood prone Bangladesh. Practical Action works with some of the poorest people, forced by their poverty to live on land that shifts with the annual floods, so nowhere is ever really home, and making a garden is an act of faith. With water comes water hyacinth in abundance, a weed which Practical Action helps communities turn into floating gardens – an example of a really simple technology that works wonderfully well. The hyacinth leaves, supported by bamboo poles, are woven into a bed, on which is laid soil, into which seeds for lettuces, okra, sweet onions, pumpkins, etc., are planted. The plants’ roots reach down through the hyacinth bed to the flood waters, and nature does the rest. What could be simpler? It doesn’t have to be just hyacinth leaves; any material can be used to create a floating garden in this way, enabling food to still be grown when floods make normal planting impossible, bringing happiness to communities who previously struggled to meet their families’ food needs.

This is just one example of a project which Trusts and Foundations are helping Practical Action implement….and we have many more for which we need support. If you’re a Trustee of a Trust or Foundation and would like to know more, contact me on Liz.Frost@practicalaction.org.uk.

And the hobbits?  They don’t have anything to do with floating gardens I’m afraid, but being keen gardeners themselves and enjoying at least six meals a day, I think they would really approve of such a simple but productive technology.

Darfur – Remembering my visit and the people I met

Friday, December 14th, 2012 by

I am just about to be interviewed for Premier Radio about Practical Actions work in Sudan.  Spending a few minutes reflecting I remembered this blog written just after my visit.

Flying to El Fashir, in North Darfur, the World Food Programme planes are reckoned to be the safest, if slow.  Commercial flights are prone to occasional hijack, and judging by the abandoned tail fin at the end of the runway, occasional crashes too.

The flight took four hours.  The seasoned World Food Programme travellers, mainly UN suited executives with their badges of office dangling proudly around their necks, were well prepared with snacks and drinks – we weren’t.  Approaching El Fashir, fighting was too close to the airport – rebels were said to be firing at planes and we were turned back.  Another four hours.  Disappointed.

Next time I took a commercial flight.

Access to Darfur is very carefully controlled.  Access outside of El Fashir town is controlled yet more.  I sat for nearly two hours with an official, waiting for permission to travel – the official stamp was lost.  Once I had proven I wasn’t arrogantly ‘up myself’, a hot-head, or more to the point that I had patience, and would wait, the stamp was found in a desk draw and permission given. All was fine, the official was very nice.

We left the fortified and guarded town in a hired, old, beaten-up Land Rover flying a Practical Action flag.  Our own cars had been hijacked so many times and people held captive, that it was no longer thought safe to travel in them.  The flag was so, in theory, you were recognised as working for a charity and therefore not aligned to any side in the conflict.

North Darfur is huge, I am told it’s the size of France, yet there are less than 100 km of decent road.  Once through the military outpost, guarding entry and exit to the town we took off across the sand driving fast.  It was a very odd moment; I had a sense of unreality – what am I, a Brummie middle-aged mum, doing in a desert, in a semi war zone with a group of great local development workers?  It was surreal and yet humbling.  There was also a sense of thank God my mother doesn’t know that I’m here! (She hoped I was safe in Khartoum – and even more that I’d missed the flight all together and was still in the UK.)

We met community after community of people Practical Action are helping.  Women talked of the relief in only having to walk half an hour in each direction to fetch water, where previously they had to walk for seven.  Of how this meant they suffered less physically – one woman, Shadia said before her neck and back hurt from carrying heavy weights on her head and that she had regular pains in her chest but now she was able to rest sometimes.  I learnt that Practical Action is helping people grow enough food and access clean water.  That we’ve set up groups of women who form a development ‘resistance’ network getting vital seeds, building skills and helping the women who have remained in the villages cope, even during the worst of the conflict.  Brilliant!

I am infinitely curious, and love meeting people.  One group of women seemed keen to talk more and I asked what else they needed – help for our families in neighbouring villages to get water, better education for our children, more variety of seeds, new tools, midwives and health workers – it was a long list.  I carried on: ‘what would be their priority?’  The answer surprised me:  ‘changing men’s bad habits’.  I thought of my husband’s inability to see dust or to clean the loo, and realised I didn’t understand and so asked for explanation.  They seemed amazed it wasn’t obvious: ‘violence and female genital mutilation’.  I was shocked, surprised, horrified – they seemed such a strong group of women, yet they had to face and fight such cruelty.  I wanted to hug each one of them.

I also had my ‘Madonna’ moment when a beautiful, smiley, obviously happy baby boy was thrust into my arms by his very loving mother.  I cooed and ahh’d – I adore children, my own daughter is the light of my life.  You take him, she said, you will give him a better life. How sad.

I met men too – not lots, as the fighting has stripped the villages of many of their sons and husbands. Men who talked of a change in their attitude to women now walking by their side rather than behind. They talked of farming, of becoming self sufficient in food, and of the joy that brought them.

Heading back to town on the first evening, we realised that we were going to be late and would miss the 5pm curfew – would we make it past the army post or would we sleep overnight in the Darfur desert? It felt exciting, real and had a sense of jeopardy – I must be more of a thrill seeker than I thought (being stranded in Zanzibar led to one of the most brilliant evenings in my life – but that’s another story). Thankfully, we were allowed through the check point even though we were late.

I thought of people for whom this is everyday, people who work so hard to promote and deliver change. I loved meeting and talking with the people but their circumstances are terribly hard. It’s great that Practical Action is there to help for the long term.

Women in El Fashir, North Darfur

Shit Matters at Christmas

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012 by

What is the weirdest Christmas present you could give any one? For me the Shit Box, cardboard crapper must be a contender.  I’m amazed that people seem to be buying it. My daughter gave me a link to a ‘great’ website for Christmas presents and its 33 on their top 100 gifts!

Why would you do it? Why spend £16.99 plus P&P on a cardboard box with a hole in it? AND then use it to go to the loo!

Okay so I’m not their target audience.

But at the risk of sounding like someone’s self-righteous aunt, children are dying from the lack of a loo. Diarrhoea kills 1.5 million children each year, on top of this it’s a leading cause of malnutrition in children under 5. Shit is serious!

So if you have £20 to buy a ‘weird’ prezzie do something more useful – join up with a friend and give money for a decent loo to your favourite charity (overseas of course).

You still have the kudos of buying something weird without the problem of recycling (or contamination – having used a very clean long drop loo I know how hard ……I think any more might just be too much information – but you get my point)

If you are struggling for loo inspired prezzies have a look here.

Give a present that really can make a difference – not one that shows you are a plonker

Whatever you do (and buy)  this Christmas have a happy and very, very peaceful one

Auntie Margaret

Life after confronting the abyss

Monday, December 10th, 2012 by

Could better market systems help people rebuild their lives after the disaster of river erosion?

Jashim, Mahbub and I drove to Jamalpur in northern Bangladesh this morning.  It was a fine cool morning with sunlight dappling the tree-shaded road – and plenty of activity to admire in surrounding fields, fish-ponds and homesteads.  After crossing the mighty Jamuna river near Tangail, we took a relatively minor route snaking along tree-lined embankments between paddies rich with fields of winter rice and freshly planted vegetables.  The road was busy with bicycles, rickshaws and small lorries laden with jute, but it was a relief to have few of the heavy trucks and careering buses that terrorise the main road to Dhaka.

An hour after crossing the huge river, we entered Sorishabari near a village called Amtola.  Suddenly I was surprised to find the road almost walled-in by sheets of corrugated iron assembled on wooden frames. Walls inset with shuttered windows, and bricks stood piled at the edge of the tarmac. I realised I was looking at dozens of flat-packed houses, stacked more or less neatly at the side of the road, like goods in some unlikely, out-sized IKEA warehouse.

Flat-packed homes near Amtola in Sorishabari, Jamalpur

Walking between homes a few yards from the road, we stumbled out of the trees onto a desolate scene.  Fertile fields ended abruptly at a plummeting edge: the freshly eroded bank of the river.  All around, the sad remnants of homes – foundations torn, walls razed, a lonely tube-well, the pathetic remains of a kitchen hearth.  A neighbour explained that the families had desperately demolished their homes to save the materials from the encroaching river.  “How far has the river bank moved this year?” Jashim asked.  “Two kilometres!” the man replied.  “It obliterated four villages.”

Later I learned that during an unprecedented third flood event this summer, the main flow of the Jamuna river unexpectedly changed course at this point.  It rapidly ate into land that must have felt safe-as-houses to its residents only weeks earlier.

Eroded bank of the Jamuna river

We moved along the bank a small distance, and met a family whose home, but little of their land, had just about survived the summer erosion.  An old man, Razib, and his two sons greeted us warmly – optimistic perhaps that this visiting foreigner was an omen of assistance.  The women kept a discrete distance.  A young deshi cow and her calf were tethered to a wicker manger full of rice straw, and a couple of fat chickens scavenged as close as they dared to a modest harvest of rice drying in the sun.  The bank here was crumbling and vertiginous.  I could imagine it too, collapsing and sliding in moments into the muddy abyss twenty feet below.   How do they sleep at night?

Confronting the abyss

“What are you going to do?” we asked.  The old man pointed through the midday haze – over the abyss at his feet and half a mile across the water – to a vast island of sand and silt emerging mid-river.  “We will move there, and start again – on the chars.”

Chars is the Bangla word for the sand-banks, mud-flats and islands that form and re-form in the great rivers of Bangladesh: the Jamuna, Padma, Teesta etc.  They accumulate during the summer from eroded sediment washed downstream by monsoon rains, and emerge as the flood-water recedes – sometimes forming islands that endure for ten or twenty years before the meandering river consumes them once more.  In recent decades, as population pressures on the mainland have grown, chars land in northern Bangladesh has become refuge and home to more than two million people – mainly victims of river bank erosion.  They usually arrive with barely any assets.

Rebuilding a farming livelihood on the chars is desperately hard.  Having lost any land they held title to, migrating families are frequently at the mercy of local mastaan (or muscle-men) linked to ‘influential’ land-owners and political chiefs, who control the new chars land.  Land must be leased (or share-cropped) from often ruthless ‘land-owners’.  Most terrain is liable to flooding during the summer months, but due to low water-retention of the sandy soils, also prone to drought for half the year.  Men often have to migrate seasonally to cities and richer agricultural areas for work, leaving women-headed families vulnerable to abuse.  Meanwhile, the displacement that drove most households on to the chars often disrupts the social networks that women in poorer households rely upon for mutual support.

On young chars, especially, there is usually no infrastructure: no roads, no schools, no medical facilities, no irrigation, no electricity nor other basic services.  Transport of goods to and from markets is expensive and slow.  In the summer, when waters are high, boats ply between the chars and ghats (landing stages) on the mainland.  The ghats too are controlled by mastaan, who levy taxes of their own devising on the farmers and traders.  When the river recedes, transport options are usually worse – with char villages often stranded far from the water’s edge across baking stretches of trackless, sandy soil.  As a result, despite large (seasonal) expanses of land, markets for agricultural inputs and services are feeble, the economic output of chars land is low and the poverty of most households is intense.

My companions on the journey today, Jashim and Mahbub, are project officers for a recently started poverty-reduction programme called M4C.  Making Markets Work on the Chars – a five year joint-initiative between Practical Action Bangladesh, Practical Action Consulting and Swisscontact, that is paid for by the Swiss government (SDC).   We were on our way to Jamalpur to help run a workshop that brought together char farmers (like Razib), input suppliers, traders and agricultural service providers to explore how these diverse ‘market actors’ might work out practical solutions to some of these challenges.  The workshop used a process called Participatory Market Mapping:  creating a space for people, who do not normally talk on equal terms, to understand each other, discuss how different crop sectors (maize, chilli, jute etc) work, learn what each others’ needs and problems are, and begin to build trust and explore different ways of doing business together to make these ‘market systems’ work better – particularly for poorer farmers.

Vegetables at market in Jamalpur town

Unlike many donor-funded projects, M4C will not be handing out money or goods to poor households.  It will instead be supporting and relying on the char farmers’ capabilities to work out mutually-beneficial solutions to their problems: to work out better deals with each other, and involve the private sector in innovative ways.  Helping farmers work out how to coordinate and bulk up their production is one clear opportunity – since this quickly reduces transport costs for input suppliers and traders, and gives them a good reason to enlarge their business activities and provide better services on new chars.  This is a key step in enabling chars households better access to income and opportunities spilling over from expanding markets in the thriving towns and cities of the ‘mainland’.

It take time for people to build trust and devise new ways of working together effectively.   M4C’s approach is not instant palliative relief, but a long-term strategy for transforming access to services and income opportunities on the chars.  We believe that initiatives that stem from farmers’ and other market actors’ own ideas, and that align naturally with their interests,  are much more likely to endure, and spread spontaneously to other locations.   Entrepreneurial traders, input-suppliers and service providers will copy business ideas that work, taking good ideas to new chars, and extending the impact of our work far beyond what we could ever achieve directly.  With this vision, M4C is geared to achieving changes that are intrinsically long-lasting and reach significant numbers of poor households.

A new challenge!

Friday, December 7th, 2012 by

If you are a teacher and have used any of our STEM challenges before we are sure you will love  our new one……The Floating Garden Challenge  designed for ages 7-19.

Give your students a global problem and ask them to solve it.

The problem: In Bangladesh land is frequently flooded as a result of climate change, ruining crops grown for food.  The result is that families go hungry

The Challenge: To design and make a model solution to the problem that will enable farmers to grow crops even when the land is flooded.

Students  test their models to see which one holds the most weight when floated in water then look at how Practical Action has worked with communities in Bangladesh to build floating gardens out of local, sustainable material…. an example of technology justice in action.

Perfect for STEM and science clubs, NSEW,  collapsed curriculum timetable days  as well as for enhancing a lesson on forces.

Resources to help you deliver the challenge are free and include a PowerPoint, teacher’s notes, student worksheets, certificates and a beautiful  A2 poster which you can request free.  All materials are available in English and Welsh.

Go to practicalaction.org/floatinggardenchallenge 


Smallholders must be part of the solution to the food crisis

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012 by

“One of the most fateful errors of our age is the belief that ‘the problem of production’ has been solved.” E.F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful, Economics as if people mattered.

A food production crisis is facing the planet, how can increasing demand be met when conventional yields are flatlining? Is the solution staring us in the face?

The global food system is close to breaking point: growing populations and dramatic changes in dietary habits are fuelling increasing demand. Whilst increasing severity of natural disasters and escalating competition for water resources are further complicating the situation. The food system’s vulnerability is characterised by soaring food prices and more frequent food crises.

So, the question facing us today is how can increasing demand be met when conventional yields are flatlining? Is the solution to be found in the research laboratory, or is there a cheaper, sustainable and already tested solution staring us in the face?

Today, over 500 million smallholder farmers, fishers and agro-foresters supply food, fuel and fibre to almost 2 billion people living in the poorest and most vulnerable communities around the world.

‘find out what people are doing and help them to do it better’.

A recent visit to the people living in Wokin Kebele in Amhara region of Ethiopia highlighted the difficulties that these people face in accessing support. The government extension office was over one hour drive away on an unmade road and was staffed by a handful of government officials who have significant demands placed upon them. As a consequence the villagers that I met were self-reliant. They used basic technology and largely renewable inputs. If these smallholder farmers were to receive one tenth of the support available to farmers in developed countries, their production gains would be considerable.

The potential for production gains with more investment is show in the entrepreneurial way that these farmers have innovated using their own resources. I visited one farmer who had developed a new plough to cope with increased water logging in low lying fields and met a second who had started to plant small areas of Teff (Eragrostis tef), a traditional Ethiopian staple, as warming winter temperatures allowed cultivation of the crop in an area that was previously unsuitable.

However, to encourage further local innovation as a vanguard to smallholder-led growth, a major transformation of the global agricultural system is required. This would reward innovation and optimise production by making the most of each unit of existing agricultural land.

The first step of such a transformation would be a change in the way in which small scale production is viewed, recognising the benefits of the diversity, traditional skills and potential for crop improvements that smallholder systems present.

The second step would recognise the potential for human agency and requires a change in the future choice for smallholder farmers. Smallholder producers should be offered appropriate rewards that recognise their role as custodians of the planet. Rather than repeating the mistakes of the past and driving smallholders off their land through the gradual conversion of small-scale into large-scale industrial systems, a new and alternative agricultural future for smallholder farmers should be promoted. A future that meets their livelihood aspirations while delivering a global food system that doesn’t cost the Earth.

What I saw in Ethiopia reconfirmed my belief that by improving the capacity of the poorest performing producers, the largest gains in terms of global food production can be made. Importantly these gains would be delivered where they are needed most.

This BLOG is based on work undertaken while Colin worked for Oxfam and was originally published on their Policy and Practice website. http://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/

Work can change a woman’s life

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012 by

In September I had the chance to visit our work in Kassala in the eastern part of Sudan.  Travelling there took 9 hours. Although it was an exhausting journey, we enjoyed the beauty of the journey, the green spaces and towering mountains covered with trees, like a beautiful painting painted by a masterful artist.  Pastoralists and farmers were grateful for the blessing of rain this year, despite the difficulty of storing water in those rural areas. 

We visited Bagadir village, 30 Km from Kassala, which is inhabited by tribes called Bani Amer, who have migrated over the years from the Arabian Peninsula.  Some also live in Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Eritrea and different parts of the Arab Republic of Egypt.

Women are not considered a good omen for this tribe and their role is limited. Moreover women are not allowed to leave the village for any reason and their fundamental role  is parenting and serving men.

                                      Food in times of scarity

Practical Action Sudan has introduced ‘Jubraka’,  small farms for women, usually established near the house to provide food for farmers’ families during the critical time of food scarcity. In these farms women have been cultivating crops such as okra, watermelon, henna  and bananas, using our new  advanced  drip irrigation technique. Our visit coincided with the period of fruiting and I’ll never forget the scene.  I see the taste of success in women’s eyes, their efforts paid off.

My colleague Nahid Ali Awadelseed started to talk with the women, gathering in the corner where a thatched umbrella is erected. Usually, during irrigation and taking care of the farms women gather to do craft work or drink coffee. We start to chat with them and find out their opinions of Practical Action’s work in their community

One 16 year old girl, Afrah Karar, spoke on behalf of all the women. I admired her courage and her ability to express herself and asked if she had education or training. I knew Practical Action had offered her agricultural training in Kassala but unfortunately her father refused her permission to leave the village.  We were able to send a trainer to her village to help pass on this knowledge to the rest of the women. 

Then Siham Mohamed Osman, the leader of this programme of work for Practical Action, asked the women a question:

“Do you sell your farms’ production in the markets outside the village or do the men not allow it?”

 I was impressed by the swift answer from one of the women telling us that the men had began to abandon their stupidity.  I felt this was an amazing answer. Women’s work has started to change the customs and traditions of the tribe and then to change the status of women within their community.

Small works lead to small change and small change is the start of big success.

Much can be done to empower women. Practical Action is taking action by putting women’s empowerment at the center of development plans in our work. There can be no development, and no lasting peace on the planet, if women continue to be relegated to subservient and often dangerous and back-breaking roles in society.

A journey to prosperity

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012 by

The Chepang are a semi nomadic tribe in Nepal, numbering around 52,000 scattered across the country. These communities often live in very poor conditions and the Chepang in Hiklung village, Gorkha district are no exception.

Although the village is only 500m from one of the major highways of the country, it is a million miles from mainstream society. No road connects the village at top of the hill to the highway along the opposite bank of the Trishuli river and no bridge crosses the river. People from the village used to walk for several hours to reach the highway.

Access for Opportunities, an EU funded project, supported the community to install a gravity ropeway in 2009 and an improved tuin in 2011 to transport goods and to cross the river respectively.  At the same time, Practical Action undertook complementary activities to improve living conditions in the village. These included product diversification, training for farmers and micro irrigation. The village began to thrive as never before. A few weeks ago I visited the village and my chest swelled with pride to witness the change.

“We used to grow very little food, not even enough for 2-3 months. The rest of the year we lived on forest roots and tubers. Some of us used to work in Fishling Bazaar as porters to support our families and some worked overseas in India and Arab countries” Says Rantna Chepang, the Chairperson of the Jalapa Devi Agriculture Cooperative, formed with the help of the project.  

 “From this project we received improved seeds, micro irrigation technologies and new farming skills. Most importantly, we got the ropeway for transporting our goods to market. Now, we are producing surplus crops and each household earns NPR 120,000 ($ 1380) per annum from selling vegetables “

This income is nearly double Nepal’s average per capita income of $742, which is heavily reliant on remittances from abroad. This has triggered marked improvements in the living condition of the 56 Chepang households in the village.

Prem Chepang, 42, has suffered from tuberculosis for more than a decade. Previously his earnings were too small to afford medication for this curable disease. Now, like many villagers he is making a good income from selling vegetables and has saved enough money to seek treatment from doctors in Kathmandu. He is hopeful that one day he will be free from the disease.

Every monsoon, Basu Chepang, 36, struggled to keep his house dry.  Its straw roofing wouldn’t prevent the rain entering his house. Now, along with many others in the village, he has corrugated iron roofing – the most obvious sign of the prosperity in rural Nepal.

For, Devi Chepang, a teacher in a primary school in the village, the change unfolded in the form of improvement in children education and hygiene.  Before the project, attendance was low and the children’s hygiene was poor.

“Now parents have more time and money to invest in their children’s education and hygiene. The school introduced school uniform this year which would have been impossible before as the parents couldn’t afford it.” Devi told me.

Panmanya Chepang, 32, has never been happier. Her husband has returned home from Saudi Arabia where he had been working for 6 years. “Now, we are making more money from vegetable farming than he was able to send home from Saudi. I am determined not to send him back to Saudi and we are working hard for it “says Panmaya.

Panmaya is also the treasurer of Jalapa Devi Agriculture Cooperative.  The cooperative’s Capital has risen to $5232 in less than a year. The farmers are saving regularly $2.3 every month in the cooperative and it is providing credit to local farmers who need it.

This model village now showcases what a marginalized community can achieve if they have access to right skills and technologies. Chepang communities from elsewhere in the country visit to the village to draw inspiration.

The community deserves all the praise for taking responsibility for changing their lives and working hard for it. Practical Action is proud to provide a helping hand to their journey to prosperity.