Prabin Gurung

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

Posts by Prabin

  • Rebuilding dreams, rebuilding hopes – a melancholic reflection

    June 25th, 2019

    Almost 200 kilometres west from Kathmandu lies a small village called Rainas in Lamjung district. It is one of the villages which was hard hit by the 2015 earthquake. 83 year old Sape Damai lives with his 86 year old blind wife, Dalli Damai in a small temporary shelter in Rainas-8, Lamjung. They have been through thick and thin and are still going strong. All of their seven kids died during birth. “We were cursed, none of our kids survived,” says Mr. Damai as he wiped his tears. Nonetheless, the couple has nothing against their misfortune, “we were destined to deal with these problems, which I gracefully accept it,” says Mr. Damai with a hesitant smile on his face. Mr. Damai was in the field during the earthquake. As soon as he felt the shake, he rushed to his house and saw his house crumbled right before his eyes. His wife was sitting right in front of the house, not knowing what was going on. “Everything just happened in such a short span of time, I helplessly watched my house collapse right in front of my eyes,” shares Mr. Damai.


    Pic: The love birds (Sape Damai and Dalli Damai) in front of their temporary shelter

    Life can be so cruel sometimes but with the right company and attitude one can still move mountains. This was the case with this power couple. Both of them are in the twilight years, yet they bear no grievances or complaints. While I was sitting there talking to them, Mr. Damai slowly pulled his wife’s shawl that was hanging low and adjusted on her shoulder. It was the sweetest thing ever. Forget about the fairy tales, their affection was as pure as it can get.

    The next stop for me was at Bharati, Dhorde-1, Lamjung, where a 63 year old Nanda Kumari Giri lives by herself. Her husband passed away some 26 years ago. “Even though I was a widow I was blessed with two sons and one daughter. They were my source of motivation. I never felt alone but all of a sudden things changed,” Ms. Giri said with a trembling voice. There was a long pause and she just could not continue. I too sat there without saying a word. After sometime I asked her if she had any siblings. She wiped her tears and said, “I do but they are far away, they are in Syangja.” Then she asked where I was from. I told her, “Pokhara.” She looked at me with those brooding eyes and said, “Oh, so we are from almost the same area,” with a brittle smile. I just shook my head and smiled back to her. She kept looking at me for a while and said that I resemble her older son. I could tell that she has been longing to see her son for quite some time now. Her older son was recruited by the Nepal Police during the Maoist insurgency. He used to send her money every now and then but later he got sick and had to quit the police force. Since then, he has not been able to send money. “I understand that he also has his own family to support, so he might not have enough money to send it to me,” says Ms. Giri to console herself. Whatsoever, she does not have anything against her son. More tragic was to follow after her eldest son’s injury.


    Pic: Nanda Kumari Giri in front of her rundown house

    She got bed-ridden for almost five years. She just could not get out of the bed. Her daughter and younger son had to do everything for her; from spoon feeding to taking her to the bathroom. Since they could not diagnose the problem, she had to be admitted to a bigger hospital in Chitwan. They prescribed her some medicines and told her to watch her diet. She was having severe vitamin deficiency and was malnourished. The doctors strictly advised her to eat nutritious meals. “It was a miracle by the grace of god, I never thought I would be able to walk but slowly I regained my energy and power,” smiles Ms. Giri. Just when things started to take shape, another tragedy struck. Her daughter eloped with some stranger but things did not work out. So, within a month she came back home but again she ran away with another man. Right after that, her younger son also got married and shifted to another place with his wife. “During mela, I used to save my food and bring it home to my son. I even sold my last piece of earring just so that he could appear for the SLC entrance exam. I thought I could lean on to my son during my old age but everything went in vain,” says Ms. Giri as she wipes her tears off. In the end, she was left alone in a desolate house which was struck by the earthquake.

    More than 600,000 houses were destroyed during the 2015 earthquake. Four years down the line, people like Sape Damai and Nanda Kumari Giri are still forced to live in either a temporary shelter or a run-down house. Four thousand rupees received as an old age pension is the only source of income which is hardly enough to feed them, rebuilding a house is a far cry. Practical Action’s “Leave No One Behind” (LNOB) project funded by the UKAid is helping people like Sape Damai and Nanda Kumari Giri rebuild their houses. The main objective of LNOB project is to support 1500 marginalised and vulnerable households from Makwanpur and Lamjung districts to build resilient houses addressing the barriers to housing reconstruction and enabling them to access government’s cash grant support.

    Likewise, 200 kilometres east from Lamjung, lies another small village called Takuwa in Makwanpur district. The story of 13 year old Santosh Neupane is also woeful. His dad left for India when he was a small kid and never returned. His mom remarried and left him with his baby sister. Their house was also destroyed by the earthquake, so he and his sister had to move in to his uncle’s house after the earthquake. I was briefed by one of the field mobilisers about Santosh’s story, so I was keen to meet with him in person.

    It was a hot sunny afternoon in Takuwa, I could feel the sweat rolling down my spine, as I waited for Santosh at his uncle’s house. As I was having a chat with his uncle, he pointed me towards Santosh and said, “Oh, finally he’s here.”  I saw Santosh coming from the other side in a sluggish pace. He had a bandage wrapped around his wrist. I introduced myself and offered him a seat next to me. He hesitantly sat next to me. Sweat was running down his forehead, his eyes looked wan and tired. When I asked him what happened to his wrist, without looking at me, he said, “I sprained my wrist while playing football,” in a hushed tone. Bingo! That was an ice-breaker for me. We share the same passion, I said it to myself. Then I shared my football experiences with him and he got really excited. At first, he hardly spoke but after some time, he slowly opened up. I told him I did my ankle multiple times and also my ACL while playing football and he just gave me a smirk. Finally, I guess I made him smile.


    Pic: Santosh Neupane struggling to smile with his sprained wrist

    The story of Santosh is nothing similar compared to the rest of the kids his age. He wakes up around six in the morning, prepares breakfast, feeds his baby sister and helps her get ready for school. In the meantime, he also gets himself ready for school. After school, he comes back home, prepares snacks for his sister and they sit down together to do their school assignments. After they are done with the assignments, his sister goes out to play while he goes to the kitchen to prepare dinner. “Most of the times, as soon as I go to bed, I pass out immediately,” says Santosh. While the rest of the kids his age are busy playing with their toys, Santosh is obliged to baby-sit his little sister. When asked about his future aspirations, he just smiled and said, “I want to be a footballer.” Whereas, for his sister, he wants her to be a teacher and help the kids in his village with their studies. That was the most humble answer I have ever heard.

    The financial contribution of Practical Action might seem very minimal but I am sure a big change starts small. Nonetheless, the role of Practical Action should not be undermined. It is helping to bridge the gap between the earthquake victims and the government. I just cannot wait to see those houses being rebuilt and the smile restored on the faces of Sape Damai, Nanda Kumari Giri and Santosh Neupane. Hoping for more of an ecstatic, rhapsodic reflection the next time around!

     

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  • The power of gravity

    January 15th, 2019

    The first time I came across a gravity goods ropeways was a long, long time ago in Dhading . I was on a bus travelling from Pokhara to Kathmandu and saw this giant cage coming down a hill.  This remained a mystery until 2012 when I joined Practical Action and spotted the very same giant cage in one of Practical Action’s brochures.

    The gravity goods ropeway works on a very simple mechanism, using no fuel but only gravitational force. Two trolleys roll over twin steel ropes suspended between two stations, helped by pulleys. When a trolley loaded with local goods rolls down from the upper station, another hauls up along the other rope from the lower station. A simple brake system regulates the speed of the moving trolleys. As a rule of thumb, the downward moving load should be three times heavier than the upward moving load. Whoever came up with this technology must be a genius. It is simple, yet so effective!

    A challenging landscape

    The far west of Nepal has very challenging terrain with narrow trails, steep hills and mountainous ridges. Local people have no option but to walk this trail. When I reached the lower station in Tipada, Bajura, and said I wished to meet people in the upper station, Prem Saud, the GGR operator, pointed at a massive hill in front of me and said, “The only way to get there is to climb that hill.”

    As we went higher, the trail became narrower and steeper going through a forest. After walking for almost an hour, we rested in the shade of a tree and I asked Gopal if there were any wild animals in the jungle. He said there were bears and wild cats and my jaw dropped. I didn’t know whether to show my fear or act brave?  For the rest of the walk there were so many thoughts in my head, what if a bear attacks me, what if I get bitten by wild cats, what if I fall off from this slippery trail?

    All of a sudden I heard a crunch behind me. I could tell that someone was following. My heart was pounding like a drum beat. I turned around and saw a young couple with a new born baby on their back. What a relief! I let the couple go ahead of me and watched them climb up the hill, with no signs of tiredness. The young man was carrying a huge back pack and the wife was carrying the new born, and they looked like they were taking a stroll through the jungle. Whereas, I was still trying to catch my breath.

    Joyful faces in Mana Gau

    Finally, after almost three hours we reached Mana Gau. The view from the top was magnificent. I could see the beautiful Saipal mountain range and the small community of around 200 houses surrounded by terraced paddy fields.

    People were busy with their daily chores in the fields or tending to cattle. We stopped by a small tea shop where I met a woman who was nursing a year old baby. She introduced herself as Nirmala Dhani. She used to walk for a whole day to get goods from the local market in Jadanga or Tipada).

    “It used to be very tiring and risky at the same time. The roads were very steep and narrow. Sometimes I was all by myself crossing the jungle, it was very scary.” But after the installation of the gravity ropeway, her life has changed for the better. In 15 minutes goods can reach her doorstep. She shared her joy, “I’m glad with the installation of this GGR, women don’t have to suffer (like me) walking the long trail, especially during pregnancies.”

    I was glad to see the happy faces of this small community. The gravity ropeway definitely made life easier. Gone are the days when one had to carry goods on your back and walk along the treacherous trail like a mule. A whole day commute has now been reduced to a half hour walk.

    A simple technology can indeed change life for better but Mana Gau still lacks proper road access and basic health services. There is still much to be done, Mana Gau is work in progress. Just like Martin Luther King, I too have a dream. I have a dream that one day this village will be free from drudgery with its own health clinic and road access. I have a dream that one day this village will make a living from its own agricultural produce. I have a dream that one day this village will be free from poverty so that the men can return from working in the Gulf countries and India. I am sure one day I will be able to witness this and that will be the day when I will be truly smiling.

    BICAS project is co-funded by the European Union and Jersey Overseas Aid.

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  • The gravitational release – the hillside story of the western Nepal

    January 2nd, 2019

    I always get ‘fascinated’ by gravity goods ropeways. The first time I came across one was in Dhading. I don’t remember exactly when but I am sure it was a long long time back. Once I was travelling on a bus from Pokhara to Kathmandu and on the way I saw this giant cage coming off a hill. I wasn’t sure what it was inside the cage, nor did I know how that giant cage was moving. It was all mystery, until in 2012 when I joined Practical Action. During my first week at Practical Action, I was going through annual reports and brochures and that’s when I spotted the same giant cage in one of Practical Action’s brochures. Instantly I could tell that it’s the same cage I saw in Dhading. I became curious and started reading about the giant cage. Little did I know, the giant cage was called ‘gravity goods ropeway’ (GGR) and it was one of the technologies Practical Action was promoting, especially in the hilly regions where they don’t have proper road access.

    Technological enlightenment

    The GGR works on a very simple mechanism. It is a green technology which does not require any fossil fuel and operates on gravitational force. It consists of two trolleys, rolling over two separate steel wire ropes (track ropes) suspended between two stations. The trolleys slide on the track ropes with the help of pulleys. When a trolley loaded with local goods rolls down from the upper station along the track rope, another trolley with the consumers’ goods hauls up along the next track rope from the lower station. A simple brake system is fitted to the sheave at the lower station to regulate the speed of the moving trolleys. As a rule of thumb, the downward moving load should be three times heavier than the upward moving load. The same year I joined Practical Action, I got a chance to visit the GGR project sites in Dhading and Gorkha, and I was really impressed with this simple technology. Whoever came up with this technology must be a genius. It is so simple, yet so effective.

    Pic: Gravity Goods Ropeway at the upper station of Mana Gau, Bajura

    The trail is no stroll through the jungle

    The topography of the Far-West Nepal is a very challenging one. The rugged terrain, narrow trail, steep hills and mountainous ridges surely act as defiance against anyone’s will. The locals are forced to commute this trail without any option. So was my situation when I reached the GGR station in Tipada, Bajura. After having a conversation with Prem Saud, the GGR operator, I intended to visit the upper station to get the clear picture of the community at the upper station. I spoke with Gopal Nepali, our field coordinator, he smiled at me, pointed a massive hill in front of me and said, “The only way to get there is to climb that hill.” I did not have any option but to follow his lead. I checked my watch and it read 10:45 am.

    We went down the road following a trail which led to the bridge connecting the two hills. As we were crossing the bridge, we could see a group of people fishing by the bank of the Budhiganga River. I know for sure that asking the locals the time it takes to cover the distance is just irrelevant but somehow I felt like asking for the sake of it. Gopal was walking in front of me, he turned around and said, “Umm, maybe it takes around one and half hour?” I did not know how to comprehend that statement. I just shook my head and kept following him. As we went higher, the trail became narrower and steeper. We were literally walking inside a forest. All I could hear was the squishing sound of my shoes against the slippery trail and my own breath. For a second I had to pinch myself just to make sure I was not suffering from the so called Patulous Eustachian Tube (PET). Just before I left Kathmandu, I was reading about PET. It is a dysfunction when the eustachian tube stays open most of the time and you start hearing your own self-generated sound, such as breathing, voice and heartbeat. I stopped for a while, took the water out from my back pack, took a sip and kept walking. After walking for almost an hour, we took a rest under a shade of a tree. I asked Gopal if there were any wild animals in the jungle. He said there were bears, wild cats and other random animals. My jaw just dropped. I did not know how to react. The way he said was very casual, as if they were his pet animals. I was so confused at one point, I did not know whether I was to show my fear or act brave? I am sure they must have come across these animals multiple times and it is nothing strange for them but for someone like me who has never seen a bear, the name itself is very scary.

    Pic: Mana Gau village as seen from atop the hill

    I knew the rest of the walk would be a long one for sure. After resting for a while, again we continued with our walk. There were so many thoughts in my head, what if the bear attacks me, what if I get bitten by wild cats, what if I fall off from this slippery trail, there were just too many what ifs going on at the same time. All of a sudden I heard a crunchy sound behind me. I could tell that someone was following me and it sounded like a giant footstep. My heart was pounding like a heavy metal drum beat. Again all these random thoughts were pouring in like a huge tsunami. Gopal was just a few steps ahead of me but somehow I did not even dare to call his name. I turned around without thinking twice and there I saw a young couple with a new born baby on their back. I guess it took me only a second to turn around but that one second felt like forever. (Thank god that was not a bear.) I let the couple go ahead of me. I watched them as they were climbing up the hill, there were no signs of tiredness or fragility. I kept looking at them for a while. The young husband was carrying a huge back pack and the wife was carrying the new born, it looked like they were taking a stroll through the jungle. Whereas, for me, I was still trying to catch my breath. Finally, after almost three hours we reached Mana Gau.

    Commute that lasted days

    The view from the top was magnificent. I could see the beautiful Saipal mountain range smiling at me. The small community comprising of around 204 houses looked almost similar. I could spot a lot of terraced paddy fields from a distance. As we entered the village, people were busy with their daily chores. Most of them were either attending the field or grazing cattle. We stopped by a small tea shop where a bunch of people were sitting in front of the shop, sipping a cup of tea, basking in the winter sun. I approached this friendly looking man and asked his name, with a strong voice he answered, “My name is Dan Bahadur Saud.” I introduced myself and he offered me a chair next to him.

    Pic: Dan Bahadur Saud

    Our conversation went on for more than an hour, it was an interesting one though. Mr. Dan was in his early 50s. When he was growing up, it used to take days to carry salt on their back from Rajapur and Dipayal but after the motorway access, the commute was cut short to a day. Nevertheless, they still had to go to Tipada and carry goods on their backs. From Badimalika, it used to take 2.5 hours to get to Tipada and on the way back it was around 4-5 hours steep walk, carrying heavy goods on the backs.

     

    Basically, it used to take them the whole day to get goods from Tipada but after the installation of GGR things have changed. “Now, we don’t have to go all the way to Tipada. We call the shop owner and place our orders, and he sends the goods on the GGR. Within a couple of minutes, it reaches our upper station and from there it only takes us 15 minutes to reach our home,” smiled Mr. Saud.

    The joyful faces

    Pic: Nirmala Dhani

    Inside the tea shop I spotted a woman who was nursing a year old baby. After putting her baby to sleep, she came out and was doing the dishes. I went up to her and asked her the same question I had asked Mr. Saud. She introduced herself as Nirmala Dhani. Her story was no different to that of Mr. Saud.  She too walked the whole day to get goods from the market (in Jadanga or Tipada). She shared, “It used to be very tiring and risky at the same time. The roads were very steep and narrow. Sometimes I was all by myself crossing the jungle, it used to be very scary.” But after the installation of GGR, just like Mr. Saud’s, Ms. Dhani’s life has also changed for the better, within 15 minutes the goods reach her doorstep. Likewise, Krishan Mati Devi Saud also shared her joy, “I’m glad with the installation of this GGR, women don’t have to suffer (like me) walking the long trail, especially during pregnancies.”

    Work in progress

    I spent almost three hours in the community talking to people and listening to their stories, and everyone shared their joy of having the GGR. After that three hours walk, I can totally relate to the joy of having a GGR installed at Mana Gau. It was already time for me to bid adieu, the sun was trying to hide behind the hills in the west. My watch read 4:45 pm. The thought of taking the same trail back gave me goose bumps but I did not have any choice. I knew that the next two hours will be one hell of a walk. I just do not know how I managed to cross that jungle, nor do I want to recall that again.

    Nevertheless, I was really glad to see those happy faces of this small hilly community. The installation of GGR in the hills of Mana Gau in Bajura district has definitely made life easier for hundreds of Dans, Nirmalas and Krishnas. Gone are the days when one had to carry goods on the back and walk along the treacherous trail like a mule. A whole day commute has now been reduced to half an hour easy walk. A simple technology can indeed change one’s life for better but to be honest Mana Gau is still far from development. I cannot argue to the fact that the GGR has made life easier for the locals but still they face uncertainty due to lack of proper road access and basic health services. I wish to not see any of those young couples with a new born walking through that jungle, nor do I want to see a pregnant woman rushing down the hills for immediate attention. I am glad that the GGR has helped reduce drudgery and promote inclusive and sustainable growth but as long as there is road access that connects the village to the main market centre and basic health services where the people can take benefit, then only I can smile with my heart out.

    I have a dream

    I know that Mana Gau is work in progress but I cannot wait to see the full-fledged development of this humble community. Just like Martin Luther King, I too have a dream. I have a dream that one day this village will be free from drudgery. I have a dream that one day this village will have its own health clinic. I have a dream that one day this village will have its own road access. I have a dream that one day this village will make a living from its own agricultural produces. I have a dream that one day this village will be free from poverty. I have a dream that one day this village will have all its men back from the Gulf countries and India, and all of them will live in harmony. I am sure one fine day I will be able to witness all these and that will be the day when I will be smiling with my heart out.

    The BICAS project is co-funded by the European Union and Jersey Overseas Aid. The project aims to promote inclusive and sustainable growth through better livelihood opportunities, thereby enhancing economic infrastructure by installing GGR. Likewise, it also focuses on pro-poor value chains which include better business linkages, enhance entrepreneurship skills of rural farmers and local traders, business networking and business development service provision to facilitate commercial/ urban value chain actors to make their business services accessible to rural areas. To learn more about the project, please click here.

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  • Overcoming obstacles to achieve success – a dreamer who never gave up

    December 13th, 2018

    It was a typical October afternoon in Kuldevmandu, Bajura. The sun was blazing like a fiery medallion in the sky, yet I could feel the chill. The small pavement by the road was filled with dried brown leaves dancing with the wind beats. Just down the road was ever joyful Budhignaga River babbling on its own pace. The Mount Saipal, in the distance not yet snow-cloaked, stood tall and mysterious. It was an awe-inspiring sight.  As we stopped by the sign that read ‘Nateshwari Foods Products’, it was almost 1 pm in the afternoon. Inside a small noodle factory was 24-year-old Bharat Bahadur Saud who was busy preparing noodles. For a while I did not want to interrupt his work, so I sat outside his small factory looking at the passersby.

    Festival vibe and nostalgia

    Dashain vibe was still on. Usually, Dashain festival lasts for more than a week. It is the biggest festival of the year, when families reunite and exchange gifts and blessings by putting tika on each other’s forehead. Historically, it is celebrated to honour the victory of gods over the evil demons. Not to mention, people in the rural areas tend to celebrate it extensively. I could see people walking around with red tika (red vermilion) on their foreheads. It somehow made me miss home and all the festivity fun. In a distant, I could see a man in his early 30s accompanied by his wife and three kids (which I assumed by their body language). The three kids had almost matching outfits. The man was wearing a light-grey suit piece with a Nepali hat and a big rucksack on his back. His wife was wearing a red sari with a flip flop and was holding a duffle bag (stuffed more than its capacity). Their foreheads were all covered with red tika. The serious looking man must have just got back from his in-laws after receiving Dashain blessings. Just next door was a bunch of kids grouped in one corner sharing snack together, which looked like candy bars and dry noodles from afar.

    Pic: Nateshwari Food Products (Sauce Factory)

    The first time I visited this place was back in 2014, with the ROJGARI project. Things were very different then. I am glad to see the positive changes; this place has come a long way. All of a sudden, I heard someone calling my name, I turned around and it was Gopal Nepali, our project coordinator for the Bajura district, he introduced me with Mr. Saud, “This is Bharat Bahadur Saud and he is the entrepreneur of sauce and noodle factory.” Mr. Saud greeted me with a smile and I offered him a chair which was just next to me. Mr. Saud seemed a little shy at first but after a while he started opening up and we had a very interesting conversation that went on for hours.

    Another one bites the dust

    Just like any other kids in the village, Mr. Saud also joined the bandwagon and went to India hoping for a better future. He worked as a cook in one of the restaurants. He recalls his time in India as a reality check, “I didn’t know it would be that difficult to make money, it was very hectic.” As a 20-year-old, Mr. Saud really struggled being away from his family. He got sick and was bedridden for weeks. He had intestinal complications, and had his appendicitis removed as well. In less than a year, he gave up and came back to Nepal. Things were not that good in his own village, so he went to Baglung (a district in western Nepal) and worked as a road painter (drawing white and yellow lines). That also did not last long. The contractor who hired him did not pay the full amount, so he quit the job and came back to his village.

    Pic: Bharat Bahadur Saud

    Hope and inspiration

    Mr. Saud did not lose hope. While working as a painter in Baglung, Mr. Saud was really fascinated by this restaurant where they used to go for afternoon snack. He recalls, “The owner used to make his own chowmein (noodle) and the restaurant used to be filled with customers queuing up for chowmein. That’s what really inspired me.” So, Mr. Saud decided to give another shot. As soon as he came back from Baglung, he went to Dhangadhi and learned the art of noodle making. He sold a small piece of land he inherited from his parents and bought a noodle making machine and started his own chowmein factory. “That’s how things started for me,” smiles Mr. Saud.

    Entrepreneurial capacity building

    Pic: Bharat Bahadur Saud ready to export sauce

    One of the objectives of BICAS project is to provide technical inputs, training and entrepreneurial capacity building to farmers, thereby improving production, value additions through processing and marketing of agriculture produces. Along with his brother, Mr. Saud attended training on ‘sauce (ketchup) making’ offered by the project where he also learned the effective ways to market the product. “The training was really helpful in shaping up our businesses. Therefore, we two brothers decided to open a sauce factory along with our chowmein factory, as it goes hand in hand,” shares Mr. Saud with a smile.

    It was no looking back from that moment on. While I was still having a conversation with Mr. Saud, he was getting frequent phone calls regarding the delivery. In a day, he sells around 480 bottles of sauce. He not only sells it in the nearby villages but also in the entire municipality, which covers more than 12 villages. In a month, he makes more than NRS 200,000
    (1 USD = NRS 115) profit from the sauce factory alone.

    Connecting with local markets

    Mr. Saud’s sauce factory has motivated the locals too, in producing tomatoes, chilies and pumpkins (required for sauce making). Kandhari Devi Saud shares her joy for being able to grow vegetables not only for consumption but also to sell it in the market, “Before, our vegetables used to go waste but now we can sell our tomatoes, chilies and pumpkins to Bharat Saud’s sauce factory and in haat bazzar. I am making a living from this vegetable farming.”

    Pic: Kandhari Devi Saud in front of her tunnel farm

    Despite his multiple failed attempts, Mr. Saud kept on going. He never gave up. His will power and dedication made him the most respected and talked about person in the entire Bajura district. He still has the same passion to do more. In the near future he plans to make potato chips and neemkeen (homemade dry flour chips) along with his noodle and sauce business; and also hire a dedicated marketing and sales agent. The project might phase out but stories such as Mr. Saud’s will live on forever.

     

     

    BICAS project is co-funded by the European Union and Jersey Overseas Aid. To learn more about the project click here.

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  • Odyssey to the far west- In search of stories

    Kathmandu 44600, Nepal, Kathmandu
    June 15th, 2017

    Far western region is arguably one of my favorite places in Nepal, regardless being considered one of the most remote and under developed regions of Nepal.  The place never ceases to amaze me.  I was really fascinated by the natural beauty, cultural diversity, ancient heritage and the rural traditions it had to offer.  My first trip was back in 2014 with the ROJGARI project.  So much had changed in the past couple of years; the rough gravel roads had been blacktopped, a tea house had been transformed into a full menu-set restaurant, and a dormitory had been replaced by a standard room with attached bathroom.  It was just surreal.  The beauty of the place was still there albeit the transformation.  Nonetheless, it brought a smile on my face to see development in the region.  Thanks to the effort of all the development agencies involved in bringing the change.  I feel blessed to be exploring the far west yet again, this time for Building Inclusive and Sustainable Growth Capacity of CSOs in Agriculture and Forest Sectors (BICAS) project.  I will be on the road  for the next one week documenting and collecting stories from the project sites.

    Dadeldhura right after the shower– Dadeldhura is the most developed district as compared to the rest of the hilly districts in the far western region of Nepal.  Due to the elevation differences, Dadeldhura has a different level of temperature.  We were welcomed by heavy rain followed by cold misty weather.

    Dadeldhura by night– The solar street lamp shining bright, breaking the dark abyss down the road.

    Good morning Dadeldhura– The almost perfect view right before the rain.

    The unpredictable weather of the far west– The weather changed so dramatically (within a couple of minutes) it rained cats and dogs.  After a heavy downpour for almost an hour, spotted this cool looking motion of clouds.  The clouds started dancing gracefully clearing the view of Mount Saipal.

    What is a success story?– A two and a half day workshop on “Telling better stories” was organised in Dadeldhura to capacitate the staff of BICAS project.  One of the topics of the workshop involved ‘storytelling’, which was presented by Sanjib Chaudhary.  The workshop included a wide range of topics from story writing, photography, videography to social media.

    The quest– The beautiful Mount Saipal greeted us with a smile as we embarked on our week-long journey to collect stories from the BICAS project sites.  BICAS project is funded by the European Union and Jersey Overseas. The project aims to build the capacity of 45 local organisations to promote inclusive and sustainable growth and increase the income of 7,000 households from agriculture and forest based enterprises in the remote mid and far western districts of Bajhang, Bajura, Jumla, Kalikot and Mugu.

    Wheat field in Achham– On the way to Bajura, spotted this amazing field covered with wheat.  According to CCAFS report, the wheat production in Nepal is expected to increase by 2.6 per cent (1.78 million tonnes) in fiscal 2016-17.

    The intermediator– Shanti Katuwal serves as an intermediator in bridging the gaps between the farmers and the market.  Goods are often collected at her collection centre in Bamka Bazaar which are then transported to the market areas.  Katuwal’s collection centre is centrally located which makes it accessible for both the farmers and the buyers.  She makes NRs 15000 (115 GBP) per month from her collection centre.

    Barefoot Agro-vet– Ganesh Bahadur Thapa is the most in-demand man in the village, wandering from door to door treating animals.  Sometimes he gets dozens of calls, he hardly finds time for himself.  His service as a barefoot is highly recognised and appreciated in and around his village.  Thapa is content with life.  He is able to send two of his kids to a school in Kathmandu.  In the future, he hopes to learn artificial insemination, so that he will be able to offer more services to his clients and make more money.  Click here for a video link.

    A happy farmer– Gokul Giri of Budhiganga Municipality- 6, Bajura received commercial farming training from the BICAS project and started growing chilly, eggplant, zucchini, cucumber, tomato and peas.  This year he hopes to make around NRs 200,000 (1540 GBP) profits in total.

    Vegetable farming under a poly house– Kailasmandu VDC-5, Bajura was deprived from water facilities until the intervention of BICAS project.  The Multi Use Water System (MUS) project provides farmers the access to safe drinking water and irrigation facilities.

    Agrovet– Dambar Saud supplies quality seeds and agricultural inputs to almost 10,000 farmers.  His service is well received in Bajura district.  With the support from BICAS project, he was able to expand his business by starting an agricultural produce collection centre and a poultry farm.

    Smooth operator– Prem Saud of Badimalika Municipality, Bajura is the proud operator of gravity goods ropeway.  Before the intervention of BICAS project, the produce of Bajura district used to go waste, only very few produce used to reach the market due to lack of transportation.  However, after the installation of gravity goods ropeway the community is taking full benefits of the ropeway.  The produce reach the market on time, likewise, the goods and basic amenities are easily transported back to the communities.  Saud collects NRs 20 (15 pence) for every 10 kilograms of goods transported.  The money collected is for the maintenance and sustainability of the ropeway.

    Face of Bajura– A beneficiary of BICAS project.

    Face of Bajura– A beneficiary of BICAS project.

    Dry tree– Waiting for the spring to come.

    Face of Bajura– A beneficiary of BICAS project.

    A lead farmer– Tek Bahadur Thapa of Triveni Municipality- 8, Bajura built a multi-use water system with support from BICAS project.  He was recently awarded the best farmer of the region.  Thapa has been an influential figure in making his community a vegetable production pocket area.

    Daily chores– A beneficiary of BICAS project with her baby on the back grazing cattle in the field.

    Family business – Deu Singh Saud of Budhiganga Municipality- 10, Bajura (first from left) attended training on vegetable farming facilitated by the BICAS project, and soon after, along with his brothers and sister in law, started onion farming as a family business.  He recalls the times when he struggled a lot finding good quality seeds, they did not have any agro-vets in the area but after the intervention of BICAS project, his life became much easier, he can easily get quality seeds from the nearby agro-vet (in Bamka Bazaar). Saud spent 17 years in India working as a daily wage labourer before starting his own business as a lead farmer.  He is very happy with how the life is treating him at the moment.  Last year his profit was NRs 100,000 (770 GBP).  He is earning more than what he used to earn in India.  He is glad that he made the right decision to come back to Nepal and thankful that he does not have to go back to India anymore.

    Mother and daughter– Beneficiaries of BICAS project.

    Mother and daughter– Beneficiaries of BICAS project.

    The young guns– Beneficiaries of BICAS project.

    Them innocent eyes– Beneficiary of BICAS project.

    Ready, steady and go– Wait! I am not ready yet. Let me fix my hair first before you take my picture.

    Resting in the shade– An elderly woman resting by the side of a road on a sunny day.

    The road to home– After a long week on the road, finally the time has arrived to go back home.  I shall definitely come back to document more of the progress of the BICAS project.  Until then I bid adieu.

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  • Telling better stories

    May 26th, 2017

    After a long 1.15 hours flight and 5 hours ride in a pickup truck, we reached Dadeldhura, which will be our home for the next three days.  Dadeldhura lies in the far-western district of Nepal and holds many historic significance.   As I was told by one of the locals, Amargadhi Fort in Dadeldhura was built in 1790 AD by General Amar Singh Thapa to serve as a military base.  During the unification of Nepal by then King Prithvi Narayan Shah, General Amar Singh Thapa fought the British troops from this very fort.  That’s some interesting piece of information there!  I really didn’t know about this until now.  The story somehow was vaguely embedded in my head, I guess we read it in our history class, during our primary days but now the story became as fresh as a daisy.  I just couldn’t wait to see the fort.  I wonder if that’s when the world knew about the bravery of we Nepalese???  Made me scratch my head.  Nevertheless, I was not here to dig the history, neither was I here to find the answers to my own questions.  I was here for a training workshop on “telling better stories” for BICAS project staff and partners.

    BICAS project intervention in the far west

    Building Inclusive and Sustainable Growth Capacity of CSOs in Agriculture and Forest Sectors (BICAS) project is funded by the European Union and Jersey Overseas. The project aims to build the capacity of 45 local organisations to promote inclusive and sustainable growth and increase the income of 7,000 households from agriculture and forest based enterprises in the remote mid and far western districts of Bajhang, Bajura, Jumla, Kalikot and Mugu.

    Building capacity of staff is an essential part of an organisation

    Telling better stories- A family photo

    A well-trained and well-qualified workplace definitely boosts the efficiency of an organisation. Therefore, to enhance the abilities of staff and to encourage them to reflect their attitudes and beliefs; a two and a half day workshop was organised in Dadeldhura. The participants were from the Nepalgunj cluster office and partners/ project coordinators from BICAS project. The workshop included a wide range of topics from story writing, photography, videography to social media.

     

    Day 1- Nepali Braveheart: A thought tickler

    The session kicked off with an introduction, followed by a story writing session; which was later followed by photography and video making sessions. I could sense a strong enthusiasm amongst the participants. They seem very eager to learn the practical hands-on tips. We tried to make the sessions as informal as possible, as we did not want to restrict the workshop within the PowerPoint slides and lengthy speech. It was more of an open platform where one could ask questions and/or share experiences on similar topics. The first day went by in a blink of an eye. I could tell from my previous experiences that the first day is always fun and easy-going. The most challenging is always the next day, as the participants start to wear off – lose their focus and things start to get monotonous. It was in the back of my head but I did not bother to think about it. As the clock ticked five, we wrapped up the session and called it a day.

    L-R: Statue of Amar Singh Thapa, Secret tunnel of Amargadhi Fort

    A bunch of us decided to go for a walk to refresh ourselves after spending the whole day inside a hall. I would never dare to go for a walk while I am in Kathmandu, thanks to the pollution and the crazy traffic of the K-town. But the air in Dadeldhura was so fresh and clean. We walked out from the hotel and went all the way up to the Amargadhi Fort. We spent more than an hour walking around the fort. One of the police guards was generous enough to show us around and explain the details of each and every corner and the architectural built. The most interesting part was the tunnel which was built in such a way that it was connected to a water resource. As we were told, this passage was used by then queen whenever she had to go for a bath or by the armies to fetch water. You can never tell from the outside that the tunnel leads to a water source, it was quite fascinating. The whole tour seemed surreal to me, I felt like I was one of the soldiers from the Anglo-Nepalese war.  I read about brave Amar Singh Thapa during my school days and now I was at the same place where all the magic happened. Seeing his statue at the main entrance even left me awestruck. There are so many similarities between Amar Singh Thapa and the character of William Wallace from the movie, “Braveheart”- the same determination and resistance. I was just there staring at the statue of Amar Singh Thapa and seeing him as a Nepali William Wallace. After dinner I was just hanging out in my room and a random thought came in my head – how cool will it be if I was to make a Nepali Braveheart? I am sure it will be epic – easier said than done. That can go in my bucket list AKA fantasies (I’m just a dreamer).

    Day 2- The unpredictable weather of the far west

    I woke up to the sound of a thunderstorm. I checked the time on my cell phone and it read 6:30 am. I could hear the heavy pour of rain from inside the room. I just wished I did not have to get up at all. After aimlessly staring at the ceiling for half an hour, I finally managed to get off from my bed. I opened the door and it was raining cats and dogs. In the corner of the balcony, there was a big pile of hailstone, which looked like a mini Mount Everest. I took out my camera and started taking pictures of the magnificent landscape of Dadeldhura from my balcony. I did not bother about the rain; I was going crazy with my camera. There was something very unique about the landscape; it was priceless. I just could not get enough of it. Before I realised it was actually raining, I was already half soaked. I am glad my camera was water-proof though. I felt like a stubborn kid enjoying the early monsoon rain.

    Clouds in motion as seen from the hotel roof

    We were informed that we would not need any warm clothes for the trip. During March usually the weather is nice and pleasant. But somehow I did not want to take a risk. I had my warm jackets and boots with me. The last time I visited the far west (two years before); I regretted not caring any warm jacket. One of our partner office colleagues was kind enough to lend me a jacket- that was a life saver. “Once bitten, twice shy.” I was well prepared (just in case). The rain was battering the roof like a bullet. There was no sign of rain stopping anytime soon, it was hammering down relentlessly. I could feel a gust of cold wind on my face. At least for once I was glad I made the right decision. Usually, I tend to over pack and half of the stuff I never use it. What’s even more interesting was that the field office colleagues were also fooled by the unpredictable weather of the far west. They thought the weather would be pleasant, so they did not bring any warm clothes. As the day progressed, it became even colder. By evening, it was crazy; the rain kept pouring and the temperature dropped like a rock. It was freezing cold. So, these three blokes had to go buy a sweater for NRS. 1500 (11 GBP) each. They said it was the best buy ever (with a satirical smile).

    The second day was a bit mellow and less hectic. My colleague Sanjib Chaudhary opened the session highlighting the importance of social media in the development sector. It was well received by the participants. The later session was followed by hands-on tips on film making. After lunch it was more of a practical session. The participants were divided into three groups and were sent to the nearby location to collect stories, pictures and videos of their interest.

    Day 3- Here comes the sun

    I slept like a baby. It always takes a while to get used to the new hotel bed. Finally, after two days, I guess I slept well. When I woke up it was already 7:30 am. I peeped through my window curtain and much to my surprise there was the sun shining bright. I was so happy that the sun was here, FINALLY. Now, I can relate why George Harrison wrote “Here comes the sun” with the Beatles. Ever since we stepped in Dadeldhura it was raining like crazy and finally we were able to see the sun. The feeling was just amazing. I was already late for breakfast though. I had to rush myself, got ready and met the folks downstairs for breakfast. By 8 am, I was all ready and having breakfast with my colleagues.

    Today was the final day of the workshop. We reviewed the stories, photos and video clips of all the groups and gave feedbacks and comments.

    Adieu – Until we meet again

    Our two and a half day workshop was coming to an end. All of us enjoyed our stay in Dadeldhura amidst the crazy weather. I hope the workshop was a fruitful one. We never know until we see the end result from the participants. Fingers crossed, I hope our effort will be an aspiration for all the participants to produce the quality output that we are aiming for the BICAS project. I just cannot wait to read the first post-workshop story/ blog and/or see the pictures they send. Until then all I can do is wait patiently.

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  • Technology changing lives – Transformation of Surajpur, Gulariya from abysmal to a model village

    July 25th, 2016

    Jai Bageshwori is a small village located in Surajpur-11, Gulariya consisting of 24 households. Majority of the people were relocated during the Maoist insurgency period. Mr. and Mrs. Rana are one of them who were displaced from Jajarkot. Mr. Pabitra Rana recalls, “during the insurgency period, we didn’t have any options but to join the Maoist. I had my mom, dad and my little boy who was only 3 years old then, so for their security reason also I had to join the Maoist.” Mr. Pabitra Rana and his wife Mrs. Gita Rana served the Maoist army for 4 years. He shared many gruesome stories which were beyond my imagination. Later he suffered from chronic gastritis and mental stress; therefore, decided to abscond along with his wife and took refuge in India. On 21 November 2006, a peace agreement was signed between Nepal government and the Maoist, which was six months after the Rana couple had fled Nepal. “It was really painful to drift apart from the family, there was not a single day I didn’t think of them. The day I found about the peace agreement I decided that was it, so packed my bags and came back to Nepal,” says Mr. Rana with a tear in his voice. Mr. Rana worked as a laborer in one of the companies in India and had saved some money. So, instead of going back to Jajarkot, he decided to start a new life from the money he had saved. He bought a small piece of land in Jai Bageshowri and built a one bed room house and decided to call it home.

    Mr. Pabitra Rana & Mrs. Gita Rana

    Mr. Pabitra Rana & Mrs. Gita Rana

    A decade long people’s war has definitely affected Nepal in one way or the other, be it in terms of economic development or poverty alleviation, it is still struggling to overcome the effects of the war. The people’s war claimed more than 18,000 lives and displaced more than 100,000 people. Nevertheless, after the peace agreement in 2006, progress has been made, yet the challenges still persist.

    It was not a fairy tale start for the Rana couple. The entire village had only one toilet, as a matter of fact it was rarely used. People used to defecate outside in open spaces or behind the bushes. The water from the boring contained arsenic which was poisonous, they did not have any purification system. Just across from the street was a jungle separated by a canal which belonged to the Indian side. They feared for their life from wild animals. Life was just terrible.

    Surajpur VDC was hit hard by natural calamity on August 2014
    In 2010, Practical Action and Environment and Public Health Organisation (ENPHO) launched SWASTHA project, an awareness program on water, air, sanitation and hygiene in Surajpur Village Development Committee (VDC). The objective of the project was to contribute to sustainable improvement in health and wellbeing of vulnerable population. Right after SWASTHA project phased out, Surajpur VDC was hit hard by natural calamity. On 13 August 2014, Surajpur VDC was flooded by the swelling Babai River which wiped out the entire community. It added more misery to the miserable community of Surajpur VDC. The newly built toilets, latrines, smoke hood and filter for drinking water were all wiped out; the only thing left was utter chaos. Homesteads, crops and livestock were washed away leaving people in distress.

    SAFA & SWASTHA Gulariya (ODF) project was launched in Gulariya Municipality
    Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) is one of the essential ingredients of human health. It has an adverse effect on food security and livelihoods of people. According to the UN report, every year millions of people, most of them children die due to inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene. In Nepal alone, more than 10,000 children die annually from inadequate water supply and water borne diseases. Nepal is ranked the lowest in South Asian Countries in terms of water and sanitation. With an objective to achieve sustainable Open Defecation Free Gulariya Municipality by 2015, focusing on coverage of sanitation facilities, enhancing the capacity of local stakeholders and introducing innovative solutions in sanitation; such as and/or disaster resilient sanitation facilities, faecal sludge management and healthy communities, SAFA & SWASTHA Gulariya (ODF) project was launched in Gulariya Municipality, Bardia district by Practical Action and ENPHO the same year.

    Surajpur VDC was declared a “Healthy Community” on 12 April 2016
    Easier said than done. It needs relentless effort to make such a change where open defecation has been practiced for generations. Mr. Dev Dutta Bhatta, Program Manager of Practical Action says, “Awareness is the key to change. It is a gradual process, where one needs to be educated regarding water and sanitation.” Self-awareness comes from self-knowledge. An inner urge needs to be felt to embrace the change. Ones attitudes, habits, beliefs, norms and cultures may subvert the behavioral change. Therefore, educating on safe drinking water, better sanitation, personal hygiene, proper kitchen and solid waste management were the key components of SAFA & SWASTHA Gulariya (ODF) project in achieving its goal. Several street dramas, mass rally, awareness programs were also organised to educate the community.

    Surajpur VDC being declared a "healthy community"

    Surajpur VDC being declared a “healthy community” on 12 April 2016

    In a short span of time, SAFA & SWASTHA Gulariya (ODF) project was successful in overturning Surajpur VDC from abysmal to a model village. On 12 April 2016, Surajpur VDC was declared a “Healthy Community.” “Before we used to drink water straight from the tap; now, we drink water only after it’s been purified, it even tastes better,” chuckles Mr. Rana. He further adds, “I hardly have upset stomach, loose motion or fever these days, wish I had known about this much sooner.” Mr. Rana is one of the first ones to have a toilet built and water filter installed in the community. After knowing about the benefits of having a proper hygiene and sanitation, he acted as a mediator in convincing the people of his community to vouch for toilet, safe drinking water, kitchen and solid waste management.

    Likewise, Dipendra Nagar and Kothiya were also declared healthy community on 02 February 2016 and 20 May 2016 respectively. Three more VDCs are on the verge of being declared a Healthy Community. Gulariya Municipality is an exemplary for other municipalities to follow. After being declared Open Defecation Free on 25 May 2015, now the Gulariya Municipality is aiming towards achieving the “Healthy Community” status. The credit goes out to each and every member of the community; especially Mr. Rana, who is also a secretary of the user-community group for his persistent effort convincing every single member of the community towards building a healthy community. If we have someone like Mr. Rana in each VDCs, it won’t be long until the entire Gulariya Municipality is declared “Healthy Community”. Furthermore, it will definitely help achieve the national target on sanitation- Universal access to sanitation by 2017. While the role of the government is vital, people have equally important roles to play for better results and sustainability.

    Technology Justice
    A simple technology in the form of pit latrine or bio-sand filter can change people’s lives. A village where open defecation was practiced not long ago has been declared “Open Defecation Free,” and the community now has access to safe drinking water. For me this is technology justice and I salute the innovator of such technologies. Not only should the technologies reach the privileged and elite class but also to the poor and marginalised groups. Therefore, I think it is time for you, me and us to rethink about the innovation in technology. Let the justice prevail.

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  • Nepal earthquake: my country one year on

    Gorkha, Nepal, Gorkha
    April 25th, 2016

    Today marks the year anniversary since a 7.8 magnitude earthquake devastated my country. I have just returned from Ashrang – a village in Nepal that was near the epicentre of the earthquake. One year on, houses still lie in ruins and children are terrified – too scared to sleep.

    A house lies in ruins in the village of Ashrang, Gorkha, Nepal

    A house lies in ruins in the village of Ashrang, Gorkha, Nepal

    I still remember the last time I visited Ashrang in Gorkha back in 2014. I was up on the roof of one of the schools overseeing the entire village. The view was just amazing. I could not get enough of it.

    It was early morning and the sun was just peeking over the horizon. Kids were playing with a ball, dogs were barking and men were singing and laughing as they walked down the hill with a shovel and a plough. I sat there for a while gazing at the scene.

    Fast forward two years and I was at the same place but this time things had changed dramatically. Life here was at a complete halt. After the massive earthquake in April 2015, Ashrang was completely shattered.

    As I walked down the streets, I could see ruined houses left unattended and piles of rubble at every turn, as if it just happened yesterday.

    I spotted an elderly man sitting alone in front of a small transitional shelter (t-shelter). His clothes were shabby, eyes were blood-flecked and face was timeworn.

    Nepal earthquake victim Khadananda Bhatta, 79, in front of his shelter in Ashrang, Gorkha

    Khadananda Bhatta, 79, in front of his shelter

    Mr Khadananda Bhatta, aged 79, has been living under the t-shelter since his house collapsed in the earthquake.

    “One of my sons is in Canada and the other one is in Malaysia,” he said. I am waiting for their arrival. Until then I am taking refuge under this shelter.” His voice was weak and fragile.

    “Sometimes I go to bed on an empty stomach…Lately it’s too cold to even sleep at night.”

    “Sometimes I go to bed on an empty stomach because it is too much work for me to cook.  If I feel like eating, I cook; if not then I just ignore it. Lately, it’s too cold to even sleep at night; I can’t wait for the sun to come out.”

    I can see the feeling of despair and loneliness in his eyes. He is counting days until he is reunited with his sons but it seems to be a battle for him to keep going.

    I came across another small t-shelter where a family of eight people was taking refuge. I asked a mum who was holding a small baby about the earthquake.

    Sajida with her family inside her emergency shelter.

    Sajida with her family inside her emergency shelter.

    Mrs Sajida Khatun, aged 27, was eight months pregnant when the first earthquake struck. She was feeding her four-year-old son when suddenly everything started to shake. “I thought this was the end and I was going to die. The thing that bothered me the most was the baby inside me who hadn’t seen the outside world yet,” she said.

    The roof of the house started to crumble and the walls fell apart. Sajida grabbed her son and rushed towards the exit. Her in-laws and brothers in-laws were already out. They ran to the nearby open space and sat there as they watched their house turn into rubble. “It was very surreal,” she said.

    “The only thing that that kept me alive was hope.”

    There were many aftershocks that followed. Sajida recalls the following months to be the worst of her life. “The nights were long and cold and we had barely anything to eat. The only thing that that kept me alive was hope.”

    On 17 May she gave birth to a baby boy. There were continual aftershocks and they were still living under a tarpaulin. She was more worried about the baby than herself. “I tried to keep the baby warm by covering him up with whatever I could find, from bed sheets to rugs but I was not able to prevent him from getting jaundice,” she sobbed.

    For almost a week, she did not even get medicine for her little one. The village health post ran out of supplies. “We would wait inside the tarpaulin hoping for someone to appear with food and medicine supplies, it was like building a castle in the air,” she said. She was embittered against the odds of nature but was thankful to the relief effort shown by Practical Action and our partner Goreto-Gorkha.

    “If it was not for Practical Action, who knows, I wouldn’t be chatting with you at this very moment,” she said.

    Practical Action’s emergency relief and recovery work

    Practical Action emergency relief supplies arriving in a village in the Gorkha district at the epicenter of the earthquake.Practical Action emergency relief supplies arriving in a village in the Gorkha district at the epicenter of the earthquake.

    Practical Action emergency relief supplies arriving in a village in the Gorkha district at the epicentre of the earthquake.

    Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, we were able to provide life-saving food, repair drinking water systems and footpaths and construct temporary shelters and toilets for more than 7,000 households at the earthquake’s epicenter. We also trained people in activities to improve their livelihoods.

    But what has worried me is people’s lives after we completed this recovery work. What will happen to Sajida and Khadananda? Will their lives be normal again? I am sure there are many people who have been having sleepless nights in extreme weather conditions, hoping for a better shelter and basic living standard.

    All they need is a simple house

    It is time for us to place ourselves in the shoes of the vulnerable ones and help them achieve what they deserve. I do not want to see their basic rights of human survival being denied nor do I want to see their hopes being washed away. We are not talking big here; all they need is a simple house with a basic living standard where one can enjoy a good night’s sleep.

    The monsoon season is not far away. The thought of children having to shelter from its deluge under just a few windblown tarpaulins fills me with sadness.

    People like Sajida and Khadananda have suffered so much, which is why it is vital to build earthquake-proof houses now. This is a once in a generation chance for people to build safer, stronger homes like the ones we had already built in the Kaski district, which withstood last April’s earthquake.

    Practical Action’s long-term work to rebuild lives in Nepal

    We’re embarking on the next phase of our earthquake work in Nepal – helping families Build Back Better. This not only means building homes that will withstand future earthquakes, but also stopping families from inhaling smoke from open fires in their homes that slowly kills them, by installing smoke hoods into the new homes.

    We will improve agriculture productivity and rural income, food and nutritional security. We also intend to rebuild and improve drinking water supplies and provide energy services.

    How you can help people Build Back Better in Nepal

    You can find out more on what we’re doing here. But we can only do this with your help. Please support our Build Back Better programme and give families like Sajida’s hope for the future.

    I hope to see the same smiling faces of those innocent kids, the never ending humours of those hardworking men, and the village that once was the beauty of Ashrang Gorkha. Amen!

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  • Nepal earthquake: “another agonising night”

    Kathmandu 44600, Nepal, Kathmandu
    April 27th, 2015

    The day was 25 April 2015. It was the second day of Association for International NGOs Futsal (modified form of 5-a-side football) Tournament. Practical Action was through to the second round unbeaten and was playing for the knockout round against Handicap International. The game was getting really competitive.

    The futsal court in Kathmandu, Nepal, where we were when the earthquake struck.

    The futsal court in Kathmandu, Nepal, where we were when the earthquake struck.

    All of a sudden, I heard some noise and shouting. To be precise, it was 11:56am. I turned around to see what was going on but I just could not quite figure it out. Then I heard someone say “Earthquake”. That’s when I felt the tremor. For a second I didn’t know what to do, I just followed the crowd. The earth was shaking like anything. All I could hear was people shouting, screaming and crying. The only thing that came in my mind was “save your life”. I know there is a bit of selfishness in me (and everyone), but what else was I supposed to do than save my life first. I saw people running toward an open area just next to the futsal court, so I followed the bandwagon.

    It was the most scariest shake I have ever felt; it went on for quite a while. After some time when the shake subsided, I could see the fear and panic in everyone’s eyes. Almost everyone were on their cell phones trying to reach their family members. I was in one corner along with some of my friends from other organisations scanning the whole scenario: chairs scattered everywhere, walls crumbled to pieces,  people shouting – it was an utter chaos. Then a second one came, then the third, fourth, fifth, sixth……and after some time we just lost track. As of now, we have felt more that 40 shakes and still we are not sure if it is over or there is still more to come.

    This is the open space in Kathmandu, Nepal, where I am taking refuge with hundreds of my neighbours. following the earthquake.

    This is the open space in Kathmandu, Nepal, where I am taking refuge with hundreds of my neighbours following the earthquake.

    Today is the third night and still I am taking refuge in a nearby open space with hundreds of my neighbours. On the flip side, I am so amazed and grateful how one single disaster can bring everyone together. The people I share the shelter with are the ones I see quite often but don’t even bother to say “Hi” or “Hello” but now everything has changed. It has brought all of us together like a family; we share, food, water, tent, anything we could to help each other.

    We just felt another shock!

    While I write this blog, I pray for us as we go through yet another agonising night. #NepalQuake #Pray4Nepal

    Practical Action has launched an earthquake appeal. Please help our work in Nepal today and donate now.

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  • Giving voices to slum dwellers – a step towards reducing inequality

    October 17th, 2014

    The rapid urbanisation over the past decade does not go unnoticed in a developing country like Nepal.  As a result of fact, it not only brings economic instability but also a reasonable rise in slums and squatter settlements which needs a proper attention.  By 2030, about 3 billion people will need proper housing and access to water and sanitation systems, states UN-Habitat.  According to a study conducted in 2008 by the United Nations, 47 settlements were identified on the banks of different rivers in the Kathmandu Valley with a precarious living condition which were prone to landslides and flood.  The majority of people living in slums are mostly affected by a decade long conflict which forced them to flee their homes and enter the city hoping for a better job opportunity. While rest of Kathmanduites live in concrete houses, the slum dwellers have to spend their entire lives in shanties along the ever-bad-smelling river sides. And they have nowhere to go, to put forth their voices. They have no access to the facilities provided by the municipality like drinking water connection. That’s a case of sheer inequality.

    iud2On the occasion of World Habitat Day, a one day national workshop on “Voices from slums” was organised jointly by Ministry of Urban Development, UN-Habitat and Lumanti in Jawalakhel on 10 October 2014.  Representatives from different slum/ squatter areas, municipalities and government offices participated in the workshop. The objective of the workshop was to give a platform for the slum dwellers to voice their experiences, knowledge and ideas on improving their living conditions.  “In Nepal, the voices of slums are often unheard by the municipalities and the government officials, hence the workshop aims to serve as a bridge between slum dwellers and the concerned parties,” said Mr. Padma Sundar Joshi, Habitat Program Manager- UN Habitat.

    In addition, Practical Action is also actively involved in promoting systems of decentralised urban governance in Butwal and Bharatpur municipalities through “Delivering Decentralisation- Slum Dwellers’ Access to Decision-making for Pro-poor Infrastructure Services”.  The project aims to empower slum dwellers so that they are engaged effectively in decision-making and delivering improved urban services.  The cases of Butwal and Bharatpur municipalities are also not different from that of Kathmandu slum dwellers.  The slum/ squatter areas are on the river banks and on the foot of a hill which can be easily struck by natural disasters, such as landslides and floods.

    “Slum dwellers who are from marginalised community cannot afford to buy land and also the ones who are living in squatters have not received any legal land certificates,” claimed Ms. Durga Shakya, a representative for Butwal slum dwellers.  Ms. Shakya urged the government to take an immediate action on the issue.  Likewise, Mr. Binod G.C, a representative for Bharatpur slum dwellers shared, “In 2011, the government distributed a temporary land certificate to some of us and more than 50 percent are yet to receive the certificates.  On top of that, with the temporary land certificates, we are unable to apply for loans and credits from banks.”  Mr. G.C voiced his frustration and sought justice from the government.

    In spite of the burgeoning urbanisation, ensuring a proper living condition, water and sanitation is one’s rights.  Therefore, if we are to achieve the Millennium Development Goal, it is “Our” responsibility too.  I pledge we all join hands together and listen to their voices.  I hope the voices of slums will be heard and justice be served.  It will be a major step towards reducing the inequality faced by them. Hallelujah!

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