Swarnima Shrestha

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

Posts by Swarnima

  • A challenging year ~ troubles in Nepal continues

    December 29th, 2015

    2015 has been such a challenging year for Nepal. We were already in the middle of political turmoil when it started. April and May were the hardest months; we faced two massive earthquakes and thousands of aftershocks. Many of us lost our families, friends, loved ones and parts of our heritage that were indispensable parts of our lives.

    We came to know how ruthless nature could be and how fearful and helpless life can get. I remember the second night, after the April 25 earthquake, when my family was sleeping in an open space near our house under a makeshift tent due to frequent strong aftershocks. It rained that night and my mother was struggling to keep us warm but somehow some raindrops would get into our tent and it was cold – very cold. I felt so helpless at that moment, I felt sad not just for myself but for all the people who were outside and who probably didn’t even have a plastic sheet to keep the rain off. I thought about little children and people who don’t even have another change of clothes or a blanket to cover up. The cold was too much to bear, I got up from the tent and went to my home and slept on the ground floor. But unlike me, many people didn’t even have a home to go back to.

    IMG_9210Almost eight months past, they still don’t have a house to sleep properly. People whose houses were destroyed are still living in the temporary shelters, made up of tins and galvanised iron sheets. Things, instead of improving, are only getting worse for them!

    Winter this year is remarkably cold. Temperatures are at a record low. The most popular conversation starter these days is – oh this year’s winter is too cold, isn’t it? And cold it is. On the top of everything, Nepal is facing an economic blockade (I will not get into political details of that) due to which there is shortage of every possible thing. There is no fuel to run the vehicles, to cook food, to keep ourselves warm – just imagine no fuel, no cooking gas and not even electricity. we are living the energy crisis nightmare! Price of everyday items have sky rocketed.

    How does a poor person living in a temporary shelter survive in such a situation? How do they cope with the cold in their shelters? How do they keep their children warm?

    Arjun Sunar of Asrang Village Development Committee (VDC), Gorkha District shares about his family’s experience of living in a temporary shelter, “We were adjusting in the temporary shelter but it is getting colder by the day. It gets so cold that dew drops start dripping from 11 pm making it difficult for the whole family to sleep.” Practical Action along with its partner organisation had supported Arjun to construct a temporary shelter.

    Apart from cold, there are also other problems such as lack of adequate space and the difficulty of maintaining privacy. Due to lack of enough rooms, some of the families are using the kitchen and bedrooms of their partially damaged houses on the verge of collapse. This is keeping them at great risk with aftershocks still returning.

    To ease the problem of cold, Arjun has tried to insulate his shelter with cardboard. “There is a scarcity of insulating materials in the market, so I have used cardboard. There is some control in the dropping of dew from roof in night time after that. But cold air passes inside from different corners which is still a problem for my family members. We have all started getting sick from the cold,” says Arjun.

    Arjun have only heard that the government is going to provide some resources to build a house. And he wants to make it earthquake resilient. “I don’t think the amount which will be provided by the government will be enough for a good construction. And I don’t know when the relief will be provided, winter is becoming increasingly hard for us.”

    Arjun is only a representative, there are many families struggling to survive cold, along with the pain of losing their loved ones and homes. The situation is even more challenging for families with small children, lactating mothers and senior citizens. Most of the health posts’ records show that there is a huge increase in the number of people compared to previous year visiting these posts this year due to cold related diseases. There are headlines in newspapers of earthquake victims losing their lives due to cold. This loss cannot be blamed to the nature alone; deaths due to cold could have been prevented.

    Seems like the challenges for Nepal is not ending anytime soon; even after the year ends. With the winter getting more severe by the day, it is high time that priority be given to reach out to these people. Government as well as non-government organisations should prioritise making winter easier for the people – who must be feeling cold and helpless out there.

     

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  • Khamba’s Story: filtering his way to progress

    December 8th, 2015

    Khamba Prasad Gharti (42) migrated from his village in hilly Jajarkot District some fifteen years ago to Surajpur, Gulariya-11, Bardiya District in the terai plains due to the ongoing armed conflict at that time. Life in the terai was not easy for his family of five, because of the language barrier, climatic conditions, cultural differences and economic constraints.

    “It was not easy to settle down at a new location. Altogether 28 families from our village had come here to settle after life became increasing difficult there. But we had to struggle really hard to keep our families fed,” shares Khamba. He used to go to neighbouring country India to do odd jobs, but it was quite difficult to make the ends meet for the family.

    But now, things have changed remarkably for him and his family.

    “My life changed after attending that one training,” Khamba shares happily.

    Khamba remembers attending a five day bio-sand filter making training six years ago. “When I heard about the training, I thought why not?” says Khamba.

    The training was provided by SWASTHA project which was implemented by Practical Action from 2009 to 2012. It worked in Bharatpur, Butwal, Gulariya and Tikapur Municipalities of Nepal with the main objective of improving the health and wellbeing of the urban and peri urban settlements. A major objective of the project was to improve the access to safe water in the communities. Since, the underground water in these communities have high levels of arsenic, bio-sand filters were an appropriate solution. Bio-sand filters not only filter impurities like bacteria and iron but also arsenic which does not get filtered by other common filters available in the market. It is also low maintenance and can used for years.

    Khamba making filter in front of his house few years ago

    Khamba making filters in front of his house few years ago.

    “After the training, I wanted to start a small enterprise to manufacture bio-sand filters but I didn’t have enough money to start a business on my own. I asked a few friends who had attended the same training to initiate a joint venture, but they all refused. No one thought that making filters could actually be profitable. I felt quite discouraged at that time,” remembers Khamba. “But the project team encouraged me and supported me with some equipment. They provided me a mould to make the filter. After that, I took a loan of NPR 25,000 (1 GBP=159 NPR) and started making bio-sand filters.”

    Khamba made 100 filters in the first batch and the cost of one filter was NPR 2,500 at that time (it now costs NPR 5,000).

    “As people were becoming aware of the benefits of safe drinking water due to different activities of the SWASTHA project, it was not difficult to sell those 100 pieces. I was able to pay back the loan, right after selling the first lot,” says Khamba happily. “After that I was motivated to manufacture more filters, I made 300 and 400 pieces in second and third lot respectively. As I made the filters very carefully, everyone liked my products. People from communities and different organisation bought my filters.”

    Khamba’s customer Pansara Rawal using her bio-sand filter

    Khamba’s customer Pansara Rawal using her bio-sand filter.

    After the SWASTHA project was over in 2012, Khamba saw a bit decrease in the demand for his filters. “The sales were not rapid but it was regular enough to keep my income inflow ongoing regularly. I have not faced any financial difficulty after starting this filter making enterprise. All three of my children are going to good schools,” shares Khamba. But it is not just economic progress that is keeping Khamba happy, he also feels a sense of service to the community after delivering each filter. “It is like giving a gift of pure water to the families. I feel like I am serving the community as well while earning my own living. This is way better than going abroad for work.”

    One of Khamba’s customers, Pansara Rawal (53) was among the first buyers of the filter. “There was a government official who came to test water filtered by bio-sand filter, the results showed that there was almost no trace of arsenic, so I ordered one from Khamba immediately,” says Pansara. “Our family has been using it since the last five years, and there is absolutely no complaint as yet. The water tastes good and we have not suffered from water borne diseases like we used to do before we used the filter.”

    Another project, currently being implemented in Gulariya Municipality by Practical Action, SAFA & SWASTHA Gulariya (Open Defecation Free Gulariya Municipality by 2015), is helping to promote Khamba’s work and effort. This project is presently conducting orientations on bio-sand filter maintenance for fulfilling one of its objectives – ‘achieving healthy communities’.

    “I feel a sense of satisfaction that I am helping the community become healthier through my enterprise. I plan to set up a shop at Nepalgunj (the nearest city) to promote my business,” says Khamba. Fourteen other bio-sand filter makers like Khamba, many of them trained by SWASTHA have formed a network of bio-sand filter makers called Bio-sand Filter Association of Nepal (BFAN) with members all over the country. They conduct meetings two times a year and collect NPR 200 monthly for the progress of the network. “We want to promote the bio-sand filter collectively all over the country, the network has been doing quite well until now,” says Khamba.

    “I used to live in a hut, now I have made a concrete home and this year bought a motorbike too!” Khamba beams with happiness. Khamba has come a long way since SWASTHA and is a shining example of what a small initiative can lead to. He has not just done well for himself but also promoted the very cause of the project even years after it has been over.

    Khamba explaining about his filter in front of his house presently.

    Khamba explaining about the filter in front of his house.

     

    Khamba sharing his story.

    Khamba sharing his story.

     

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  • Goat Insurance ~ helping farmers feel secure

    September 15th, 2015

    Goat farming is one of the major income source for small holder farmers. It can be done in small scale, without huge investments. In many parts of Nepal goat are referred as “poor people’s cow”. But there are a set of challenges that goat farmers of rural areas have to face. Different kinds of diseases and untimely deaths of the goats causes burden to the farmers.

    The local small-holder farmers in the Bajhang District of farwestern Nepal have been rearing goats from generations but lack of commercialisation and other risks were an enormous challenge to them. They had to bear huge loss when diseases attacked the goats and a number of goats died at a time. But in the recent times, they are very excited about their goat-farming enterprise. This change happened after the introduction of Goat Insurance scheme by the POSAN-Food Security project.

    Under the goat insurance scheme, 400 goats in the district have been insured so far. The scheme was initiated by POSAN-Food Security project in partnership with a government owned District of Livestock Office (DLSO), Bajhang and a local Cooperative. There are certain rules and regulations that farmers have to follow to get their goats insured, like – the goats should have received all required vaccines and health certificate from DLSO to be eligible for insurance. If the insured goat dies then the farmer receives 90 per cent of the valuated price of the goat. This is a huge relief to the small-holder farmers who have to contribute to only a small amount initially for the insurance.

    One of the local farmers, Ramgiri Dhami has already insured 24 of his goats. “I am very hopeful that the goat insurance will minimize the risks involved in goat rearing and make it profitable for farmers like us. This kind of scheme is entirely a new concept and I am very excited about it!” says Dhami.

    This is indeed a new concept for the whole district thus, the farmers were unknown and a bit skeptic about it initially. But more and more farmers are getting their goats insured after learning about its benefits. The farmers like Ramgiri want the service to be expanded further so more farmers like him can benefit from it. These kind of new schemes can be very beneficial for poor farmers who are doing farming on a small scale and it would be great if such initiatives could be introduced to other parts of the country as well.

    Ramgiri Dhami with his insured goats (Picture: Puspa Raj Poudel/Practical Action)

    Ramgiri Dhami with his insured goats (Picture: Puspa Raj Poudel/Practical Action)

     

    Insured Goats (Picture: Puspa Raj Poudel/Practical Action)

    Insured Goats (Picture: Puspa Raj Poudel/Practical Action)

     

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  • Access to energy in post-disaster situations

    August 6th, 2015

    During the aftermath of massive disasters like an earthquake, life becomes chaotic. Lack of access to energy becomes one of the alarming problems immediately after the disaster as well as in the long term. Instantly after the disaster, mobile networks, phone lines, water as well as electricity supply gets cut off making people more desperate and vulnerable. Not having electricity has its own series of consequences. Without electricity it is impossible to lift/pump water resulting in problems related to health and sanitation. Having no electricity also means having no power on the mobile phones, blocking off the very vital communication. It also means not being able to watch television or listen to radio for any news or information that could be life-saving.

    As a result of the April quake, apart from other areas, the energy sector in Nepal suffered a significant damage, putting the already energy poor country more at crisis. According to Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) prepared by the Ministry of Energy, “Nepal’s energy sector has sustained loss worth NPR 18.75 billion following the April 25 earthquake and continued aftershocks.” According to the report, 600,000 households were directly affected with loss of access to electricity. The impact is either due to damage to electricity facilities, on-grid and off-grid, or loss of houses.The PDNA report has stated that various hydropower facilities with a combined capacity 115 MW out of the total installed capacity of 787 MW in the country (on-grid as well as off-grid) have been severely damaged, while facilities with a combined capacity of 60 MW have been partially damaged. The PDNA report also indicated that this will further challenge the government’s goal of universal access to modern energy services by 2030 in Nepal.

    In most of the places in Kathmandu Valley, electricity came back after hours or days or a week at the most after the quake. People appreciated Nepal Electricity Authority’s effort to act promptly and do their best to repair the damaged lines and get electricity supply back to people at the earliest. But same was not the case for many of the remote villages not connected in the national grid for electricity supply but dependent on small Micro Hydro Plants. A significant number of Nepal’s Micro Hydro Plants too were damaged, putting the people of the affected areas in darkness. In Kavre District alone, six  Micro Hydro Plants were totally damaged. Micro Hydro plants of the epicentre district Gorkha too suffered substantial damage at places including Barpark, Gyachhok, Lapark, and Muchhok among others. The Muchhok Village Development Committee (VDC) used to get the electricity supply from Jhyalla khola Micro Hydro Plant which got damaged and will take a considerable amount of time before it gets working again.

    Kamala Charging her mobile phone

    Kamala Charging her mobile phone

    It has been more than two months now, the people of Muchowk have been living without electricity. “We have gone back to the old dark times. We light traditional oil lamps during the night time. But not being able to charge our mobile phones is a real problem,” says Kamala Gurung (23) who is a health professional in a local health post. “There is a backup system at the health post for the functioning of major equipment but not enough power for anything else. I have to report the status of the health post here to the district headquarters, but I have been facing problem to do so as there is no power in my mobile phone. During emergencies, I have to walk or send someone to a place with a diesel generator to charge my phone. It takes two hours to walk to that place and costs NPR 30 to fully charge a phone at a time. Life is surely difficult without electricity,” adds Kamala.

    Without access to their basic energy source – electricity, many others in the community faced difficulties similar to that of Kamala. There is a team of Nepal Army security personnel camping at the premises of VDC building after the earthquake. They had been involved in rescue and relief efforts immediately after the earthquake and are still helping out the communities as per the need. This team too face challenges due to lack to electricity.

    One of the officers shares, “We use many battery operated equipment but still many of other things needs to be charged. We send all the required devices and mobile phones that need charging to be charged at a place about two hours away from here.”

    Recently,  Practical Action installed a solar powered charging system in the VDC office building at Muchowk. The 100 watt system was specifically designed for the community by experts at the organisation with assistance from a private solar company Surya Power Pvt. Ltd.

    Army personnel using solar powered mobile charger

    Army personnel using solar powered mobile charger

    “It has been very easy for us after the installation of this system. We can easily charge our phones as well as emergency lights now. This has made carrying out our work much easier”,  the officer adds. The system can charge 15 mobile phones and light 5 led bulbs for 4 to 5 hours.

    “I don’t have to walk two hours just to get my phone charged and that saves a lot of my time. I can now easily communicate with the district headquarters and report about the situation in our health post”, says Kamala.

    The charging system is open to the community, who take turns to charge their devices. “People take turns to do the charging and give priority to people involved in emergency services like health and security,” says the VDC secretary of Muchowk, Bheshnath Acharya, who was busy distributing NPR 15,000 (£94) to help the earthquake survivors build temporary shelters.

    “The charging system is definitely a great help. This will help the community stay in communication with each other with is very crucial during the time of crisis like this,” he opined. “Though it is a great help in a difficult time like this, we still face energy crisis until the micro-hydro plant gets repaired, and it seems like it will be quite some time before that.”

    Without access to energy it is not possible for the poor communities to build back their lives and re-start their livelihoods. Apart from addressing people’s other needs during the post-disaster situation, it is also necessary to give priority to energy access which is vital to help sustain their livelihoods.

    (The post was originally published in the Spotlight Magazine, Nepal)

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  • Beyond the relief phase

    June 1st, 2015

    A month after the 7.8 magnitude hit Nepal, the people from severely affected districts are still struggling to get back to their lives. The people are still overwhelmed about what had happened and degree of loss that they have suffered.
    The earlier phase of rescue and relief has passed. Nepal has gone off the news headlines, the media personnel and rescue team from abroad have returned back and even the Nepalese who were involved in relief work have started getting back to their own daily lives. The heroic phase after the disaster where everyone wants to help out has ended. But the woes of the ones who were affected the most has not!
    The ones who have lost everything still are confused about from where to start rebuilding. Many of the settlements and villages have turned into rubble. Where to start from? Is one question that haunts many.
    The past month was shocking, tragic and chaotic. Everyone acted on the impulse and did what they regarded the best for the situation. But now, it is time that we reflect upon, where we had gone wrong? Why we did not take simple measures that could have saved many lives? Why we did not plan better? And then, How we need to do things differently now? It is crucial to remember that this time – the rebuilding phase is the most important. The future of the people will depend upon how strongly we build back our infrastructures as well as the bond that existed in our communities.
    It is now time to think beyond the relief and plan for a sustainable rebuilding. It is essential that this is done in a participatory way, it is the community themselves that needs to build back their lives, the outsiders can only assist. One of the ways that we can help the communities is by developing their capacities to cope better to the post-disaster situation and build back their own lives and livelihoods.
    Practical Action recently conducted a three-day training called “Training on Earthquake Safety Construction for Mason” in Jyamrung, Dhading, which is one of the District which was most harshly affected by the earthquake. A total of 22 people were trained during the training, who will now be involved in the reconstruction of the structures in their localities.
    One of the participants of the training opined, “I had been working as a mason from the last 15 years, but only after this training I realised that we have been doing so many things wrong. No wonder so many houses just crumbled down to pieces. Now, I am skilled to construct earthquake resilient houses.”
    These skills not only help for the proper re-construction of the communities but also help in creating better livelihood opportunities for the skilled people.
    Another participant, Chitra Bahadur Thakuri says, “previously, we did not know that the soil or the base of the location has to be checked before the construction of an infrastructure. We learned that construction should be done only after checking the soil. Apart from that, we also came to know about the proper processes and the thickness of the beams and pillars to be maintained for safe building construction.”
    “I am going to convince people to use these earthquake resilient processes while constructing their homes. We cannot let this kind of damage happen again,” adds Chitra Bahadur Thakuri.
    This training is just an example, there are many similar initiatives that can be fundamental during the rebuilding phase. People might have received immediate relief for now, but the real journey of building back has only begun.

     

     

    Practical work during “Training on Earthquake Safety Construction for Mason” in Jyamrung, Dhading

    Practical work during “Training on Earthquake Safety Construction for Mason” in Jyamrung, Dhading

    Practical session during “Training on Earthquake Safety Construction for Mason” in Jyamrung, Dhading

    Practical session during “Training on Earthquake Safety Construction for Mason” in Jyamrung, Dhading

    “Training on Earthquake Safety Construction for Mason” in Jyamrung, Dhading

    “Training on Earthquake Safety Construction for Mason” in Jyamrung, Dhading

    Participants of “Training on Earthquake Safety Construction for Mason” in Jyamrung, Dhading

    Participants of “Training on Earthquake Safety Construction for Mason” in Jyamrung, Dhading

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  • More disastrous for the poor; the Earthquake is unjust

    May 21st, 2015

    The 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Nepal on April 25 and the major aftershock of 7.3 on May 12 did a lot of harm in Nepal. The loss of lives, homes and heritages; and the constant fear of losing what is left; has put the whole nation in despair. People are in the state of trauma, with many in serious state of fear and stress. The busy streets of Kathmandu are deserted, small and large businesses all closed down. And it is already almost a month of the first quake.
    The whole disaster has caused a serious damage to the already struggling economy of the country. And the ones who are hit the worst are (always) the most marginalised; the poorest of the poor people. The people who earn their living on a daily wage basis, the ones who already had very little, now are left with nothing.
    The (informal) waste workers in Kathmandu valley are among the most marginalised people. They lived in the most vulnerable parts of the city; in the river banks, renting the oldest of the houses. Thus, they have suffered more loss than the rest of the population. Most of the waste workers from the neighbouring country India, have gone back to their own country. The Nepali waste pickers are mostly from the districts like Sindhupalchowk, Dolakha and Kavre which has been hit more badly than Kathmandu, leaving them no option to go back to their hometowns.

    Tents at Waste Transfer Station, Teku, Kathmandu, where waste workers are taking shelter.

    Tents at Waste Transfer Station, Teku, Kathmandu, where waste workers are taking shelter.

    “My house at Kavre is totally damaged by the earthquake and so is my rented room here in Kathmandu”, says Thuli Maya Tamang (35), a waste segregator who has been living in a makeshift tent made of tarpaulin.
    More than hundred other waste workers like Thuli Maya who lived around Teku area of Kathmandu are now living under tarpaulins in the premises of Waste Transfer Station at Teku, Kathmandu. They are living just by the side of heaps of waste; with no option to move to a better open space. They do not have access to better open spaces, as the people from other (better-off) communities are unwilling to share the space with them.

    As most of the waste workers worked in daily wage basis or were dependent on the waste they collected every day, their earning has suffered a lot due to this disaster. They were not able to work for many days due fear and now they cannot work even if they want to because the ‘Kabaads’ (Scrap house) where they used to work are closed.
    “It is difficult to keep the family fed, as we cannot find any work. And I am so scared that I don’t think that I can work for few more days,” says Thuli Maya.
    They have not received any aid or support from any organisation apart from the support of tarpaulins from PRISM project staff on a personal basis. “We have heard that the earthquake victims are getting relief materials but we haven’t received any yet,” says Thuli Maya.
    Gautam Lama (50) is worried about finding a proper space to live after the aftershock gets reduced. “My house at Kavre is totally damaged. The rented room here has many cracks and is not in a liveable condition. I don’t know how I will be able to find a new place to live, as people were already sceptic about renting rooms to us poor people even before the earthquake,” Gautam shares his woes. Finding a space in Kathmandu will definitely be a challenge to these people as a huge number of houses are damaged and renting spaces are already difficult to find.
    Gautam’s daughter Samjhana’s (25) rented rooms at Balkhu, Kathmandu crumbled down into pieces due to the first quake. She feels lucky just to get outside of it in time with her 11 month old baby. “I could not take out anything from the house. Don’t even have clothes for the baby,” says Samjhana who used to be a waste segregator and is currently living with her parents at the transfer station at Teku.

    Samjhana, in front of her shelter with 11 month old daughter and 3 year old son.

    Samjhana, in front of her shelter with 11 month old daughter and 3 year old son.

    Maya Tamang, who works at the co-operatives run by the waste workers, shared that children are suffering a lot due to living outdoors. “Children have started to get sick with cough and cold, as it gets cold in the night time. Rain creates more difficulty, so does mosquitoes, other insects and also snakes,” says Maya.
    Maya opines that the only thing that has helped them survive during the past few weeks is the ‘Sanyuta Safai Jagaran’ co-operative which started operation with the support of the PRISM project and is being run by the efforts of the waste workers themselves. “Thankfully, we had been saving regularly in the co-operative. Most of the waste workers are using the saved amount to run their lives in this time of crisis. We would have been left hungry, if not for the co-operative,” Maya adds. “But it is still difficult for most of the families. I have no idea how we all will be able to find a proper shelter and for how long will we have to live under the open sky.”
    Disasters like earthquake harm everyone; but it certainly affects the poor more severely.
    As the world starts to forget about this disaster in Nepal and its coverage slowly starts to fade from the world media, there are thousands of people like Thuli Maya, Gautam and Samjhana who still need help and assistance to build back their lives.

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  • Seven lessons from Nepal Earthquake

    May 5th, 2015

    ‘Life is unpredictable’ is a cliché more than a statement. But that cliché has become the most relevant statement in our lives. The recent earthquake that shook Nepal was definitely the worst experience of my life. The moment that it happened and its aftermath both were equally scary and devastating. During the earthquake itself, I felt the ground trembling beneath and the roof shaking above me, I had mentally prepared myself that the roof will fall anytime right on my head. I had never been more scared my whole life, but the hours and days after the earthquake were more heart breaking. My city is broken, my whole nation is in pain, people are suffering, and if there is any feeling at the moment which is more overpowering than fear and pain is the feeling of helplessness; of hardly being able to do anything about it.

    But like every problem and sorrow, this whole experience has taught me some valuable life lessons that otherwise I would have never realised. In a matter of days our lives are completely changed, and this has given me a different perspective on life. Here are the seven lessons that I learnt as Nepal earthquake survivor.

    • You get clear of what really is important in life

    The first thing that you think about during such disaster is the safety of your family (if you are not together). This family may not just include immediate family but the people who are important to you. You realise that people are the most important ‘things’ in life – everything else can be gained back. Your bank balance cannot save your life when the roof comes crumbling down your head, but your neighbour possibly can (by helping you out of the rubble).

    • You learn to cope

    When life puts a very difficult situation ahead of you, you learn to cope to survive. The first instinct in this situation is to cope for survival rather than mourn or be sad. The earthquake brought everyone on the same ground under the same open sky. The rich and the poor, the young and the old everyone was there sleeping outdoors under open sky, no one was possibly ready for such situation in life, but there was no option than to cope to the situation.

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    • Luxury isn’t important; love is

    You just realise how little actually is required for survival. Living in tents for a few days with the very basic necessities like food, water, warm clothes, shed that was enough to keep us going. The luxuries were forgotten, but the bond between families, neighbours and friends got stronger. I saw people sharing whatever they had and looking out for each other. It was love that gave us strength and kept us going. I felt like meeting and catching up with everyone and hugging everyone tighter !

    • You value life more

    Everyone who was okay was feeling grateful just to be alive. Even those who lost their homes express gratefulness on being unharmed. People express how lucky they are to be alive rather than saying how unlucky they are that their house got damaged. I feel grateful for this life and have realised the value of small things like enough food to feed ourselves and a roof above our heads.

    • You rise above the sorrows

    In a situation like this, we were all victims. The aftershocks were scaring us all and our families wanted us to stay with them all the time. But, I saw that people who were luckier did not stay put, they stepped out to help the ones less fortunate. We could not sleep and eat properly thinking about the people who lost their homes and loved ones, who needed immediate help. Many people helped others, putting their own lives at risk, everyone stepped up in any way possible. It humbles me to see how everyone is so compassionate about other’s pain and willing to make themselves useful. I have never seen my country more united !

    • Life goes on

    They say that there is only one thing constant about life, that ‘it goes on’. Slowly we are getting used to the aftershocks, to the rubbles, to the danger marks on buildings and even to the pain. Gradually, the shops, businesses, offices are opening. People have started picking up the broken pieces and getting back to their lives.

    • Hope is stronger than fear

    This was certainly the most fearful situation faced by all of us. It is hard to live in a state of constant fear, to be scared of the walls on your side and the ceiling above your head. Suddenly, every structure looks like a threat. It breaks your heart to see your nation in pain, heritages broken, and people suffering. But one thing, that keeps us going is Hope. Hope that everything will be eventually alright. We cannot bring back the people who are gone, but we have to stay strong and build back the nation. And that hope gives us the strength to overcome the fear and step up to help each other out.

    Nepal needs us more now than anytime.

     

     

    (We will need your help to bounce back and to rebuild, please donate to https://practicalaction.org/helpnepal)

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  • A step towards a JUST world

    March 22nd, 2015

    A proper toilet, water supply and electricity – these are some basic necessities of our lives. What can be more inconvenient than not having a toilet around when you need it? Imagine waking up every day not knowing how you would manage to collect the water required for the day! It might be hard for us to even imagine, but it is a reality that too many people are living every day. While the technologies have advanced to the level where we have self-cleaning high-tech toilets; it is estimated that worldwide 2.6 billion have no access to sanitation and 1.3 billion to safe water. The world sure in an unjust place.

    Compost-toilet-in-NepalThe people of Shreeramnagar, a slum settlement at Butwal – 4, Rupendehi district of Nepal are a part of that 1.3 Billion. Water crisis is a part of their lives. They have to go to the neighbouring localities to collect water, which is a time consuming and tiring work. The settlement is not recognised by the government which does not support any development of infrastructures in the community so the people have nowhere to turn to seek help. But the people of the community – had had enough of this injustice and took charge to solve their own problem.

    “We didn’t know how to tackle this problem,” says Narayan Lal Ghimere, a local resident. “But now, we are able to come up with a solution after we got training from ‘Delivering Decentralisation’ project. After the training, we have formed a committee to address different kinds of problems existing in our community. With the involvement of community people, we decided that we need to construct a water tank with a huge storage capacity for the equal and uninterrupted water supply in our locality,” he further adds.

    They have formed a committee for the construction of the water tank to carry forward the work effectively and make the whole process participatory. The initiation was led by the community themselves with little support from the project. Everything from the planning stage was discussed and decided by the community.

    A member of the working committee, Sabitra Devi Panthi says, “We were able to learn a lot of things and got inspired to take the initiatives ourselves, after the training provided by the project. So, we made a collective decision to construct the water tank. We were motivated because we received 75 per cent of the construction cost from the project and the rest we collected amongst ourselves. Those who couldn’t pay the required amount, volunteered for the labour work to make up for it.”

    Now, the construction is complete, and people of this community have for the first time in their lives, access to clean water. “We did a grand inauguration of the water tank and water supply lines. It was such a proud movement for the whole community. The regular water supply has made our lives so much easier and our locality is cleaner now. It more beneficial to housewives like us, who had to spend a lot of time fetching water, now we are able to use the saved time in other productive activities,” adds Sabitra.

    She further says, “I did not know that having a water supply could change our lives so much. It has improved our health as well as economic activities. It feels like a privilege to have water supply in our own homes; construction of the water tank is such a huge achievement for us!”

    It sure is a happy moment for the people of Shreeramnagar community; but having a water supply should not be a matter of privilege and so much of hard work – it should be available and accessible to all; irrespective of their location and economic background. But of course, it is not so. Hence, when we talk about these simple basic technologies, it never is as simple as it sounds. A simple thing as a water supply can change people’s lives in too many ways. It saves time for the women who can invest it in income generating activities or in taking proper care of their children. It helps to stay cleaner and healthier. It helps to make human life dignified. It helps to fill the gap of technology injustice and make this world a bit more just place.

    So a water tank is not JUST a water tank but a step ahead towards a JUST world.

     

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  • Simple technology – great results!

    December 16th, 2014

    Resident of Chitwan District of Nepal, 51 year old Ramlal Chaudary’s family has been dependent on agriculture for generations. But in the recent times, it was getting difficult to sustain his family of nine through agriculture alone. Recently, he had started driving tractor as a side business. But agriculture – is a part of his culture; paddy being the major harvest.

    Ramlal Chaudary at his paddy field. (Photo: Tej Mani Panth, Practical Action)

    Ramlal Chaudary at his paddy field. (Photo: Tej Mani Panth, Practical Action)

    This year too, Ramlal cultivated paddy like every other year. But this year, his field was greener and healthier than that of his neighbours. Even the other farmers observed his field curiously. Though most people assumed that he must have worked too hard to get this result, he actually had neither weeded nor used any pesticides or chemical fertilisers in his field.

    Ramlal shares happily, “The pests that were not controlled by strong pesticides are non-existent in my field now, even though I haven’t used any pesticide. Others weeded their fields numerous times and also used chemical fertilisers, but without doing any of that, the paddy in my field has flourished quite extraordinarily.”

    So what is the reason behind this drastic change in Ramlal’s paddy? What has he changed in his farming practice to get these great results?
    The answer actually is very simple.

    Ramlal has started raising ducks along with the rice in his field.
    He explains, “I decided to raise ducks in my rice field after attending an orientation programme about rice-duck farming organised by Practical Action. The organisation provided us with proper training to carry out this farming technique and also supported us with a day old ducklings. After the training, we formed a group and started rice-duck farming.”
    Rice-duck farming technology was found to be beneficial in terms of providing social, economic and environmental benefits in a pilot research carried out by Practical Action in 2013. Currently, Practical Action Consulting Pvt. Ltd. is implementing integrated rice-duck farming project in Chitwan and Nawalparasi districts with the financial support of Grand Challenges Canada. The project is working to build the capacity of 1000 small holder farmers to adopt the rice-duck farming technology – Ramlal is one among them.

    Ducks at the rice field.

    Ducks at the rice field.

    Ramlal says, “I didn’t have any idea about the practice of rice-duck farming. But now, I am experiencing many benefits. The droplets of the ducks acts as manure so there is no need to use chemical fertilisers. The ducks gets the nutrition by feeding upon the pests and weeds. I feel that the ducks are a boon for the rice field.”
    Ramlal is the treasurer of the ‘Quality rice-duck farming’ group. There are altogether 15 members in this group – all practice rice-duck farming. The members of the group made a collective decision to practice rice-duck farming in their individual fields. They conduct monthly meetings where they share their agricultural progress and problems, most of which they solve with combined effort. Each member contributes NPR 50 (£0.32) for saving on a monthly basis. The amount is used among the members for agricultural inputs whenever required.

    Ducks coming out of the paddy field.

    Ducks coming out of the paddy field.

    The rice-duck farming technology has made an impact in Ramlal’s life in the first year of the practice itself. The yield in his field has increased. Previously, 0.03 hectares of field yielded hardly two quintals; this year it yielded 2.66 quintals of rice.
    He further adds, “I made rupees 52,700 (£337.82) more from the rice alone in comparison to last year. And the best part is that, the ducks become ready to be sold at the same time as rice harvesting. Among the total of 18 ducks I raised, we have kept few to be used at home and sold others at the price of rupees 800 (£5.12) each. This has made a significant impact on my income. People from neighbouring localities and villages also take interest when they see the ducks in the rice field. I try my best to share the knowledge with the ones who are unaware about it.”

    (The information for this story was collected by Tej Mani Panth, Practical Action)

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  • A day with Kanchan

    October 17th, 2014

    I was waiting for the traffic jam to end at Teku, Kathmandu. On the sidewalk near the road, I saw a girl in school uniform on her way to school while I patiently waited on my scooter. I could not figure out why she looked so familiar – where had I seen her earlier? This 13/14 year old dark complexioned girl, with neat but unironed school uniform – where could have I met her? While my thoughts were occupied with these questions the traffic in front of me started moving – I quickly started my scooter and moved forward. But the girl was still on my mind – just then I realised where I had met her.

    Her memory took be back to Christmas Day last year – 25 December 2013, which was exactly when I had met her. I remember everything vividly.

    The Flashback …

    Kanchan in front of her house

    The girl I saw on the road was Kanchan Kumari Poddar, now 15. I remember visiting her home – a two roomed structure with one door and no windows (yes, not even a single window). The house was dark even in the day time. The door – only ventilation and the source of light for the entire house opened to a small passage where there was a heap of waste plastics. On the left side was a small room which was almost entirely filled by a bed and a table with a small television set. Straight ahead was another room, half of which was a kitchen with an area to cook and do dishes, there was a bed on a corner.

    A total of nine people shared these two rooms.

    Kanchan with her six sisters

    Kanchan with her six sisters

    Kanchan is the eldest among the total of seven children of her parents – all of whom are girls. Being the eldest, Kanchan is burdened with lots of responsibilities. Her parents work as Informal Waste Workers (IWWs) who are mostly busy collecting waste at different parts of the city.

    That day, I had spent quite some time with Kanchan at her home and neighbourhood. I was there to click her pictures (as a part of my work) and observe how she spends her day. She was busy taking care of her sisters, doing household chores and then studying if she got free from all that.

    She was a fourth grader when I met her. Kanchan used to be a waste picker like her parents and had started going to school only a few years ago when a project called PRISM started supporting her education. The project was being implemented by Practical Action to improve the lives of informal waste workers in Kathmandu valley. She had shared that she finds it hard to keep up with other students as she barely gets any time to study at home. But she sure was glad that she was finally going to school, which seemed like a distant dream in the past.

    For Kanchan’s mother, keeping all of her daughters properly fed was a priority – education was a luxury.

    The Change in the scene …

    After my work was over, I went straight to a movie theatre from there, where I attended a charity movie show. After the movie was over, I and a bunch of my friends went to Thamel – which welcomed us with a massive traffic jam. It seemed like a lot of young people- especially teenagers had gathered around Thamel to celebrate Christmas. It was about 10 pm. I was so overwhelmed to see such a large number of people gathered there. We went to a restaurant where we had booked a table, but that had already been occupied. So we went hopping from one place to another – and quite amazingly each and every restaurant, pub, and eatery at Thamel was packed. We had to come quite far across to a place which was at the end of Thamel to finally find a place to accommodate ourselves.

    While I could see the youngsters – clad in branded clothes, drinking imported liquors, enjoying international food – I could not stop thinking about Kanchan. That evening, I somehow felt guilty being a part of that crowd. While the colourful lights from a Christmas tree in the restaurant was being flashed in my eyes – all I could think of was the darkness inside Kanchan’s house.

    Has the rich-poor gap gone too wide? Probably, the world is full of inequalities – something that we have to live with and probably it will take a while for this to change.

    At present …

    But I choose not to lose hope – and also I feel glad that my work lets me play a small role to lessen this inequality.

    It’s been almost a year now that I first met Kanchan. The PRISM project is now over which means the financial support for her education must have stopped – but she still is in school. Thus, I would like to believe that, Kanchan will have a brighter future and life will not be as hard for her as it was for her parents. With her education to support her, I just hope that Kanchan will have a life with opportunities – not just inequalities.

    IMG_3610

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