Nepal | Blogs

  • 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 says 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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  • DAIRY – Empowering women


    June 12th, 2019

    Few months back, I was visiting one of the project sites where we are supporting smallholder dairy farmers, particularly in better production techniques, access to improved breeds, improved extension services, and inclusive value chain development. During the trip I came across many smallholder dairy farmers – each one of them had a story to tell. One of them was Mina Bohora (39) from Madhyabindu Municipality – 4 of Chitwan District in Province 3.

    Mina with her cows.

    Mina, Treasurer of Panch Pandav Sahakari – a milk cooperative, has a herd of three cows and she sells 35 litres of milk every day to the cooperative. The cooperative collects 1,400 litres milk per day and supplies to the state owned Dairy Development Corporation (DDC). The cooperative also provides loan to farmers to purchase cattle with 14% interest rate. Mina, the sole breadwinner of the all women family of five daughters and an old mother-in-law, is now a role model for other smallholder farmers. However, it was not so few months back.

    Mina could not continue her study after eighth grade as she got married at an early age. Time passed by but when Mina alone had to take care of the whole family, life became miserable she thought of going abroad as a remittance earner. (Due to limited employment opportunity, lack of skill, assets and knowledge, youth in Nepal are attracted to going abroad mainly in the Middle East countries as migrant workers.) It was not easy for Mina to leave her all women family as she was the only bread winner. So, she changed her decision to go abroad and started looking for opportunities within her village.

    Operating feed mixing tool.

    Mina decided to rear cattle seeing other smallholder farmers making income by selling milk. She somehow managed some money to purchase two cows. She invested Nepali rupees 70 thousand for a Holstein cross and 40 thousand for a local breed. As he had never done cattle farming earlier she was not aware about the diseases, feed, cow sheds and other requirements to manage the farm. She was very happy after getting the cows and started dreaming a good future for her children. But within few years both the cows died because of a disease (mastitis). Mina cried over the losses and thought that was the end of her dream.

    Fortunately, before suffering from the disease, both the cows had given birth to a healthy calf each. Mina overcame the sorrow and provided her full effort in raising the two calves. She took advice from the fellow farmers and local veterinary clinic about the diseases and feed. The calves are now fully grown cows and somehow Mina managed to add one more cow. These three cows gave 25 litres milk per day but she was not satisfied with the kind of service and advice she was receiving. She was sure that there must be a way to increase the milk production from her cows.

    Mina now has better knowledge and says only feeding straw and grass is not adequate for better production.

    I am investing 7-8 thousand rupees per month in taking care of the cattle. With the increased income I am planning to send my 2 daughters who just completed the secondary school exam to a good college.

    Happy Mina with milk can.

    There were altogether 30 participants in these training out of which more than 40 per cent were women. Mina was selected as one of the leader farmers among the trainees.  As a leader farmer she is now guiding her fellow cattle farmers on disease management, feed mixing with minerals and vitamins, and sanitation and hygiene to prevent the diseases. Supported by the project, Mina is using a feed mixing tool for demonstration, fellow farmers are keen to learn about the tools, and even ready to purchase them as it saves feed mixing time and drudgery drastically. The saved time is used for other productive purposes or to get good rest. Mina also has some land where she has planted fodder, maize, mustard and paddy. Fodder, mustard and maize has helped her a lot in making her own feed for the cows. It has drastically reduced expenditure in the feed.

    With better access to knowledge and technology, and enhanced skills, now Mina is a confident and successful cattle farmer. Empowered by the project interventions, she not only decides the matters of the milk cooperative but also advises and shares her success mantra with other smallholder farmers.

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  • FRMC flipping Ex-ante actions and Post ante-actions


    April 23rd, 2019

    Not only in Nepali context , around the globe in taking actions to disaster, among Ex-ante action and Post ante-actions, post disaster interventions are more observed than ex-ante actions. The updates of “core humanitarian standards” (CHS) and lack of empirical resilience measurement tools methods indicate the focus is still in post disaster interventions of relief, rescue, recovery and reconstruction, guided by CHS. Four humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence are at the core of all humanitarian work. These principles provide the foundations for humanitarian action and are central in establishing and maintaining access to affected people. The gap between humanitarian aid and development is heralded and endeavor to find possible solution to narrow the gap has given rise to Linking Relief, Rehabilitation and development (LRRD) concept. (VENRO, 2006) elucidates sustainable development co-operation and relief need not be at odds with one another.

    Resilience is a central term in the post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). Recovery from the DRR perspective is a process that results in people’s lives returning to normal; but in such a way that they will be more resilient to future disasters and impact of climate change (“bounce back better”). It is becoming a standard among UN, governmental and non-governmental organizations in recognizing DRR as an important precondition for sustainable development. It is becoming evident that the impact of hazards on lives and assets and the associated need for humanitarian response can be greatly reduced by investments in prevention, mitigation and prepared¬ness measures. Global flood resilience Programme of Zurich flood resilience alliance elucidates investment of US 1 dollar in ex-ante actions saves dollar 5 in post ante actions.

    Nepal struggles in dealing with ex-ante and post ante actions and is adjusting itself upon transformed to its federal structure with 753 local governments, 7 state governments and a federal government. It is crawling in updating its policies, strategies, plans, and acts regulations to suit the new structure it has arrived. Disaster, risk and management act ( 2017), local government planning and budgeting guideline ( 2074 BS), local government operation act ( 2074 BS), are few examples that are newly formulated and are relevant to be considered by Flood Resilience Programme in Nepal in achieving its objectives of increased in flood resilience knowledge and actions of communities, increased in flood resilience funding in local government budgeting and planning cycles and improved plans and policies at national, sub national level of governments for flood resilience.

    Usually, Nepali context entails absence of information on service levels of different facilities and ground needs on resilience prioritization in the planning process, further prioritization is influenced by direct benefit projects, resilience adaptation are least priorities in the planning and budgeting planning process. Absence of sufficient information and knowledge on flood resilience are pushed to corners in planning and budgeting by socio-political and muscle power influences in the decision makings, the power relations normally undermine the resilience needs and other needs and priorities of poor and vulnerable. To negate power relations information on the context and reality on resilience needs and measures is crucial for integrative negotiation in the dialogue process in planning and budgeting of local government. It is well accepted that development slags upon hit by disasters upon development interventions are not resilient to disasters. This further elucidates the need of climate, environment and disaster risk integration in development interventions. Yet, government planning and budgeting process lack integration of ex-ante actions in the light of insufficient information they use.
    Addressing the problems of integration flood resilience program is strategically set up to demonstrate, learn and inspire by using flood resilience measurement of communities (FRMC) tool in its approach to build flood resilience in its target communities and local government.

    Information on 44 sources of resilience, elucidated to the target communities, local governments on flood resilience and inputs in livelihood capitals as ex-ante and post-ante actions per se safe shelter houses built for flood events, dykes at possible flood entry points, culverts for flood water drainage, river training works in Karnali river from government, safe water supply for flood events, flood early warning communication from upstream to downstream, etc. have reduced the loss and damage of flood prone communities are ground demonstration and learning to be resilient from flood. These demonstration and learning evidence are being shared in FRMC result sharing events in the communities.

    The FRMC information are reviewed and graded on properties of resilience, the processed information is shared back with concerned communities where information on FRMC results are discussed in identifying the community needs to improve their source of resilience to contribute the properties of resilience (robustness, redundancy, resourcefulness and rapidity). The need identified are planned to be aligned with the upcoming local government planning and budgeting process through discussions at ward level planning process and further to be taken up at local government prioritization to be in the periodic plan of the government. Upon priorities of communities falling the periodic plan of local government and regular follow up of the implementation of priorities will contribute to the objective of increased in flood resilience knowledge and actions of communities, increased in flood resilience funding in local government budgeting and planning cycles. The implementation evidence will be further taken to contribute improved plans and policies at national, sub national level of governments for flood resilience.

     

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  • BICAS – strongly connected with people’s life in Karnali


    April 15th, 2019

    This was my first trip to Karnali, a region yet to be explored, where I observed several interventions made by the BICAS project and met with a number of community people and civil society organisations who were benefitted from the interventions. The interventions ranges from gravity goods ropeway to solar water lifting, goat breed improvement to agriculture commercialisation, improved water mills to micro-enterprises and capacity building of CSOs to linkages with local government. Most of the initiatives were new to me as a staff from Finance.

    Babulal Regmi at the small irrigation scheme supported by BICAS project. Photo: Practical Action/ Upendra Shrestha

    When we arrived in Galje, Kalikot a farmer a Babulal Regmi, was excited to show his vegetable farm where we could observe many farm activities going on. Vegetable farming in this area was not practised earlier. With the small irrigation scheme supported by BICAS project, he was able to irrigate around 25 ropanies (3.14 hectare) of land which belong to 14 farmers in the same group. The cabbage produced in his small patch of the land was just sold for NPR 10,000 (1 USD = NPR 110). In the same plot he used to produce paddy and could hardly earn NPR 2,500. This was simply an example of how people are increasing income by changing their farming practices. Mr. Regmi was happily serving as a barefoot agro-vet and helping fellow farmers and earning an additional income in return.

    Mr. Regmi and one of the farmer members were in a hurry to go to the nearby market to get the vegetable seeds for the next round of vegetable farming. Both of them were excited to share the future plan of the farmers’ group as they learned during training. His kids are grown up pursuing higher education with the contribution of the increased income which was not possible without BICAS project, he proudly said.

    Lift irrigation system in Jumla District. Photo: Practical Action/ Upendra Shrestha

    Tila River has been flowing since centuries alongside of their villages but they had to depend upon monsoon to plant their crops. It was their far dream to plant seasonal/ off-seasonal vegetables. The grid electricity connection can be achieved only in next generation. Now, the faces of farmers are brightening as they have lift irrigation system run by solar power from the Tila River in Jumla District. Nara Bahadur Rawat, a resident of Ranka, Jumla was in hurry to show the reservoir tank constructed for irrigation. They have started to grow seasonal/ off-seasonal vegetables and irrigate apple orchards which are one of their main income sources in this area. At first they didn’t believe that this technology would work and change their lives. Now it has turned into reality, thanks to BICAS project, they said. We met the representatives of local government and came to know that they have allocated funds to replicate this technology in other areas which made us gratified.

    Gaukala Budha is happy to have hybrid baby goats. Photo: Practical Action/ Upendra Shrestha

    Finally on the last day of the trip, we managed to observe BICAS project’s support in goat breed and shed improvement. We saw a lady, Gaukala Budha, coming towards us smiling. She wanted to show us the Boer buck (breeding buck) but she was regretting that as the buck is now adult she could not bring it to us. While trying, the buck hit on her right arm and she was feeling the pain, but was still happy to explain how the Boer buck support has changed in her income. The Boer buck, supported by the project is now adult and providing breeding service to goats of fellow villagers. She showed five small hybrid baby goats, crossed with the local breeds which were growing very fast compared to the local breeds. Within a year of service, there are already 13 hybrid baby goats in the village. Gaukala is receiving service charge from the villagers either in cash or equivalent grains.  She is happy to have hybrid baby goats and to provide such service to the villager which has provided her extra income.

    Gaukala also showed us the improved goat shed supported by BICAS. Her smiling face was telling us that BICAS project came up with unexpected boon for the smallholders farmers like Mrs. Budha in Karnali.

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  • What do Flood Resilience and Nepalese Thali have in common?

    After four years as a member of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance (“the Alliance”), I had the opportunity to catch a glimpse of our work in West Nepal. Practical Action and our local partner, CSDR, have been working for 5 years to support communities to become more resilient to the river Karnali’s floods.

    Improving flood resilience is a multi-faceted objective, which involves making the link between development and disaster risk reduction. The definition of flood resilience used by the Alliance recognizes this transversality: resilience is “the ability of a system, community or society to pursue its social, ecological and economic development objectives, while managing its disaster risk over time in a mutually reinforcing way” (Keating et al., 2017).

    To grasp better the variety of issues that flood resilience embraces, the Alliance has developed a conceptual framework called the 5C-4R: 5 “Capitals” (Human, Social, Physical, Natural and Financial) and 4 “R” (Robustness, Redundancy, Resourcefulness and Rapidity), based on the Sustainable Livelihoods Approach (SLA) that was adopted by the UK’s DFID and the properties of a resilient system developed at MCEER at the University of Buffalo.

    After a one-hour flight from Kathmandu, a three hours’ drive and a delicious Nepalese Thali Set, a dish that accompanied me all along my time in Nepal, I started a three days visit to flood-prone communities where we implemented interventions to strengthen their resilience to floods. The field visit gave me an outlook of concrete actions related to some of the flood resilience properties described in the 5C-4R framework:

    – Banana is a crop that resist to minor floods and as such, is an example of increasing Robustness to withstand floods. Training 25 farmers, who then get organized to sell their banana products together, is a good example of improved Human and Social capital. Learn more about banana farming in flood deposited sandy oil in our Technical Brief.

     

     

    – Community shelters give villagers a Rapid way to safeguard goods and assets in case of floods, increasing thus the Physical capital of households. When there is no floods, these shelters are used for other tasks such as community meetings, adult education, and vegetable collection center. As such, there are an example of Resourcefulness, and a mean to strengthen Human and Social Capital.

     

     

     

    – When poor farmers with reduced lands are trained to grow mushroom in small huts, they improve their Financial capital, as they generate extra resources that can help them to cope with negative impacts of floods. They also improve their Redundancy, as they do no longer depend on a single source of income (for more information on Indoor Oyster Mushroom farming, you can download this Technical brief).

     

    After meeting such resilient people in Lower Karnali came the time to go back to the capital. But I would not leave without eating a last Nepalese Thali Set. And I started thinking on what the communities I met have in common with this delightful Nepalese dish. I realized that they share similar resilience properties:  Nepalese Thali Sets are usually served Rapidly, they provide different types of calories to make Redundancy a reality while the limitless refills definitely make you Robust. And Thalis always managed to balance flavours in a very resourceful way!

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  • Moulding bricks, rebuilding settlements


    January 18th, 2019

    When we reached Deurali Interlocking Block Udyog, a small enterprise making compressed stabilised earth bricks (CSEB), Simon Tamang was working alongside five workers. He was watering a stack of CSEBs while the workers were winding up the day’s work after moulding around 500 bricks.

    Simon Tamang cleans the earth bricks making machine.

    There is an increasing demand of these environmentally friendly compressed earth bricks, made from local materials sand and soil mixed with cement. Pointing to the stack under a pomelo tree, Simon said, “All are sold, already booked.

     

     

    Fuelling the reconstruction drive
    The enterprise, since its start in July 2017, has produced around 70,000 bricks. Twenty five one-storeyed buildings have already been built nearby with the earth bricks produced by Simon’s enterprise. And enterprises like Simon’s, supported by the UK aid funded Supply Chain of Construction Materials in Earthquake Affected Districts project, are helping the reconstruction drive in Nuwakot district.

    As you enter Nuwakot, you’ll come across reminders of devastation caused by the Big Earthquake three years ago. When the earthquake struck Nepal on 25 April 2015 and the aftershock hit again on 12 May, 51% of the population of Nuwakot were affected. The temblors killed 1,000 people and injured over 1,000 more. Many people lost their homes or businesses. Over 70,000 buildings were damaged. City suburbs, where many families live, were hardest hit.

    Sharing the benefits of CSEBs
    Trained by the project, Simon has turned into an incorrigible optimist. He leaves no stone unturned to market the earth bricks at public events. He shares the benefits of building with earth bricks over fired bricks. He even teaches how to make walls from the earth bricks.

    A house built with earth bricks.

    If CSEBs are also used for big constructions like schools and community halls, people will accept them more wholeheartedly,” he said. “The village representatives are supporting me on this. It costs 20-25% less to make a house with CSEBs than with fired bricks and it takes less time as well.

     

     

    Increasing demand of CSEBs
    The Government of Nepal has disbursed earthquake reconstruction cash grants to people whose houses were damaged by the earthquake. Simon is confident that 150 families will soon have new homes built using his earth bricks.

    In addition, they will need kitchens,” he added. “People working as migrant workers in the Gulf and other countries will also build houses. As they are making roads everywhere, there will be more houses along the roads and for all the construction, they will need CSEBs.”

    Women in reconstruction
    While we were talking with Simon, his wife Tanu Maya offered us tea and joined the conversation. She is the proprietor of the enterprise and keeps the financial record. She also helps Simon run the business. On an average the couple earns NRs 50,000 (around £ 350) as net profit in a month.

    Tanu Maya helps transport the earth bricks.

    Women in Nepalese society are often discouraged from undertaking skilled manual work. Tanu Maya restricts herself to less skilled jobs of curing and transporting the bricks. She hasn’t tried making the bricks.

    In nearby Shanti Bazaar, five women entrepreneurs have overcome these cultural obstacles to form a successful business. Yankee, Dhanmaya, Aitmaya, Yangjee and Purchung formed their brick-making business after they lost their homes in the 2015 earthquake and shifted to the internally displaced people’s camp in Shanti Bazaar. Now they work together on all aspects of the business, including making the bricks. The enterprise has been so successful, they have been able to hire additional labour.

    The women entrepreneurs run the earth brick making business on their own.

    We started this enterprise to build our own houses,” said Yankee. “After that we will continue making bricks since the demand is on the rise.” The group intends to build 29 houses for themselves and sell bricks to build further around 300 houses in the surrounding.

    While the CSEB enterprises are generating employment, they are also motivating others to start an enterprise of their own. Simon shared his plight of working for a supply company in Qatar for four years where he had to shuttle between 26 different companies in the scorching heat.

    Working in foreign company is good only till you are strong,” he quipped. “There will be at least someone by your side here when you’re dying.

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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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  • Technology helps lift women out of drudgery in rural Nepal


    October 25th, 2018

    General Information:

    About 40% Nepalese women are economically active and they bear the double burden of works in the family chores and doing farm works. But, the women from Manaagaun and its periphery have extra burden of fetching household consumable goods from Tipada, a nearby rural market with one and half kelometre distance. Anyone who wants to cross this distance has to face challenges and risk posed by Rudakhocha Vir, a hill having sharp-sloppy landscape.

    Being a development worker, when I was through the hill I found it a terrifying adventure whereas men and women of the areas had no other options but to walk frequently on those dangerous slopes carrying more than 50 kg weight on their back before the operation of ropeway.  If anything untoward happens, there is no way to get away from the highly possible fatal accident. If you look beyond the edge of the walking trail, you’ll see below the slopes descending to Budhiganga River which is scary, even to look at. The trail is so narrow that it looks like two big snakes hardly crossing each other!

    Installation of Gravity Goods Ropeway:

     

    Lower station of the system

     

    The situation no longer remained the same. After the installation of a Gravity Goods Ropeway[1] (GGR) no one now needs to travel on such risky road shouldering heavy belongings. The system was installed connecting Tipada (rural market center) and Manaagaun (remote village) of Bajura district, in November 2016. It is 908 metres long with an inclination of 34 degree. While installing the system under the financial and technical support of BICAS project, there were two expectations: to reduce women’s drudgery and enhance income of local households by ensuring easy circulation of local products, here however I will only discuss about the first expectation.

    Operation of the system:

    For its smooth functioning, a GGR management committee is formed and a member of it operates the system twice a week- Wednesday and Saturday for about 3 hours per operating day. In 3 hours, about 16 trips of different goods are usually shipped up and down, which guaranties two-way income to the management committee. Part of such income will be used for its repairing and maintenance purposes to continue its services in the future.

    People’s recognition:

    While travelling to the upper station of GGR, I met Ms. Binda Saaud waiting for her trip of rice bag which was to be shipped from the ropes of the ropeway on 22 June, 2018. She is a local resident of Manaagaun, about an hour walking distance from the upper station of GGR. According to her, she comes here twice a month to fetch rice and other consumable goods to feed her family of five members.

    Pulling out consignments in upper station

    When I requested her to share her hardship she endured while walking on such steep and narrow foot-trail with more than 50 kg weight on her back, Ms Saaud, at 40, shrunk her face, which was in fact enough for me to understand her ordeal by reading her face. About 18 months before the installation of GGR, her life was full of hazard. She lamented “all the time our life was in risk of falling down on the banks of the river with a zero chance of being alive while descending and ascending the hill with heavy load.” In this remote and rural setting, there are many stories of such agony, but walking with heavy load in such steep landscape was much agonising for them.

    During the course of the conversation, she said technology, however, has really made a significant difference to their lives.

    Reducing women’s drudgeries:

    As said above by Ms. Brinda Saud, it is absolutely true that the system or the technology has made significant differences to them on the following aspects:

    Firstly, the system has contributed to reduce the threats to their lives: no women need to walk on such a long and risky foot-trail via Rudakhocha Vir with their heavy loads of utilities essential for their household consumption. Their gravity of burden has now shifted to the ropes of GGR.

    Secondly, before the installation of the gravity ropeway, a commuter or a porter had to walk about two hours shouldering heavy load on their back to climb the hill to get near the upper station of the system. It was much difficult and painful work for each household, particularly for women over there. Now, with the gravity ropeway, any goods take only 1.22 minutes to cover the same distance, if load is properly uphold in both the ropes. Women from about 250 households of Manaagaun and periphery have utilised their time and energy saved from such risky travel to take care of their family members, work in the farms or do other income generating works.

    Finally, the gravity ropeway has also helped cut down the cost by two-third on the total wage a porter would take on any consignment. Average saving from the use of the system to carry consumable goods from lower station to upper station of the system is about NRs. 6,000 (approx. US$ 60) per year for a family of at least five members.

    In this way, a small, cost-effective and zero-energy based technology has made a sufficient contribution to reducing women’s drudgery, risk and cost in remote villages of Nepal.

    *******

    [1] Gravity goods ropeway is a means of transportation that uses earth‘s gravity to transport goods without the use of external energy use.

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