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Using storytelling to find new solutions

By Practical Action On 08.12.2020 Climate changeCoronavirusFarmingBlog

Adapting has been a key theme in 2020: for many of us, we’ve had to adapt to new ways of working, living and being. In many ways, it feels like our lives have been put on hold due to Covid-19. However, the world won’t wait for us. The climate challenges that farming communities around the world face can’t be paused to allow for the pandemic to end.

This is where Practical Action’s Turning the Tables on Climate Change campaign comes in. The campaign will help farming communities create opportunities and turn the tables on climate change. If the challenges farmers are facing can’t be paused, neither can our work. But with travel restrictions, safety concerns and constant unpredictability due to the pandemic, we had to adapt in order to continue. Luckily, ingenuity is at the core of what Practical Action do.

Searching for the story

Part of our approach at Practical Action involves collecting stories and hearing authentic voices from the people we work with. These conversations support our campaigns and allow us to operate closely and collaboratively with the people we work with.

The success of a campaign like Turning the Tables on Climate Change relies on truly understanding the needs of the communities and sharing the story effectively with the wider world – and collecting authentic stories is an essential part of this process.

“It seemed like it was an impossible position and everything was against us. The weather was atrocious, the area we needed to reach was remote, roads were virtually non-existent, Covid-19 was making any international travel to Nepal, and domestic journeys within Nepal, impossible. And what’s more, we had no past experience of working in this particular area and time was running out before the appeal was due to begin.”

– Andrew Heath, Stories & External Engagement Manager, Practical Action

Adapting the approach

Andy, Sanjib, Prabin and Monisha from the Practical Action team drew on their experience, their contacts and their original thinking in order to find a way around the restrictions.

With our own story gatherers restricted to base, we realised it was still possible for journalists to travel through Nepal. But we needed journalists who understood the issues that communities in Nepal were facing, journalists who were used to telling high quality, human-focused stories and journalists who were able to mobilise quickly. We needed new storytellers.

Our freelance team stood on the mountainside

“There were travel restrictions at various places across the country which meant we couldn’t travel to the project districts. However, journalists had been travelling to districts to report the news. We had partnered with NEFEJ in the past and they came forward to help us with collecting the stories from the field.”

– Sanjib Chaudhary, Stories Team (Nepal), Practical Action

With this in mind, we partnered with our contacts in the Nepal Forum of Environmental Journalists (NEFEJ) to create a makeshift team of talented reporters who would help us collect the stories we need. Some of these reporters had worked with us before, and some were recommended to us, but all had our trust. When you’re working with vulnerable people, having trust in the people you partner with is vital.

Our amazing team on the move

We were able to bring together an incredibly talented team to collect stories across Nepal. Our amazing team consisted of:
Sujata Karki – an environmental journalist with Nature Khabar
Siddhartha Shakya – Videographer
Chandra Majhi – Assistant videographer
Sunil Sharma – Photojournalist


There was no ‘normal’ process for our new approach: battling against unreliable internet, daily WhatsApp briefings in English and Nepali and extra days for travel all had to be factored into the weeks ahead. We all knew there were challenges ahead, but the opportunity to work with communities across Nepal was more than worth it.

Had any of our team tried to make the journey across Nepal, it would’ve been impossible – but thanks to their press-passes, our fantastic freelancers were able to hit the road on our behalf!

“Practical Action is all about thinking outside the box, so we drew on all our experience from previous appeals and put our heads together to forge a unique Anglo-Nepali way forward. We ended up taking a totally different approach, using local journalists, long written and verbal briefings, WhatsApp groups and a huge chunk of trust.”

– Andrew Heath, External Engagement Manager, Practical Action

The long road to success

With our freelance team briefed and ready, it was time for the journey to begin. Travelling across three districts – Dang, Rolpa and Rukum East – meant that there was a long road ahead. Over the next 9 days, the team would travel all across Nepal, with some journeys stretching on for hours – with the journey from Gairigaun Tila to Ghatri Ghau involving a 363KM drive.

The team’s itinerary involved travelling to Dang from Kathmandu (with an extended stay at Butwal due to traffic jam caused by landslide in Daunne). The team then travelled to the Rolpa and Rukum districts before finally returning to Kathmandu via Dang.

“The first day of our trip was a bitter experience, even though we knew we were travelling to do something important. We had planned to go from Kathmandu to Dang, but we were unable to reach Dang due to traffic jam and landslide at Daunne. We had to stay for more than seven hours at Daunne.”

– Sujata Karki, environmental journalist at Nature Khabar

The rough terrain from Kathmandu to Dang

Treacherous terrain, the perils of the monsoon season, landslides, roadblocks and lugging equipment all presented new challenges as our crew made their cross-regional journey. To some of the communities in Rukum, a group of strangers arriving in facemasks was a new sight – and not entirely welcome! The use of face shields wasn’t as widespread in the region, so the team had to explain the novel face-coverings to the community before being trusted.

“At Rukum the Coronavirus cases were increasing… We planned to be even safer and we wore face shields throughout most of our trip. However, the people in the community of Rukum were afraid of us and they said, “Don’t wear your shields or we will be afraid”. We kept our masks on, but had to remove the shields in order to have the conversations we needed!”

– Sujata Karki, environmental journalist at Nature Khabar

Traffic jam caused by a landslide in Daunne

Some of these obstacles are par for the course for content trips, but it was a new, challenging and rewarding experience for our freelance team, yielding vital conversations with communities and some of the individuals we are planning to work with.

The team experienced the same difficult terrain that many of the farmers across Nepal have to trek across, bringing them even closer to the issues they were trying to untangle.

We’re so grateful for their tireless work ethic, their dedication, their expertise and the vital stories and pictures they were able to collect.

“’In Rolpa and Rukum we walked almost for two hours to conduct the interview. It was a very unusual journey due to the hilly terrain too.”

– Sujata Karki, environmental journalist at Nature Khabar

Striving for change in a changing world

Against all odds, and in the midst of a pandemic, the team were able to get some incredible stories to support our campaign, talking with amazing people across Nepal to better understand their needs. Even though the approach was a novel experience, it was an excellent learning experience, and our intrepid team were able to provide us with all the stories we needed.

Stunning views over Nepal

Over the coming weeks we’ll introduce you to the amazing people our team met – we hope you enjoy discovering more about the project and hearing the stories our team were able to collect all across Nepal.

“Sharing these stories with a wider audience will help in the future. If everyone knew more about the issues, more people would be ready to help.”

– Sujata Karki, environmental journalist at Nature Khabar