Nepal's Banksy was here!

Nepal's Banksy was here!
Strong message, Simple words

Monday, 29 June 2015

BAMBOO classrooms rise out of the ruins in time for monsoon rains.

One of the first temporary classrooms nearly finished.

The last few weeks have been very busy working on the Emergency Education Project in Lamjung. The race is on to get protection from the arriving monsoon rains. Those of you who have read a previous blog will know that we, the Global Action Nepal team, went around 58 schools to assess damage in 8 VDCs (parishes). We identified 11 very needy schools, where the need is greatest, to build 11 Temporary Learning Spaces (TLS). So things have been hectic, a situation that I have really enjoyed. 

The pen game!

My first task was to help with recruiting and interviewing 5 new Community Mobilisers and 40 Youth Volunteers. 2 very full days of interviews and we nearly had a full compliment. The second challenge was to give training to the new Community Mobilisers brilliantly supported by the experienced team. Good fun was had by all as you can see above.

Then came the Youth Volunteer training and this time new CMs helped facilitate the workshop. The only problem was that the day was not long enough. Nepali people are notoriously relaxed about time keeping, very frustrating for us Bedeshies. It means that it is always difficult to get everything done according to plan. However it doesn't worry me too much as long as they have enjoyed themselves, joined in and learnt lots. We seemed to have achieved that which is brilliant.

Games in schools are very limited. The concept of silly relay races took a long time to explain. Hilarity followed!

Then we went out to talk to the headteachers and discuss community involvement and practicalities of the design of the building. They will manage the building but the design should follow the agreed plans.

A tiny school which is unsafe to use.

Under a simple tarpaulin roof this classroom will not withstand the coming rains.

At the same school these tots are marking the spot!

Another tiny school where the building is standing. This is a very poor catchment and I am excited to see their delight when the Unicef packages arrive.

There is an added challenge which has come with the beginning of the monsoon rains. There is little availability of a community workforce. Everyone is preparing the paddys and planting rice. This is a long and labour intense time of the year. Men usually prepare the ground and the water course while women take the seedlings and transplant. As a group they move through the paddys. No time for building. But the race is on to get the roofs up before the rains arrive.
Another day, another VDC. As we called in to Alaiche Primary School this teacher is getting stuck into building the frame.

We walk on to the next school but on our way back the frame is nearly constructed. 2 days later it is ready for the roof.

Alaiche Primary School. A big problem will be building the  floor up to keep the rain out. 

Who would have thought that I would be involved working out what size and how many corrugated sheets we would need at each school. My calculation of tonnage of soil to build up the floor were not far from my professional cousin's recommendations. There is very little use of gutters and water collection in Nepal so that is another idea which seems to be taking hold. They could use this to flush toilets and urinals, where the smell of urine is almost unbearable and it could also be used to improve hygiene and hand washing. What a lucky turn of fate that I have watched so many farm buildings being constructed. Thank you Arthur! Also so good to have a good man to discuss the ideas with but a shame he is in Kathmandu!

This was the first TLS near completion. A great day and a very jolly team of lads.
Thankfully we have a new member of our GAN team who has joined us for 3 months. He will have his work cut out trying to keep tabs on all of the buildings and finances. They are very spread out and in remote villages so visiting is time consuming. I loved this day. A long walk, finding my way and communicating in my very miserable Nepali on my own.

Another day and another school visit. I set out on my own again, another challenge, but within a few hundred meters of getting off the bus, heard this lovely young lady calling my name. One of our Youth Volunteers had been to college and was on her way home (one and a half hours walk). It was only 9 am so you can imagine what time they start at college.

A companion for about 2km. She said that she would phone other volunteers to meet me late.

I was delighted to reach this school and see the near finished TLS. My particular favourite (I know that I shouldn't have one but....) where I had visited with the S team. You have seen many photos of the devastating condition of this school. They have done a wonderful job despite lack of community volunteers, the same story of rice planting but also a very poor catchment area with few willing helpers. 

The back of the TLS

We soon tidied the site. It was beautifully cool and airy inside. Hopefully the rains will not drive in.

2 hours to spare and half of the hut varnished. Very hot work and I ended up with nearly as much on me!

Another big part of the project is to provide teacher training, psycho-social support and the use of games and practical activities to improve teaching and learning methods. My role is to help the Community Mobilisers and the Youth Volunteers (5 in each VDC) to start clubs (art, sport, drama, music etc), hold community dialogues and generally get children back to a school where they can feel safe and have a good learning experience. So I was very pleased when 3 Youth Volunteers appeared. They collected the data, that every donating charity needs, and then we played some games. These were equally enjoyed by the teachers and by the lovely gent in black, a lawyer from Kathmandu, home since the earthquake, who I believe has personally driven this building project to near completion. Good fun and surprisingly competitive!

The Namaste game. Counting around the circle, in English. Every fifth person says and does "Namaste" in place of the "5's". Easier said than done. I was soon out but at least that allowed a bit of photography!

Relay races using a rather heavy piece of bamboo! H & S close your eyes!! 

My VSO colleague, Ann Marcer, has been busy organising the distribution of the wonderful resources from Unicef. Many of you have heard of "School in a Box" but there is also a recreational kit and fun toys, puzzles and books for the under 5's. An amazing addition for these under-resourced schools. More things than they have ever had. Part of our task is to encourage the best use these goodies so that the maximum benefit for the students is enjoyed.

Unicef "School in and Box" and recreational Kits

More than most schools have ever seen!

Loaded up and on it's way to Chiti and Hiletaksar. Ann and I delighted to see the distribution of resources.

So back to the UK tonight and hoping that all the boxes get safely out to the schools and that the Temporary Learning Spaces are finished on my return in a month's time. Good luck to the wonderful GAN team. What a first year.

Her Mum and Dad would be proud of her....Jude gets involved!!

Working a paddy seedbed. All you tractor drivers never let me hear you say the soil is too sticky to work!!!!!
With just a day to go before our return to the UK Jude is keen to not waste a moment. When the opportunity to meet some now homeless farmers arises she does not want to miss the chance to chat.
However, chatting soon turns to action and the next few images record her rice transplanting experience. She seems to speak an international language of friendship that is understood by all.

Jude helping to bundle rice seedlings ready for transplanting.

Jude plays the crowd, her farther's daughter!

That's how you use one of those short handled diggers. Building a bund around the paddy to keep it flooded

Transplanting two seedlings together each time. This year the earthquake has resulted in a shortage of seed so normally it would be bunches of three. I think that the fewer plants could compensate to some extent by producing bigger rice grains.

The women farmers work in teams helping to share this tough task, 
Whose that ' bedeshi' working working in the team?
We fly out on the 29th June and back on the 31st July. Already plans are being made for our return. Jude has heard that there is to be another recovery phase project in Lamjung and my work with the National Dairy Development Board to develop a process of Good Manufacturing Practice for the Raw Milk Supply Chain is set to take off. We also spent yesterday making our first Nepali Cheddar with Binuka a local cheese maker. More of all this on our return. Stay safe, and in contact.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Wedding invitation, customs abound

What an honour to have been invited to 3 Nepali weddings in the last 6 months. The first was a huge culture shock for us. Manju, some of you have read about her on an earlier blog, invited us to the first.

Manju getting ready for some dancing. A natural performer.
We hadn't met either the bride or groom but I had been given a glass of buffalo milk by her mother while helping with the rice harvest. A slim connection, but I was assured that the invitation was genuine. The first thing that struck us as odd was that the invitation is verbally given about 2 weeks before the wedding. This surprised us, when you think about the long run up to most weddings in the UK. The truth is that most Nepali marriages are arranged , and once agreed by the father of the bride it is only a matter of days before the invitation is issued. Most couples meet only once prior to the day of celebrations. The second surprise is that there isn't a fixed time to attend as the occasion can last up to 3 days. The third difference made us both feel a little uneasy. We are accustomed to smiling faces, joyous mood, speeches and general merriment. This experience made me feel alarmingly sad. The bride looked in shock and the groom not very much brighter. However the day was fascinating and I later learnt that a shy and modest countenance is expected of the bride and anything else would seem very wrong.

Simon being given a lesson in Topi styling.

The groom arrives in the midst of a procession, under an umbrella.
The young couple meet. Rituals of feet washing and puja (worship) are held in the front of the bride's house.

Muna, one of our Community Mobilisers, gave us our second invitation to her own wedding. Again with little notice and we had no idea in the office that anything was afoot! However there was a whisper that this was a love match. There is still little or no courtship although this young couple had met at Muna's brother's wedding.

Muna waiting serenely.

Muna  giving tika to a Brahman  priest while she and her father do their ritual puja..

Receiving gifts, puja and good wishes from friends and family.

Our team looked resplendent in their sari's and finery. Muna looked stunning and even gave us a few cheeky smiles.

Then came the third surprise. I went into the office one day and the good news of the day was that Anju was to be married. This was quite unexpected as she is a very independent and ambitious young woman who as well as her role as Community Mobiliser also works at the local radio station early most mornings. This was an arranged marriage but our Sister's for Sisters team know her suitor. He is the Assistant Head Teacher of one of our schools, a very nice young man, but they had only met once on a bus. As with all Nepali people they are expected to marry within their ethnic group. Gurungs are no exception. Dinnesh sought Anju's father's permission and within 3 weeks they were married. Simon, Ann, my VSO colleague, and I decided to walk to her village as our office were unable to arrange transport. We set off at 7 am with the intention of getting there before the heat really built up. However it wasn't long before we were drenched and the 3 hour walk was tough going. Ann and I had luckily experienced arriving at schools and needing a change of clothes so we were prepared and found a friendly lady who let us strip off in her front yard. She looked a little startled and I am sure that we were the talk of the village for our brazen but practiced change! We soon found the wedding party by following the sound of chatter through this lovely Gurung village. The yellow tent made photography difficult.

Our first sight of the yellow tent and relaxed atmosphere.

Gurung customs include donations of rupees being tucked into the headpiece.

They were into the second day of celebrations so we had missed some of the cultural wedding customs. The young couple were sitting quietly receiving good wishes, tika and gifts from friends and family. It was wonderful to take the weight off our feet and watch another type of ceremony and enjoy excellent Gurung hospitality.

Friends of the bride and groom sit sentry to Anju and Dinnesh.

This little 3 year old girl, so beautifully dressed, behave impeccably.
Subdued dancing accompanied by ladies singing, and a local drummer!.

So many delightful faces ensures that man-watching is fascinating.

Anju's mother.

These faces have seen many tough years but strong community living. 

Adorned with tika and splendor.

This is proper finger food to fuel our return walk. Thank you Ann for letting me use this great photo.

A farmer is ready with a hook.. "Just in case I need to help cut vegetables", he told me!

Our decent was made easier with the help of 2 young boys who acted as guides through the jungle. We were tired but all very happy that we had made the effort to go to Anju and Dinnesh's wedding ceremony and honoured to have been invited. A very special occasion and we wish them a very happy life together.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Each day is a weave of experiences, threaded through with 'Hope'.

Some days here in Nepal are like looking into a collide-a-scope. As you turn the barrel experiences tumble across your vision. Each event quite unexpected but together they have links which form the rich pattern of life.

6.30 am, whilst on my morning run, I was unaware that what lay ahead was a day filled with strange unconnected happenings that would meld into a precious unforgettable tapestry of memories. As I rounded a street corner a collection of wheelchairs users blocked the way. This group were watching a wheel chair basketball tournament and I enjoyed the fun for a few moments as team Bouddha, in blue, went on to beat the local rivals.  I now stay in the city district, Jawalakel, where the Chinese Red Cross have made a good tented provision for wheel chair using citizens, Here their needs can be best met and the risks of being trapped in a collapsing building are minimised.

Bouddha contest for the ball

Nepal Army Team wait their turn

The sport attracts a good audience
 I had planned, later that day, to once more return to Bungamati and see how the quake recovery was progressing. I seem to be drawn back to this place rather like Kathmandu's cyclists are drawn to me as I run. Like rabbits caught in the headlights they aim at me and my warning to wannabe Kathmandu city road runners is be prepared to fend off bikes and 'glazed over' riders by literally pushing their handle bars away!!
Having recovered from a couple of pedal power near misses, I found myself  later that morning on route to my favourite local town, Bungamati. Again my path was blocked, not by sporting activities but instead by the ‘Chariot Festival'. Due to earthquake  shock waves the wheels on this mobile mini Blackpool Tower had ground to a halt halfway to its city destination. Undeterred by the precipitous angle the tower now assumed, worshipers still performed their ‘pujaa’ and musical ceremonies. One devotee who seemed to have had an operation to remove all his sense of self-preservation,  clambered to the apex and  fixed yet another Buddhist flag. This month long Newari festival involves both Hindus  and Buddhists who worship the Assam god Machhendra Nath. I felt some affinity with proceedings since the god should bring farmers good rains and harvest.

The Red Machhendra Chariot and yes that is a man on the top!!

Candles are lit accompanied by traditional music.

Worship continues unabated.

Further along my route, as I approach my destination, I was amazed how the landscape had been transformed since my last visit only three weeks ago. Lines of women farmers had been busy planting rice in flooded paddies. The flooding being achieved by irrigation channels, I am aware that the rains have not yet arrived and I offer up a silent prayer to Machhendra Nath not to heap more misery onto these simple farmers, many of whom have already lost their houses, by delaying the onset of the monsoon.

Dry paddies three weeks ago

How things have changed, with some water channeled from a nearby stream

Rice planting a Team event
Half an hour later I am relaxing with a khalo chiyaa (black tea), after having picked up some shirts from a  Bungamati tailor, when I see an old friend Juju Man Shrestha. Some weeks before the quake I had been looking for a craftsman to make a wooden box for Jude’s birthday. Juju had kindly found me a workshop, rather than use his own since their main line of work seemed to be carved furniture and house fittings. I was eager to discover how his life had changed following recent dramatic events.
All of my fears were confirmed as he described the tragic, but far too common, outcomes of that fateful earthquake day.

Juju's mother, looking a little weary but she was very welcoming.

Not sure who looks most hard bitten! It is the natural Nepali pose not to smile, whatever the underlying emotion . I think my emotion is perhaps showing through. as we sit on the step of  the closed workshop.

His house, along with those of his extended family, was destroyed. Being constructed using traditional mud and brick techniques they offered little resistance to shock waves. Along with the houses nearly all of the 300 carving workshops in the town had been ruined. Demand for their craft work had collapsed along with the tourist trade, and 15 or so remaining workshops were also finding it difficult to source camphor, the wood they traditionally use. In the wards that make up the  Bungamati VDC ( Village Development Committee) there had been 1045 houses destroyed, but fortunately due to the midday timing of the disaster, the loss of life had been limited to 7. Most people were out in the fields having eaten daal bhaat. Had the shock struck at night there could have untold misery for this community.

Juju's home that was four floors. For safety he knocked the top two down, and judging by the cracking the remainder will have to go as well.

Two women, and their dog, do a demolition job.

Machhe Narayan Shrestha outside his home, which displays some of his carved screens.

Madan Bhakta and Surja Laxmi Maharjan clear rubble from the first floor of their house in search of woodcarving tools and completed work.

Still neighbours despite everything.

Juju was eager to show me his new home, which is a tent shared by 15 others. It is a cliché to say that he seemed not to be down-hearted but all his family radiated a positive attitude and told me of their plans to recover from there predicament. Juju is a wood carver and along with most of his close relations is now jobless, but he has work to do as a subsistence farmer. Planting rice and cultivating crops is a group activity, to which the whole community subscribe, with little money changing hands.

The new family home, for 15 people.

Inside is just as you might expect,......very simple, just bedding.
Speaking to the whole family group  I discover they have plans to rebuild their traditional homes, and in Juju’s case open a home stay once the tourist trade has recovered. For me, knowing that no one has the luxury of house insurance, and that the combined Government and donor support will not run to a fraction of the cost of a rebuild, I can only feel a sense of huge concern.

We ate as they told me their story, and their plan for recovery.
As I walked  home Juju’s case weighed heavily on my mind. Not only had he lost his house but also his job. Some of my work at my partner organisation, Samarth, has  been involved in supporting nearly 5000 households with an emergency intervention that provides feed support for their beleaguered cattle. The aim is to maintain a source of family income through milk sales. These are small holder farmers whose immediate emergency requirements of shelter have been met and Samarth is trying to support their future livelihoods. We have been very careful to use the existing market chains to provide the feed in such a way that other livelihoods are not disrupted or even destroyed by the intervention. This intervention will roll out into very remote badly affected districts which already have established milk collecting cooperative structures in place.

A Danish Aid organisation is erecting some other temporary dwellings.

Another option, split bamboo housing.
Yet another unexpected experience in the cascading collide-a-scope of events awaited me before arriving home. On the same corner where earlier in the day I’d witnessed basketball, the equivalent of a Nepali tree surgeon was at work. This time instead of a trailer to remove scrub and brash, as we would at home, the method of transport was by elephant. As branches were loaded onto her broad shoulders the old female stood quietly by, munching on a few stray twigs. As friends have often said –‘we are certainly experiencing an amazing gap year!

What a way to move scrub and brush. How about it Nick and Chris?

My Dad was 89 that day and he sounded full of beans as we chatted on the phone. Jude and I will be travelling back to the UK for the month of July to be with our family. In the back of my mind is a persisting niggle that for the Newari families I have recently met there is no such escape. The long awaited PDNA (Post Disaster Needs Assessments) will appear in the next few days. These will form the basis by which the big donors place their aid. I hope some support will reach Juju and his fellow community members in Bungamati.