Nepal's Banksy was here!

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

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Pictures speak a thousand words. Reflections and a big thank you to Nepal.

Panorama from the top of hotel in Besishahar, Lamjung.

Regular readers will know about our personal journey over the last 2 years in Nepal. I am planning to reflect, through photos, from our early arrival in Lamjung, a few from the mid-line then to final goodbyes. I hope you will join me on my look back.

As we looked out from the hotel rooftop we did not realise we were seeing our home to be.

We arrived in Lamjung in September 2014. Luckily, thanks to a wonderful family at the New Gurung Cafe, it took us no time at all to find our new home. If you look carefully at the photo you can see a Buddhist Gompa with flags flying (top, left). We moved in less than a week later.

We borrowed a local form of transport to move.
Sadly the chain of the three wheeler was a little unreliable but we managed to get everything on one load and push! The flat was perfect and we had happy times there. The views were wonderful and neighbours very friendly and kind. As you know Simon spent most of his time in Kathmandu, a 7 hours bus journey away, so I was mostly on my own. However I felt extremely safe and was surrounded by kindness, and a lot of noise, which helped during the lonely times.

Simon trying out the local method of carrying.

Our favourite thing to do in free time has always been walking, meeting local people and getting to understand life in Nepal. We often met this lovely porter. Like so many he was profoundly deaf and therefore unable to speak but he certainly loved our interactions.

Women breaking stones is a common sight near the rivers in Nepal.

Another great advantage of walking is that you come across so much raw life. It really helped us to understand and empathise with those who struggle to earn enough to feed themselves and family. Breaking stones is a thankless task. There is always another pile and the remuneration extremely poor. 

Crossing rivers can be adventurous. Simon smiled all the way, I panicked!!

A jeep crossing the cliff face (mid picture)

A bus to Baglungpani along the same road as the jeep on the previous photo!

One of our first terrifying bus journeys was to Baglungpani during the monsoon season. The photo does not show the sheer drop, the rough surface of the track, the waterfalls and water ways. At every lurch of the bus our panic was drowned out by the locals screaming out. On the many subsequent visits I always walked which was a much better idea, although extremely steep and hard work, it was better for the heart beat!

The views from Baglunpani were well worth the effort!

Sadly not always this clear.

A favourite tree on the way to one of the schools. It always made me smile.

Ladies digging out clay.

There is always something interesting to see. These ladies were collecting clay which is rolled into balls and used for cleaning their houses. At Desain festival the walls get a new coat of clay but many wash their floors with this to keep it clean daily.

The first sight of this work was a shock. The lady's basket is ready for her to carry.

We gradually got used to many of these sights but never took it for granted. There are many, many people in Nepal who work so physically hard. Is it any wonder that they suffer from health problems (please refer to a previous blog on Women's Health).

And this young lad is learning his family trade.
Back in Kathmandu. Saturday is washing day.

And thankfully most days are drying days in Nepal.

We soon settled into life here although as Simon has mentions there were many Ups and Downs. We have documented many of these. Lamjung Durbur became a special place for both highs and lows. We spent time here when missing special occasions at home but we all also walked up to the Durbar, with a picnic, with all of our many visitors. Our grandchildren made the long climb, about 2 hours and 800 meters, is a big effort for young legs. Well done to all!

Lamjung Durbur on a good clear day.

Once the monsoons rains arrive, from mid June onward entire families are involved in the work. Summer holidays from school do not include much relaxation here but the time is hectic. If the rains are late the crops and families suffer. Global warming is likely to have a huge impact here.

Wonderful to capture the lush green of a rice seed bed.
We have seen so many similar scenes of busy families at work preparing for the planting of rice.

Making bean bags!
I have done a few crazy things including sitting at a treadle machine and making bean bags. Not only were they fun to use but for a Bideshi woman to sit in a tailors shop caused a few people to stare. Tailors and other craftsmen come from low caste families so I really enjoyed this way of testing the cultural norm. I have huge admiration for anyone with such skills and hope that others can appreciate these craftsmen and women.

Poor old hen on a hot day being delivered to a pot somewhere.

Krishna up a tree harvesting a very special fruit for his lady companions.
We always enjoyed walks to and from schools. On this fine autumn day the gallant Krishna, our Professional Mentor, climbed a tree to harvest a special fruit. All young women are meant to "marry" this fruit and it becomes their first husband. A little late for me!!!

So our journey neared it's end and it was time for our many farewells. So many people have been part of this journey and none less than family and friends. It has been a delight to us that all of our children have been to visit us here. I hope that they have all enjoyed it as much as we loved their visits. Hopefully it will also give them an interest in our future chatter of "when we were in Nepal" times! We are immensely proud of them all and they have been a great strength to us here. Thank you.

We have also had many friends who have come to see us. Sarah has even been twice. Thank you all too. It certainly gave us something personal to look forward to at times when we felt a long way from home.

Simon has mentioned the many supporters at home, family, friends and VSO donors and special contacts. I will not repeat his comments but I can assure you that it has helped us both. Again special thanks to you.

Young Pawan has been a good friend and companion.

Thank you Pawan for your friendship and smiles. He loved to paint, draw and play games on my balcony. I will miss your smile.

At last we had a cake making staff training!

I have spent so much time with the wonderful Lamjung Sister for Sisters team. I am sure that they will keep up the excellent work. I will remember so many fun times and lots of tough walks. They are brilliant.

A tough climb up to the school. Raj chats to one young lady who does it every day.

Feast and Farewell from the team.

Most of the team.

So goodbye to Lamjung from us both.

Farewell to the Sister For Sister management teams from 4 districts. 

A Final Word. Teamwork helps reduce poverty in Nepal. Discover the part you have played.

A Tamang woman, wearing the traditional shelter she uses when bent over planting or
weeding rice in the rain.
During our time in Nepal, we have learnt, along with many things, that teamwork is an essential component of successful volunteerism.

Nothing is easy for the families who farm small isolated pieces of land under the shadow of Makalu (8400m). Hidden from view lies the mighty Everest. 

Houses perch on the precipitous slopes. Terraces carved out of the rich, but dry soil, provide food for the families and their livestock. Milk production is an essential enterprise since it provides much needed cash to these poor house holds.
Our work was suspended for a short time after the earthquake of 2015. We were asked by local government officers, co-ordinating the relief effort, to visit the most stricken areas of Lamjung to collect photographic evidence of damage. Below are some of the less harrowing images that need no words.

This landlocked country holds its place on the world stage for many reasons. Its northern districts are set amongst the highest mountain range on the globe, whilst at the same time its biggest export is workers to more affluent counties, and is amongst the poorest of Asian nations.  Gender inequality, child trafficking, extreme poverty, environmental degradation, and natural disasters are just a few of the issues that the many INGOs and NGOs are tackling. It may come as a surprise to learn that most of these organisations do not use either national or international volunteers. VSO stands amongst the handful of organisations that work by bringing people together through volunteerism, to share their knowledge which will hopefully result in sustainable change, poverty reduction and greater life choices for the beneficiaries.

These Tamang people illustrate one of their most endearing characters. How to remain positive
when faced with the most difficult of circumstances. This image was taken just six days after the earthquake
had destroyed most of their village.

Women are the back bone of Nepali farming and our training programs wherever
possible target them.

This woman (far left) supports her mother-in-law and is joined in the photograph by her two female workers with whom she
keeps fourteen milking buffalo.
In a few sentences I would like to use my placement in Nepal to illustrate how many people have come together, and what that collective effort has achieved.

The team at VSO UK, prepared Jude and I for our trip to Kathmandu.  Through VSO Nepal that support has continued over the last two years.  However, none of this could happen without the actions of individual donors back in the UK who have continued to provide the finances.  These donors include a huge numbers of British families who donate to VSO on a regular basis and can now read a first hand account of what their money has achieved.

As you might expect life here, as everywhere, has its “Ups and Downs”. The ‘Ups’ take care of themselves but during the ‘Downs’…….. when a volunteer may feel a long way from home, or perhaps has temporarily lost sight of what it is all about or maybe the diet is a bit lacking and health is below par, then a whole other group of team members start to play their part.  On the professional side VSO UK has listened and offered support, friends and family have chatted over Skype, literally hundreds of thousands of you have read our blog posts. From the Ukraine to China and Ireland to Australia readers just taking the time to log onto the blog, and occasionally post a comment, all have a motivating effect on the volunteer………somebody is interested, somebody cares.  Many donors back in the UK have not stopped at giving their money. They also send email messages wishing us well and helping to keep our spirits up. All of you are valuable team members.

During our time in Nepal, Jude and I have written blog posts. Each one of the nearly half a million readers, by taking an interest have helped us through the tough times. They are all a valuable part of the 'team'. 

Volunteering means leaving things behind and suspending life back at home. Another whole band of the supporting team like family members who look after the house, the dog, the garden and take on countless thankless tasks have played their essential role in this tale.

Now, in the final days of the placement all these team members worldwide, can hear what their collective efforts have achieved.

At the sharp end you have supported a volunteer in a project that is funded by the UK Government. The project name is Samarth, which translates into ‘helping people help themselves’.  The initial work involved working with all the dairy industry stakeholders to establish a genuine “need”, which could form the heart of an intervention. Farmers, processors and the government all agreed that poor milk quality was the single most important issue holding back the dairy industry.

A woman in Ilam delivers a 40kg churn of milk to an isolated cheese factory.

Delivering milk before school

This farmer earns extra cash walking 6 hours a day carrying milk. His maximum load is
Your volunteer, working in a small team for a department in the Ministry of Agriculture, wrote a process that included all the production steps for milk from farmers to processing. All the stakeholders once again unanimously accepted that the adoption of this Good Manufacturing Practice for Raw Milk (GMP) is the way forward and have asked Samarth to carry out pilot schemes to validate it.

An implementing partner, the NGO Forward Nepal, has been engaged to carry out the pilots in 6 raw milk supply chains, which will be completed by January 2017. Your volunteer was embedded in the Forward team where he wrote all the training schedules, lesson plans, manuals and materials to enable farmers to follow the GMP. The team Leader is Dr Krishna Paudel, who is a very experienced development professional with good connections into all the key government agencies that will carrying out the initial steps in this huge training program. Sachit Neupane, a food technologist, has written training programs for the milk chilling centre staff. Their task is to train in a way that leads to behavioural change amongst farmers.

Facilitating farmer training with Chatra a young vet.

An attentive group of farmers. For 90% of them this is their first ever training.

 Food is an important part of the training day since many farmers will have walked long distances to attend. Here rice pudding and veg. curry are prepared.

The final stage of the volunteer’s involvement with this intervention has been training senior government officers in all the historical, technical and methodological aspects of the GMP process. In short everything that these 4 officers will need to allow them to train 80 trainers within the supply chains whose job it will be to train a further 7000 farmers. The big bonus is that 50% of the government officers were women, as are 65% of the trainers and the majority of farmers.

To improve awareness we visited the field with the Government Officers for whom we provided 'Train the Trainer' training.
They went on to train farmers who will themselves carry out the training of 7000 farmers. The older couple that are central to the photograph told us that they were still engaged in dairy farming despite being married for over 70 years! Their wedding had take place when they were 7 years old!

Illiteracy is a problem in many rural districts. Using the skills of a local Nepali artist, who's day work is painting Buddhist 'thangka',  we developed training posters that will be used as lesson plans by the farmer trainers. Each farmer will display the poster back home as a reminder. The lower poster is for display at the milk collection/chilling centre.

An added bonus is that the curriculum for the GMP implementation has already been adopted by the government and will be part of their training program next year.

On a different project the volunteer has shared cheese making skills with small rural based factories that are then more able to supply the distant urban markets in the Kathmandu valley.

Filling cheese moulds.

Cheeses stacked ready to be dipped in the brine bath

The maturing shelves

Facilitating knowledge transfer by "Training the Trainers'

Trainers then carry out a short cheese making training to reinforce changes in the recipe. 

The development impact of both projects is targeted at reducing poverty and securing incomes for smallholder farmers, improving the lives of working women and reducing the environmental impact of producing milk.

The last couple of years have been a huge teamwork exercise with each participant making a valuable contribution. Thanks go to each and every one of you that has played a part in what we have collectively achieved.

I would like to finish with a short quote from the late Joe Tasker, a very talented mountaineer and writer from the Northern England, who wrote “the most rewarding of achievements only come from succeeding against the greatest odds”.

Together, we have achieved against all odds.