Nepal's Banksy was here!

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

Monday, 22 February 2016

Bringing games to rural schools in Nepal

A peaceful scene of a young girl caring for her baby sister.

This was a  real reminder of the reason behind the Sister for Sister Project. As Samjhana and I walked up to one of our schools we passed this peaceful scene of a 12 year old girl cradling her little sister. This was a school day, mid morning, so I asked why she was not at school. The young girl is the eldest of 4 daughters. Her mother had died after a long fight against TB. This must have been a very terrible time and leaves the young family in difficulty. There is an income coming into the household, father is in the Indian Army, and on this particular day the other 2 girls were at school but this youngster was having to care for the baby. She looked resigned to her lot but it was a stark reminder of why we are here. It is a girl's right to be educated, this young lady is bright and is in the right class for her age but how will she continue her schooling with the heavy responsibilities of the eldest sibling.

Samjhana in her element talking to the mother of one of our Little Sisters who we met on the path.

We were nearing the top of our 2 hour 15 minute climb to a school in the hills. As part of the project we hold events for the Little Sisters. I wrote about this in a previous blog ("Events to Date", March 2015) explaining my aim of making these a fun experience that would involve all of the girls, include positive learning, build confidence, problem solving and team building. There are very few practical exercises in lessons and certainly no games experience. We were planning a "Maths Magic" event, 

Fishing out a maths question and working out the solution as a team. Where to find magnets ? Old phone shops was the answer to my first challenge!

7 games are arranged in a circle so that the groups of 4 Little Sisters move around and have a go at everything, gaining points along the way. Great concentration but also shouts of delight as they finish before the allotted 5 minutes.

Home-made dominoes. Making a long line sounds easy until you get to the remaining few at the end.

Taking turns is a teaching point which is unpracticed!  We have made several Pairs games, matching cards which add to 100 (eg 53 + 47), shapes (eg triangle), clock and time etc. The challenge is to turn the card and leave it in the same place rather then picking it up and putting it down randomly. A great memory game.

Pelmonism or Pairs is a memory challenge. 

During the Post Earthquake Emergency response projects we included lots of fun games and activities which are beginning to become recognised in the schools. Simple, fun relays are quickly picked up and greatly enjoyed. Little or no equipment is necessary but skills can be learnt and practiced such as ball throwing, catching and skipping. 

The Big Sisters like to take part in these games and the youngsters love it!

Passing a ball through the tunnel of legs caused a lot of laughter.

We have recently given all of the Little Sisters new shoes and school uniforms. Here we played games while the Community Mobiliser, Big Sisters and Adult Champions organised the distribution.

Laughter is such good medicine.

Passing a ball in a  "Figure of Eight" around the legs was a new experience. 

As part of the Emergency Response projects both Unicef and DFID provided a "School in a Box" thus providing equipment for over 100 schools in the VDCs that we work in. Following training the Youth Volunteers and Big Sisters were wonderful at including sessions showing the schools what could be done with some of the sports equipment.

   However it concerned me that we needed a way to make all of this effort, and the use of the equipment, sustainable. I have put together a booklet which explains some of the games and activities that we have been using and also ran a training workshop for 50 Headteachers and teachers. This was held at the smartest hotel in Besishahar, not a school, and we had to compete with the extremely noisy local hunting horns being played at a wedding. I was a little nervous about this training especially as I decided that the Headteachers needed to experience some of the activities to see how the equipment          could be used in their schools. I needn't have worried.

2 Headteachers taking part in a Circuit!

A football relay. I wasn't sure if the women would join in!

Headteachers getting to grips with a Frisbee. Making use of the hotel gardens.

Following this training it was not difficult to include more sporting games into the Big Sister / Little Sister events. We have been to several schools and played 3 games. Skittles and Bingo have a definite mathematical theme of calculations included. Ultimate Frisbee, discovered by chance on the Internet, is proving as popular as I had hoped. Most schools do not have a sports field but most have some space. They have Frisbees in their boxes of equipment. The ground is usually very uneven but basically flat. This game is wonderful and can be adapted to most spaces, encourages team work, game skills, is easy to learn and is very inclusive. It has also proved a great success at the VSO Country Office following our Annual Conference Frisbee session!

Before an Event it is vital to make sure that the Big Sisters and Adult Champions really understand the games. There are 3 "Adult Champions" in each group, a Female Focal Teacher is the link with the school while the Uncle and Auntie support the Big Sisters with community challenges and activities.

Big Sisters enjoying a Bingo practice 

Big Sisters practicing a new skill in Bajhakhet.

                                 Then we needed to introduce the new sport to the Little Sisters.

Little Sisters learning new skills at Hiletaksar School


An Adult Champion in his element 

There is very little sport played at the schools so I am very pleased that during a 10 minute game of Ultimate Frisbee skills have developed very quickly. From all hands in the air and random throws to a game plan and an understanding of how to play properly has been impressive. Who knows what these girls are capable of when given the chance.

All hands in the air at Baglungpani.

The Game developing. Our Adult Champion has taken over the whistle.

Change- over after scoring. Looking very organised about 7 minutes into the game. Impressive.

At another school the story is the same. What I am thrilled about is that several of the Community Mobilisers and Big Sisters have organised these events without my presence. This is exactly what we aim to do as VSO volunteers. The passing on of ideas (technically referred to as Skills!) makes our work sustainable and hopefully armed with increased experiences and confidence they will develop their own ideas which they will pass on to others.  

 Pitch marked out quickly and buffalo calf ready for play in Bhulbhule. The start of the Annupurna Circuit Trek in the distance.

10 minutes later another game is underway.

Skittles played on a rough surface is a challenge.

Each Skittle has a numerical value which is added up toward the team score,

Sarita asking maths questions during a Bingo game

Another simple pleasure is seeing a teacher using one of the games, that he has recently learnt from the Big Sisters, during a lesson. Bistaari, bistaari (slowly, slowly) I think we are making a difference.

A pleasure to see.

At the end of an Event everyone gets a useful prize but the real benefit is the growth of confidence and experiences.

Smiling at a camera is not part of the culture but catching on!!

Friday, 19 February 2016

From Dorset to Nepal - a gift for deaf children

In July 2015 we returned to the UK to see family and friends. While there we visited Beaminster School and updated the students about  our VSO work and experiences in Nepal. Post earthquake they had worked hard to raise money which they gave to us to put towards a worthy project. Friends in Dorset added to this sum which was wonderful. Both groups told us to spend it as we saw fit, on whatever we thought appropriate. You would think that would be an easy task, so many needs are apparent. We encounter many needy families, children unable to go to school, extremely low incomes and special cases, whenever we visit rural communities. However although giving would be easy the question we ask ourselves is how is this sustainable, will the money go towards the child's education or towards less favourable items causing more harm than good?

Some months ago I attended a Teacher Training Workshop at Bhakti Namuna School. I was asked to take a short session on the use of educational games which I was delighted to do. One of the teachers, who was most enthusiastic about the games, was a profoundly deaf teacher. He and his colleague, who was acting as his sign interpreter, came from the deaf unit at the same school. 

A few weeks later I visited again to check on the building of 2 semi-permanent classrooms that  Global Action Nepal were arranging. With the help of a  friend I visited the deaf unit to find out more about the circumstances of the students. There are 31 students aged from 5 - 16 years old. They come from Lamjung, Gorkha, and Tanahu Districts (the equivalent to counties in the UK) in the Western Region which is actually in the lower hill area of North, Central Nepal. So their families are many hours away and a few are from much further. So this is a boarding unit where the children live for most of the year. They are taught and cared for by 3 teachers and one or 2 didis. There is one teacher and a didi with them 24 hours a day.

What was immediately apparent was the love and care in the unit. However I was very aware that although the basic care essentials were in place there was little play equipment and few extras. This was it - the project that I had been looking for. It just felt right. Hopefully you will understand if you read this blog.

As I talked to the staff, through Nepal speakers and interpreter, and let the situation dawn, I felt that it would be wonderful to provide sport and games equipment for the school. We asked Sunil, the deaf lead teacher, for his thoughts. He was delighted but asked if we could help with a simple uniform or tracksuit and shoes that the children could change into after school. After doing some rough calculations it would be possible to do both. 

One of our sons, Nick, and Kerry came to visit in January and we had a wonderful time buying a tin trunk and selecting sports equipment. We then planned a visit and the photos will tell you more....

The word delight doesn't really capture the excitement.

We filled the trunk with balls, skipping ropes (good old fashion rope), badminton, volleyball and table tennis kits, Frisbees and more. Although I have taught deaf children in the past they had been fortunate enough to have been "helped" with their speech (a simplification that I am aware of). These students have no speech but that doesn't stop the squeaks and squeals of delight and lots of sign language indicating how happy they were. Quite overcoming for Nick and I. Very sadly Kerry was unwell, we missed her expertise and experience, as a speech and language therapist, and we were both aware that she would have been delighted with this welcome and sad to have missed it.

There was similar excitement when they saw the educational posters.

We tried out some of the equipment. I am not sure who enjoyed this most!

Nick in his element - well done Beaminster School and the Sports Leadership scheme!

Sunil proved himself as a very capable skipper and encouraged everyone to have a go!

Some delighted students and staff. Nick and I were pretty pleased as well.
After 2 hours of "full on" fun with balls, Frisbees and ropes Nick and I left exhausted, with a promise to return a few days later. Sunil planned to find out more about the cost of the clothing and the building of a table tennis table.

Our next visit included Simon and Kerry. We decided to concentrate on Ultimate Frisbee a game that I have been promoting recently. I had not known about this sport until I did an internet search for ideas of what to do with the Frisbees that had appeared in the "School in a Box" equipment from Unicef. Thank you. What an amazingly easy but wonderful game especially in Nepal where sports fields are not available in rural areas. Although flat is obviously desirable, conditions of play areas favour something in the air rather than on the ground. Perfect, exciting and easy to teach, learn and play. Easily adaptable for size and area available. I recommend it at home.

First a simple practice of throwing and catching.

The younger ones soon got the hang of it as well.

There were soon Frisbees flying and lots of onlookers adding to the organised chaos!

This is a large school and they are fortunate to have excellent outdoor areas. It was built with the help of funding from a German Hydro Electric scheme nearby. There was considerable damage from the earthquake which is not obvious in the photos. The large grounds are perfect, especially on Saturdays and during school holidays, for the deaf students to make use of the sport equipment. I am also hoping that it will be a method for increasing integration with the other students and show that these students have normal ability on the sports field. There appears to be very little understanding of Special Needs here in  rural Nepal. Disabilities are accepted and dealt with at a basic level  but not understood. Another reason why Sunil, and this little unit, is such an important example and champion.

A short explanation of Ultimate Frisbee and team identification. A use for all of the welcome scarves!

Young, old, girls and boys quickly understood the game.

Lots of action and smiles.

Not sure who is enjoying this most!

Skill development was fast.


This young man is a star. A sports leader in the making.

A few of the students have extremely difficult family circumstances. Some are orphans. Thank goodness they have the opportunity to be part of this caring "family". Kerry remarked at how calm and relaxed most of the students were. We could see some frustration, especially of the younger children, but they were all able to join in, and enjoy these activities. The older ones seemed very calm and content.

We were shown the living and sleeping accommodation and were all impressed with the order, simplicity and cleanliness. These are in what I imagine were old, original classrooms. They must be extremely cold in the winter months. The boys proudly showed us their spaces.

The boys dormitory for 16. 

The girls dormitory for 15.

31 students and 3 teachers work in a single classroom. It is the brightest one that I have seen in Nepal with lots of posters with signing information. However it must be extremely difficult to manage in such a small space with a huge diversity of ages and abilities. We learnt that after the students reach class 5 they will hopefully move to a Higher Secondary Unit as far away as Pokhara or Kathmandu. Many are older than average due perhaps a late start in school and the challenge of learning. The Nepal education system is based on students passing the end of year exams. If they do not reach the required standard they remain in the same class. We felt that this team was doing their very best to prepare these young people for their future. They are fortunate to be among the few to receive this positive start but have a long journey ahead.

Kerry studying the sign language dictionary.

There is still money in the kitty so the next plan is to provide learning resources and equipment. If any readers have good ideas perhaps you could contact me. I am not a specialist, just an enthusiast! There will be a Part 2 to this this space!

Handing over money for clothing.
We had enormously enjoyed this visit. Simon, Nick and Kerry all agreed that it felt right to be helping this wonderful man and the work that he and his colleagues are doing for the students' education and life skills. They are indeed fortunate. So many children with Special Needs do not get this level of understanding or special care. Thank you to those of you who raised money. I hope that you are happy at how it is being spent.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Our time in Nepal is drawing to a close..........but the pace of work increases.

The days are quickly turning into weeks and the end of our stay in Nepal together with our work has started to reach a conclusion. The pace instead of slackening off has stepped up a gear or two with the inclusion of the NGO, Forward Nepal, in my project. Forward has been working in agricultural extension work since the late nineties and will bring with it a small but very experienced Nepali team, who will run the pilot projects. These pilots are expected to demonstrate if our system of good manufacturing practise (GMP) for raw milk works or not. A secondary goal is trying to find the best way of implementing the GMP model into the milk chain.

A typical farm yard in Kavre District, close to Kathmandu. Buffalo are the main milking animal, and together with selling
goats for meat they illustrate the importance of livestock farming in these communities.

What has raw milk quality got to do with development I hear you asking? In a subsistence farming economy like Nepal’s, one of the challenges faced by households is producing ‘cash’. The search for cash has driven a huge section of the population abroad, making foreign remittances the counties biggest source of income. Improved milk quality is not going to stop this phenomenon but it could provide additional household income that can be used to improve education, give better standards of health and be a catalyst for different life choices. We’ve developed training packages that also weave in ways of improving output, like increasing water fed to animals and also cut production costs by eliminating the need to cook food for cattle. Taking away this cultural practice, that does not benefit livestock, will reduce the environmental impact caused by burning wood, whilst at the same time improve the lives of women who’s job it is to collect wood and do the cooking. It’s a win win situation. Cut costs and income rises.

Many farmers cook food for cattle. There is no benefit to these cattle since they have a
rumen to aid digestion of fibre. Cooking represents a huge waste of resources and stopping the
practice will reduce environmental impact as well as reducing the workload for women.

Dr. Krishna Paudel (left) discusses the finer points of a lovely local cross bred cow with a Taria based farmer. 

Dr Krishna Paudel will lead the Forward team. He has a wealth of experience gleaned from working with the INGO, Heifer International, on programs where training farmers and reaching very isolated rural communities has been their bread and butter activity. We signed our agreement with Forward only a week ago and already there is a work plan in place and an inception meeting, to sort out the role of the various Government stakeholders, is in the diary. I guess this area of work relating to engaging with the government and other stakeholders has been the most frustrating over recent months, often feeling like this is putting the brakes on the whole project. But without real, meaningful ‘buy-in’ from the Government the whole intervention will be ‘dead in the water’. If the pilot schemes are run successfully and a the process of GMP for raw milk actually does prove to lift quality then it will be enshrined in policy and a new national standard will become law.

A typical farm yard on the flat lands of the Tarai which borders northern India. Many of these small holders, whilst they do not supply milk to the piloted cooperatives, we hope will attend the training sessions and become addition beneficiaries of
our work.
We met with a government department the other day. The Department for Food Technology and Quality Control (DFTQC) deals with food safety and quality standards in processors. So interested in our work was the Director General that he wanted to implement the GMP without running a trial. We suggested that pilots had to take place to fine tune the GMP model and find a good method of implementation. He responded by giving us a Memorandum of Understanding which, believe me, are not easy to get. This will give use the permissions we need to do the work and is evidence of the Government’s interest, which will lead hopefully to future sustainability and a possible national roll out. Ultimately this roll out is what we are looking for to maximize the numbers of farming household beneficiaries and the impact of our work.

More recently still, the Department of Livestock Services has come on board. Training farmers is one of their key responsibilities so involving them in our curriculum development work will give them ownership of the GMP. Successful piloting will ensure that our training programs form the basis of their activities next year and beyond.

Whilst Forward picks up the work, my development partner, Samarth, is still engaged in finding raw milk supply chains to use as pilots. Already we have one in east Nepal where we will partner with the Kamdhenu Dairy Cooperative and its 1700 farmers, situated in the mountainous district of Dhankota. More recently we have been working with the Dairy Industry Association who represent the big milk processors to find a suitable supply chain in Karve district here in central Nepal.

In the dry season the atmosphere is often misty and not good for photography. Even so this poor image shows how difficult
life is facing small holder farmers in the rugged valleys of Kavre. The hill tops are 2400m and valley bottoms over 1000m below.
Kathmandu, and its urban markets sits in a valley at about 1300m altitude surrounded by the mid-hills of the Himalayas. Just one hours drive from the city and you are in inaccessible steep sided valleys of Kavre that are home to subsistence farming communities growing rice and maize in the short monsoon season. During the long dry season, when the soil becomes parched, milk income from buffaloes is vital to maintaining the way of life. Despite the closeness of the city market there have been some challenges to linking these farmers to their customers. The first is accessibility but after seventeen years of toil the Japanese have reduced the problem by building a road that runs the length of the district and onwards to east Nepal. The second challenge is milk hygienic quality. The milk processors of Kathmandu would rather drive six times further to Chitwan, close to India, to source milk rather than use that which is on its doorstep. If the milk quality can be improved by implementing the GMP model in Kavre then real benefits will follow for these farmers together with delivering a message to stakeholders that if we can do it here we can do it anywhere!

This lovely Tamang couple had earned money working in Qatar. They have invested
their savings in a farm with several buffaloes and clearly love the life. 

The couples efforts are benefiting their isolated community in many ways. They provide employment for the two women on the right, whose families will also benefit from our work on securing farm incomes. 

Our visit soon attracts a small crowd.

In search of possible pilot sites we visited Timal Mahabharat Multipurpose Cooperative Ltd in Narke Bazar, Kavre where 600 farmers produce a total of 3500lts per day. Simple mathematics illustrates the small volumes of milk that are sold by each household. Women do much of the work such as milking, feeding and a host of daily chores, and then they carry their few litres for sale to one of the twenty seven collection points. Its not until the milk finally reaches the central milk-chilling centre up to sixteen hours after milking that chilling takes place. We can now see why milk quality is so poor and what it might take to remedy the situation.

The facilities at a milk collection centre!

Sometimes a training session there and then has greatest impact. How to clean a milk churn properly.

Milk is often transported in plastic containers which are very difficult to clean, amongst other things.

If our GMP system is adopted, low cost, low rinse and safe chemicals designed to be
used with cold water will be made available. This man shows us the chemicals he uses to
clean his utensils. These detergents are meant for cleaning clothes in hot water. We have
found this situation throughout the districts we have visited.

A Kavre milk chilling centre. Chilling is achieved by using a plate cooler and iced water. The only storage is on the processors lorry.

Maize stover (straw) drying in the sun. I was surprised to discover that is low value feed is a staple for cattle in many districts. When chopped it forms the main roughage in the cattle diet. Being ruminants these cattle can digest this fibrous feed provided the diet contains sufficient protein. Unfortunately dietary protein is very low.
Despite this seemingly desperate state of affairs, farmers have come together to pool their milk, create some strength in the market place and save costs. These cooperatives have bought vehicles for collection but very little else. The pilot schemes will also look into the possibility of these cooperatives providing more chilling tanks with their own funds. This together with some business training should allow cooperatives to ‘help themselves’ and reduce donor dependence.

On our field visit a meal is prepared on the open fire pit and served in metal crockery. Using brass plates is thought to be healthy.

The human diet is also quite often short in quality protein. This meal contains large amounts of starch in the form of dhido (thick maize porridge) and rice accompanied by a little sag (cooked green leaves) and achar (pickle). Protein comes from dhal (lentils) or just occasionally a small amount of meat.
More recently our search for raw milk supply chains to use as pilots has taken us further west to Rupandehi and Kapilbastu districts that lie on the flat Tarai lands bordering India. Here in these privately owned milk-chilling centres that are supplied by farmer cooperatives, access is less of a problem. Milk is often brought to collection centres by bicycle twice a day. The onward transfer to the chilling centre can be by jeep or motorised rickshaw!

The flat lands of the Tarai are a total contrast to the hilly Kavre district. So to is the method of carrying. Here women farmers return home with bundles of mustard plants ready for thrashing. 

Zebu cattle are used draft animals. In the hills smaller ox are used for ploughing and occasionally as beasts of burden.

The Milijuli milk chilling centre. Here a private owner has capitalised the supply chain with chilling vats and generators etc. We are asking why can't Kavre's cooperatives do the same, they essentially have the same financial resources.

Just another job for the rick shaw.

Milk is tested for fat and solids not fat using an analyser. Nowhere do they test for bacterial quality.

Milk arriving at a chilling centre on the Tarai

Berseem, a legume grown for feeding cattle. A good source of dietary protein and a soil improver.

Some farmers have had help from the government to buy simple machines to chop forage. In this case straw, grass and Barseem. What they have not had provided is training in the basics of feeding cattle.

It is common practice to feed animals twice a day. Each time products like rice or wheat bran
are mixed with water. This forms a thin soup which is rapidly drunk. This is usually the only water
on offer regardless of the temperature and the extra demands caused by sweating and producing milk.

A woman stock worker on a larger dairy.

Buffaloes await food and water on the Tarai.

This farming family, like so many others, is just getting enough income from their small herd of buffaloes to survive. No extra income is generated for saving or reinvestment.
Meeting all these farmers in different districts has opened our eyes to the lack of training provided in the past. There is a huge desire by these small milk producers to learn more. Our challenge will be refining our training  to include only the most important messages and devise a delivery that is practical, short and involves doing rather than being told. We will use pictorial reminders that will be posted at each farm together with local radio, a short video and text messaging to ram home the principles. Already we are finding ‘Lead Farmers’ offering their help to train and facilitate more knowledge transfer once the pilots are concluded. Behavioural change is notoriously difficult to achieve but that is our final goal, and with it we hope to achieve a measure of sustainable development.

Field work brings other experiences. Here Puris are prepared to be eaten for breakfast with
a simple vegetable curry.

Making jerri. Batter is pressed through a cloth and fried. 

After frying the jerri is dipped in a sugar solution to make a sweet snack. On the tray in front some are ready for sale.