Nepal's Banksy was here!

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

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Opening minds and practical help...we play our part.....International Menstrual Hygiene Day - May 28th.

The Sister for Sisters project is in it's last year and sustainability is the key for the good work to continue. With thanks to our wonderful Community Mobilisers we have delivered Women's Health and Menstruation workshops to approximately 530 girls and women.

We started training and sharing with the Community Mobilisers
At an inspirational presentation, at the 2014 Annual Volunteers Conference, given by a Nepali female Doctor, I began to understand some of the challenges that face girls and women in Nepal. She described how she escaped some of the normal rigours of her cultural upbringing by being strong willed and a little devious. She would conceal her menstrual periods so that she was not isolated from her family and friends, by sharing her time between different family houses and telling a few white lies!! The talk gave us all a good insight but also shared medical details and a practical example of a sanitary pad that could be made and was re-usable.

 I used this information and began to prepare for training in  Lamjung. I delivered the first workshop to the CMs. I was a little nervous as I was not sure if they would find it embarrassing and difficult to share experiences and concerns. I need not have worried. By the end of the 4 hour session they expressed delight that I had raised the subject and that I had also been happy to talk about anything and everything! It didn't take long for them to relax and really enjoy the day especially the practical pad making.

A template, pen and scissors were soon in use.

And then sewing began in earnest!
I was not sure if this idea would catch on but the Community Mobilisers were very keen for us to take the training into the communities. The next stage was to go to the Big Sisters and Adult Champions and again my worries about difficulties were soon put aside. Some groups were also joined by a nurse from the local Health Posts which proved a brilliant idea. They enjoyed the gatherings, learnt from the training and they also often helped with translation and detail. Meanwhile the confidence of the Community Mobilisers was increasing and they were translating and were confidently dealing with questions.

In Chiti with Sarita (top right) and an American friend.

Parawadanda with Manju before she left us to progress with Global Action Nepal.
My inspiration for this training, the Doctor, had shared with us all details about medical problems that are common in Nepal such as high rates of urinary infections, caused by using dirty water, dirty hands (there is no use of toilet paper), bulky cloths, squatting in the paddy fields etc. There are further problems of using a wad of cloth, bulky, difficultly of holding in place and nowhere at school to change. It is also very difficult to wash and dry in public so is often done in a pool or puddle away from the eyes of others. They are then dried but covered with something and not in the sun, thus increasing bacterial growth. Those of you who have used a toilet in Nepal will be familiar with the challenges and potential problems. Thankfully things are slowly improving, most households have an outside toilet but there is often no clean water, the bucket is dirty and cracked (harbouring bacteria) or there is no lock and privacy. Many schools have very poor facilities with group female urinals and the other toilet is locked. All raise the likelihood of infection. The project schools have already made great improvements.

This old lady had not been stricken but I was demonstrated how to do Pelvic Floor exercises!!

Another medical problem is that of prolapse. The numbers are high due to many cultural norms such as the carrying of heavy loads by women, early child birth, prolonged second stages of labour, squatting for long periods etc. Awareness is low and treatment difficult especially when intervention is late. We have been raising awareness and also teaching pelvic floor exercises to all of the women and girls.

Sadly our plans were then disturbed by the 2015 Earthquake. As regular readers will already know we became extremely busy with Emergency Education projects and progress was put on hold.

Phase 3 started this year with workshops for the Little Sisters. These were brilliantly attended and at many we had over 40 girls and women participating. The theory session was slightly simplified, the Community Mobilisers did much of the facilitation and the Adult Champions and Big Sisters worked with their small groups of Little Sisters. There was sharing and learning at many levels and I was again amazed at the openness and discussions that we had once the girls felt at ease.

While Lamjung does not practice Chauppadi (please refer to an articles in the Independent May 28th and Guardian) many of the ethnic groups send their girls to live with a woman of a lower caste, away from their family, friends, school and in many cases sunlight. This means up to 10 days for the first period, 7 days for the 2nd and 5 days for the 3rd. Imagine the scenario of loneliness, solitude and emotional strain at a time when being with family would seem to be the where you should be. Many foods are forbidden and wives tales abound. There is little explanation from the women folk, no teaching at school and much ignorance among the men in the family. If this happens to fall during an exam term it can also cause the re-taking of a whole year at school and upset the normal pattern of going to school. In many communities the girls are then thought to be ready for marriage. Such a frightening time.

A Health Post nurse helping to explain  during the theory session.

Samjhana leading the pelvic floor exercises.

Preparation of the sewing kits helped the practical session go smoothly.

We prepared the kits for sanitary pad making to save time. Most of girls have no experience of sewing but they were brilliant, very keen to learn and were proud of their achievements. We used red materials for fun but also to help with the problem of washing and drying the cloth in a public place! Vital that they should be well washed to remove dye.

Levels of concentration were high. You could often hear a pin drop!

One of our cleanest, brightest school libraries.

Another school, more concentration.

Not much space or comfort is not a problem here.

The finished pads being help aloft with pride!

A big thank you goes to a donor, from Devon, who funded the materials for these workshops. A little goes a long way in Nepal so we were also able to buy scissors, cotton, poppers and needles which went into a bag donated by Ranstad. These have been given to all of the groups and in some communities they have already been put into use. In Archelbhote the wonderful Female Focal teacher and Sunita (CM) have held an extra training for 57 women and girls. They have set up a saving scheme to help fund more materials. This is wonderful and a really sustainable scheme. Well done ladies.

Sunita (CM) and the Female Focal Teacher in Hiletaksar receiving the kit of materials.

Simple kits go to each group.

Samjhana and I after a farewell and generous tika in Bharte.

I have now left Lamjung and the wonderful team who I have been working with for nearly 2 years. I would like to thank them so much for helping me to make these workshops really work. Pictured above is Samjhana and I after the last of these 20 workshops. We had traveled by bus and then walked for over 2 hours to the hilltop school, gathered everyone, run a 4 hour session, had an official farewell and still had another 2 hour walk in a thunderstorm ahead of us! We were both exhausted but elated. Well done Samjhana for becoming a wonderful facilitator, a skill that all of the Community Mobilisers have developed during the last 2 years.

A star is born!! Nepal's new Cheddar stimulates National interest....and multiple additional benefits.

"Theki Tabla" on the plate
Way back in 2014, shortly after our arrival in Nepal, we met local entrepreneur Binuka with whom we started to develop some new cheeses. From these initial trials sprung "Theki Maid", a soft cheese, that she has continued to make and sell in her small shop.

Binuka making cheese back in 2014

Jude helps Binuka develop her marketing skills.

Daphne a fellow VSO volunteer, Binuka's first cheese customer.

However, this is not where the story ends. Working with cheesemakers from the far eastern district of Ilam has kept alive the possibility of creating a hard cheese, or even a cheddar. So throughout the last year, firstly during a small workshop for fellow VSO volunteers, Will and Becky, and more recently working again with Binuka we have worked on and finally made Nepal's first real traditional cheddar.

Back in the UK part of my job was managing a farm based cheese factory where we manufactured hand made traditional cheddar that was sold in Waitrose, amongst other places. Our focus was always on quality and occasionally this led to some awards. In 2010, Denhay Farms Ltd. was awarded "Best Traditional Cheddar" in the World Cheese Awards. So bringing these cheesemaking skills to Nepal seemed like a very natural thing to do.

Producing a slow maturing hard cheese, here in Kathmandu faces some severe challenges, such as keeping a constant storage temperature where electricity outages occur each day as well as finding a supplier of appropriate starter cultures.Undaunted by these issues a Nepali cheddar has been created and indeed named....Theki Tabla. I must apologise to my Denhay colleagues since this unimaginative name bears a close a similarity to the "Dorset Drum" one of the small artisan cheeses we made on the farm. However, a 'tabla' is a small drum and since the drum is Nepal's national instrument the name seemed right.

Yet Theki Tabla is a unique product since instead of using lard and cheese cloth to seal its outer surface we have used butter oil, or to use its more familiar name, 'ghee'. The sealing has been a great success and our first attempts have produced a cheese not dissimilar to a Dorset Drum in texture and flavour. Binuka is now at a stage where she is trying to repeat the recipe.

Bandaging the cheese with ghee and muslin. A 'cap' is secured.
'Strips' are put in place to secure the 'cap'.

The finished cheese ready to be placed in the maturing room.
Six months later

Removing the bandages.

Achieving behavioural change through training is best achieved by trainees 'doing and applying' rather than merely being 'told' new knowledge. To this end we have conducted training to cheesemakers in Ilam starting by tasting their cheeses and ending with trainees altering their recipes to improve quality.

A new skill, assessing cheese quality by scoring its texture,
flavour and a number of other characters.

Look, smell and squeeze before you eat!!!

Gathering the results of our tasting.

Group work to share recipes

Sasendra collates the information.

The cheesemakers eagerly note down the new recipe they have developed.

Team photo

Now the plot thickens since after working with cheesemakers in Ilam the counties largest and government owned milk processing company, DDC, requested cheddar training for some of its key staff. So Binuka, and Sasendra, a young food technologist who had carried out the Ilam training, met their needs by conducting a training workshop here in Kathmandu. Such was the interest that several of the Ilam cheese makers, from our earlier training, turned up to share our knowledge.

Binuka discusses the training with DDC's project manager.

Cutting the curd with a 'harp'!

DDC's head cheese maker shows how.

Some improvisation was needed to separate the curds from whey

With most of the whey drained cheddaring can begin.

When the correct titratable acidity is achieved salt is added.

Salted curd is then placed in moulds ready for pressing overnight. Binuka assisted with ghee sealing the cheese next day.

The boss keys her eye on the proceedings and takes photos!

A sigh of relief as the training ends. Its been a long hard day, but the outcomes are good.

I can already hear your question 'What is the development impact of cheddar cheese training in Nepal?' Asked with more than a slight tone of irony in the voice. There were a number of positive outcomes from this workshop besides the sharing of skills and creation of cheeses that I have no doubt will go on to tickle the tastebuds of future DDC customers. By involving Sasendra he was able to demonstrate the depth of young local talent available to the industry in its strive to move forward. Also Binuka had the opportunity to demonstrate her skills in the art of cheesemaking reinforcing the changes that training can bring about, and the developing role of women within the industry.

Oh! and finally this training gave me the chance to reinforce the message that the foundation of all high quality milk products is good quality milk. In so doing it has stimulated DDC to consider adopting the training program that we have developed aimed at improving the quality of milk produced by small holder farmers. 

So we can reach out to our target beneficiaries through activities like this, which bring people together to share knowledge and will ultimately lead to positive life changes for poor rural families.