Nepal's Banksy was here!

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

Thursday, 2 June 2016

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.


  1. Fantastic and inspirational.
    You must do a talk when you get back home and a great opportunity to raise even more money. We all look forward to seeing you. Tony and Fiona

  2. An amazing blog from amazing people. Thanks for the wonderful hour reading this. I would like to include something about it in my magazine You have both 'done your bit' but I bet will go on doing it!!! Best wishes Mike Donovan