“What programs are we taking to villages?”
“Is it classes on adult-education? On community health?” Sanitation?”
Our challenge. It’s not 1958. The proliferation of NGOs that began in 1980s and caught speed in 1990s in Nepal (like many other developing countries) has been amazing. While many organizations are providing valuable services to Nepalese people, the term NGO has almost become synonymous with educated elite enriching on poor’s name. At least a few organizations have found their way to every village that run variety of program. Mostly, during the ‘project period’. Frequently, organizations find funds and go to the villages to implement them. Thus, there is an expectations among villagers that when people from the city come (especially the one from organizations), they come with handouts.
Sarvodaya is about identifying local needs and working to solve through community participation.
“I don’t know what program, we can take,” I would say. “Let’s go and find out from villagers,” I said in one of the meetings recently.
So, this morning we set out to do just that.
I was in Chapagaun (where Jyotidaya School is at) by 9 AM. It was our rendezvous point. We were heading to Bulaki chaur, a villge of ethnic Tamangs, a marginalized group.
In three motor bikes five of us left Chapagaun armed with bottled water, some fruits and noodles. Beautiful mountain ranges rose high on the north when we touched dirt road outside of Chapagaun village. By the time we had reached the point where we would leave our motorbikes, we had been showered with dirt, that flew all over us when other vehicles passed by. It took us almost an hour to ride on 14 kilometers of dirt road.
Next, an hour of hike on the trail good enough for a person to walk. For me, negotiating the uphill climb was often challenging.
As we entered village, we saw meat of water buffalo slained and villagers were were dividing all the meats on equal parts. It’s a festival time and all must have meat.
We spent next three hours asking questions and trying to learn as much as we could. The village, on the top of a hill, has some 150 people in only 17 households. A school on the top of the hill teaches only up to second grade. “Teachers come whenever they pleased,” said a villagers. Children who wish to study further have to walk half an hour to a primary school (5th grade) in near by village. For high school after 5th grade children have to walk two hours (one way) from the village. Obviously, a significant majority drop out. Only a few boys and two girls have completed 10th grade.
Subsistence agriculture is the primary source of survival but “land gives only enough for three months,” said Man Bahadur, a village elder. Most people have water buffalos that they sell milk and make some many. Others work as seasonal laborers. A handful of youth have found job at garment factory in the city and another few have found their ways to Malaysia. “My son went to Malayasia,” said Man Bahadur. “It’s been 43 days.” Many people in the villages are in debt.
“Water is the main problem,” villagers said. On dry times between March/April to June/July they walk for 3 hours to haul water on 50 liter gallons from the bottom of the hill.
These situations in a village only about 30 KM from Kathmandu, basically on the hills that surround the valley itself. It’s not even the remote part of the country.
Tamangs are supposed to be Buddhist but they equally worship Hindu gods. Their religious functions are performed by ‘lama.’ However, religion now exists only as an identity and has been lost in the thicket of rituals that calls for drinking heavily and celebrating merrily.
Unlike in Sri Lanka, where most villagers still go to temples and listen to Jathaka story, Nepal has no tradition as such. Thus, words such as metta, karuna, muditha and uppeka have no meaning. Especially, on its essential Buddhist form.
“Sir, you must do something for our water,” Man Bahadur and other villagers said.
“Well, we have no money and we aren’t here just to bring you water. We would like to learn more about you and we will be back again for discussion.” I said before I left.
We left with challenges and possibilities that lay ahead. But, I knew we needed to come here more before we will see Sarvodaya active in the village. I am scared at the enormity of challenges that is before us but I am hopeful a dedicated work can really bring fundamental changes in the lives of people, who so deserve it.
We snacked on the bananas and noodles before we set out for a hike down the hill. That was all I had eaten all day.
By the time, we were back in Chapagaun it was almost dark. In the distance Kathmandu city glowed on the lights. It’s a deepavali (festival of light).
Harumi Kawamura Gondo