A REPORT FROM ‘THE FRONT’

August 2016

Here is the great report I received from Julian Laing,
my fellow director of Reach Out Nepal. He was in Nepal in January, spending time in the mountains with Harikrishna (Hari) Devkota, the founder of High Himalayan Community Projects (financially supported by Reach Out Nepal) and at Glen Buds, the Kathmandu school and hostel where “our” children live.  It provides a fascinating look into the work needed and already being done in Nepal. Make yourself a cuppa and enjoy the read!

“I visited Nepal in January of this year with the intention of combining a 2 week trek with Hari and then time up at his home village at Jibjibe in Rasuwa. I last visited Jibjibe 3 weeks after the earthquake in May/June of 2015 where damage was devastating and I was keen to see the progress of rebuilding but also to see at first hand the new projects that HHCP has been involved in.

Whilst I was able to see some of these projects in action and talk to Hari about what is happening, my trip was curtailed early due to the death of my brother’s wife while I was away. That said, I was able to see the rebuilding of peoples’ homes, visit greenhouses and witness the distribution of funds to some 56 new greenhouse recipients, and visit the temporary school at Ghormu where in the days after I left work began on the construction of a new school as well as work at 2 other schools.

As usual I stayed at Hari’s home and he has built a new home adjacent to the old house that was destroyed in the earthquake. And as usual his family was hugely welcoming and they love their new home although cooking is still done in the ‘old’ lean-to kitchen built after the earthquake. For anyone keen to visit Hari’s village there is now plenty of spare bedrooms and 2 modern bathrooms with western style toilets and hot showers. It’s so very different to the old house and Hari is very proud of what he has built and what it can provide for visiting westerners. And there is now a road
that leads directly up to the house and beyond.

Whilst there are so many changes occuring that will improve the lives of the locals, there are still people living in the temporary shelters that were constructed post earthquake. The government has been slow in releasing aid money to those in need and as usual the very poor suffer most. Rebuilding work is happening everywhere and the new houses are all being built with concrete, steel reinforcing, bricks and cement. The old stone and mud houses will soon be a thing of the past.  Even in Ghormu which is a 5 km walk from Jibjibe, is in the throes of rebuilding. It is a village that was abandoned after the earthquake such was the damage, and yet now it is being rebuilt. The key to all the rebuilding, apart from the money being made available, is because a network of roads has been built linking many remote villages so that building materials are now transportable by truck.  Hari was able to build his new house for this very reason.

There is almost a sense of urgency to get houses built before the monsoons in June. There is fervent activity everywhere as families build their new homes. Ironically this is providing a lot of employement for a lot of people as the building boom continues. Wherever you go there are piles of new bricks, sand and gravel, and lengths of reinforcing steel lying on the ground.

At the same time, Hari’s volunteer organisation HHCP continues to embark on new projects and continues the older projects such as the pig and goat sponsorships. Central to all these projects is education. People who agree to take part must agree to send their child/children to school.  Newer projects such as the greenhouse supply and the potato farming are enabling people to produce more than they need so they can sell their excess produce helping to break the cycle of subsistence farming. The greenhouse project ($US100 buys all the bamboo structure, the heavy duty plastic covering, water tank and irrigation piping) creates better growing conditions for crops
like tomatoes, spinach and raising seedlings and extends the growing season. There are over 2000 families involved with the greenhouse project and more are on the waiting list.  Wherever I walked over the 3 days I was in the village I could see greenhouses everywhere.  On my last day in the village I accompanied Hari to a meeting of new participants to the greenhouse project. It was a meandering walk down the valley below the hospital, the obligatory stop for a cup of tea with one of the families, and thence to the meeting place, a clear patch of terracing on a farm
worked by a very enthusiastic local woman whom HHCP was using as a model farmer for other participants to follow. Seated on a large tarpauline spread out on the ground were some 56 people, mainly women, who were about to receive their first instalment payment for the purchase of their greenhouse materials. A lovely ceremony followed where Hari and I were presented with golden sashes from each of the participants, this being followed by speeches from Hari and another
volunteer and then each participant was called forward and presented with their part payment. Each person was signed off from the participant list and each person was applauded by the audience. This was then followed by tea and biscuits. Hari and I then accompanied the hosting woman through her greenhouse inspecting her methods of organic farming.. It was a very moving ceremony watching the joy that the participants showed knowing they could start to build greenhouses that could help change their lives. Of course on the way home there was another stop for more tea with another village family.  The potato farming project $US100) has sponsored at least 40 families and now potatoes can be seen growing everywhere as well. The pigs and goats project has had some delays because families have been concentrating on building works and have been unable to care for animals – time and lack of shelter, but this is expected to change once the main building works are complete. There are over 100 families on the waiting list.

Other important programs include the ‘Girl to Girl’ program which educates high school girls on health and menstruating issues and the use of locally made sanitary pads. Girls have been trained to teach fellow students and a wonderful video has been made.

Four high schools are involved – Jibjibe High School, North Pole Boarding School, Saisin High School (on the road to Ghormu) and Langu High School ( about 2 hours walk beyond Ghormu).  This program is invaluable to teenage girls and their mothers and will help to improve health and change old superstitious taboos about female menstruation especially in the more remote areas.

The other major focus for Hari is the building of 3 schools destroyed or partly destroyed by the earthquake. These are Ghormu School, where students have been housed in temporary corrugated iron structures for more than 2 years, part of Jibjibe High School, and Sumodugn Primary School, about an hours walk lower down the valley from Jibjibe. Work on all 3 schools was due to begin in February 2018.
Ghormu will be completely rebuilt adjacent to where the temporary school buildings are at present, on a wooded hilltop just before you reach the village. Ghormu is where we delivered a computer and printer to in 2013. The printer was destroyed in the earthquake but the smiles on the children’s faces are still as endearing as ever. Things are slowly changing for the better for these children in a remote area, Four years ago children were encouraged to come to school by being offered free
lunch of ‘beaten flat rice’, a very basic food. Today the menu for lunch is a vegie curry and rice and lunch time was an extremely well organised affair with the children involved in the preparation, distribution and clean up of the lunches, which we took part in as well. Apparently work started on the site the day after I left to come home.
Hari hopes to build 5 classrooms at Jibjibe High School on the site of one of the demolished buildings. China has promised to rebuild the other section of school removed since the earthquake.  At present a lot of the school is made up of tempoary classrooms.  The third school will have 5 new classrooms and toilets for primary children who have been housed in temporary classrooms for almost 3 years. As you can see, waiting for the government to rebuild schools would mean an even longer wait for these communities. If it wasn’t for people like Hari in local communities the recovery works post-earthquake would be taking far longer if at all. It has also required some very generous sponsorship/donations from many caring people.
In other positive news, the micro savings scheme now has about 4500 participants proving the value of saving and the ability to take on small scale loans. There certainly seems to be an up-beat mood wherever I went in the local community and those people who have generously donated to Reach Out Nepal can be well assured that their donations and sponsorships are having a very positive impact on peoples’ lives.

As I said at the beginning, it’s been almost three years since I was last here just after the earthquake and change is now happening at a very fast rate.”

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