Wednesday, 18 March 2015

"Tough times never last, but tough people do"

A quote there for you by Robert H. Schuller. Yes I didn't know who he was either. A retired American televangelist apparently. There you go...

Hello everyone!

I am very sorry it's been quite a while since my last post, however when I arrived in Duipiple (my home and community for the next 8ish weeks), there was no power. Just my luck...

Anyway it's been my first week in community, and I'm pretty happy to say, Meetum and I have some great plans under our belt. Meetum is my counterpart by the way, and she's absolutely lovely. She's really hard-working and I think she gets my humour... most of the time. Here she is...

Before I dive into what I've been up to this week, I'd like to firstly tell you about the training I went through beforehand. Don't worry... It's not a lecture. Just some really interesting topics, facts and relevant information about Nepal, the Lamjung district and the sort of things I will be doing in community.

Education and Livelihoods in Nepal
Day one was a session on the education programmes and the secure livelihoods programme that are implemented by VSO in different parts of Nepal.
Have a guess at to how many universities there are in Nepal and don't cheat by looking down. Don't cheat... You're cheating!!!

There are 9 unviersities in Nepal, but only 6 functional. I was pretty surprised as I actually thought it would be less. Compare this to the UK, who have 109 universities, and it puts into perspective how little a number Nepal's number is.
A national survey found that 65.5% of Nepal's population were literate but 65 years ago, only 2% were literate. It goes to show the steps this country has taken to develop their education, but there are still problems. Girls marrying young and dropping out of school. Children not attending because they are helping their parents to bring in an income. School being too far away for communities in very remote, rural areas. The list could go on.
VSO focus the programme around access to education and the quality of the education being taught. There is currently a mentoring programme in the Lamjung districts called Sisters for Sisters. It encourages older girls to be 'big sisters' to younger girls 'little sisters' to build their confidence and offer support through everything. These mentoring programmes specifically aimed at girls is really what's needed, as there is definite gender inequality in Nepal.
The secure livelihoods programme is about "supporting disadvantaged communities to become wealthier, more resilient and access their fundamental right to a livelihood". The focus is around:
* Environmental degradation and vulnerability to climate change
* Land unproductivity
* Food scarcity
* Lack of access to and control productive resources and services
* Youth unemployment
* Lack of access to market linkage

VSO in Nepal
In this session, we were lucky enough to meet the country director of Nepal for VSO, have a health talk AND learn some Nepali. It was pretty jam-packed.
The country director was telling us that VSO Nepal has a 5 year strategic plan which included changing development and how the organisation can play a unique role in development. She also said that VSO has a holistic view of poverty and that it's not just about monetary poverty. There are 3 main programmes with VSO Nepal:
* Education
> basic education - literacy, numeracy, young education
* Health
> sexual and reproductive health
* Livelihoods
> agricultural development
> enterprise development
> access to earning a livelihood

GENDER, YOUTH and ENVIRONMENT are cross-cutting themes for all these programmes.
VSO Nepal use long-term volunteers, ICS volunteers (that's me), national volunteers and interns to implement changes and develop the communities for the better.

Health in Nepal
Here's a few key things I learnt about health in Nepal.
* The fertility rate has been decreasing, however fertility is highest among the 20-24 age bracket. That's the equivalent to me! This would probbly be due to the amount of young girls that marry early and have children early too. Ok it's not uncommon in the UK for women to have a family from a young age, but I would say Nepal has a much more severe problem of girls marrying at a severely young age. My counterpart Meetum is reading a book at the moment where the girl married at 7. Yes you read that right folks. 7 years old.
* Family planning is lowest in poorer communities. Again, this doesn't surprise me as they don't have as much access to the health facilities and advice they need.
* 40% of maternal deaths are at home. 14% of maternal deaths are in transit to medical facilities. 41% of maternal deaths are at health centres. I dont know about you, but when I read these statistics, I was completely shocked. These are way too high and something needs to be done to bring them down considerably. This is probably not helped by the fact that 70% of births still take place at home unattended by healthcare professionals.
Pretty hard hitting facts there but it brings to light the reality of the reproductive healthcare issues prominent in Nepal's communities.

Cross-cultural information
Some cheery facts now from cross-cultural information we were given, including the language.
* There are approximately 850 species of birds in Nepal, which is almost a share of 10% of the world's bird species.
* There are 600 species of butterfly and 50 species of moths. Now I'm not claiming to have seen them all, but I saw a huge array of butterflies in the jungle the past 2 times I have visited it! Reminded me of walking through the butterfly house at Berkley Castle.
* There are 180 species of dragonfly. Again, I saw a lot in the jungle.
* However, although Nepal is a country rich of fauna and flora, it is 1 of the 12 poorest countries in the world categorised by the World Bank.

Now... are you ready to learn some Nepali?

Namaste (Na-Ma-Stay) = Hello AND Goodbye - this is normally accompanied by bringing the hands together just underneath you chin, as if you were praying.
Namaskaar (Na-Mas-Car) = More formal Hello and Goodbye - again, the same hand movement as before.
Mero naam 'Alice' ho (Mero 'sounds like nero', Nam 'sounds like ham', Your name, Ho) = My name is Alice
Mero desh UK ho (Mero 'as above', Desh 'sounds like mesh', Your country, Ho) = My country is UK
Mero ghar Bristol ho (Mero 'as above', Gare 'sounds like stare', Your village/town/city, Ho) = My home is Bristol
Tapaaiku naam ke ho? (Ta-Pie-Co, Nam 'as above', Keh, Ho) = What is your name?
Tapaaiku ghar kaa ho? (Ta-Pie-Co, Gare 'as above', Ka, Ho) = Where is your home?
There's some basics for you, and here's a little bit of useful lingo I've had to use at some point or another...
Ali Ali = Little (I have been using this a LOT when it comes to rice portions!!!)
Chiyaa = Tea
Mahango bhayo = Very expensive (useful for haggling in Kathmandu)
Piro = Spicy (which a lot of the food is!)
Maile bujhina = I don't understand (that's a given...)
Man parchha = I like
Yo ke ho? = What is it?

Enough language for today I think...

Community Development
I think was a particularly important session as it really made us think about what work will be like in community. This is basically what was said in the session:

The same object can be seen by different people in a different way. This is because you will all be looking at it from a different angle - a different background - a different perception. If you are locked into this perception and don't acknowledge other perceptions, your view will be one dimensional. Communication between one another is vital to learn from one another. The need for change can be described by this diagram:

PROBLEM = Undesirable conditions: these conditions can be changed, they have a solution and are not imaginary
=======>>> TRANSFORMATION PROCESS = Community Development
SOLUTION = Desirable conditions: these conditions are realistic, sustainable, achievable and equitable

Plus, this process can be applied ANYWHERE in the world.
No matter how big or small, a change is a change and it's all the same. Arousing curiosity in a community builds the capacity for change. The community itself must make the change and take ownership if it.
There were other facts and figures in the training, but you get the general gist of what we had. Some pretty helpful stuff there too!

Now... onto my first week in community!

We arrived in Duipiple around 2.30pm to a lovely home and host family. The family consists of my host Mother Didi (this isn't her name. In Nepali, you call a woman that isn't old enough to be your actual mother, Didi. My Didi is actually only 26), host father, host grandmother, host grandfather, 5 year old son and a 10 month old girl. They have quite a big house with a shop on the front, and the best thing... they have an indoor shower!!! Hallelujah!

Meetum and I decided that it would be a good idea to explore the village to get to grips with where everything is and what stuck out as needing a change. One thing we did notice immediately was the amount of rubbish just chucked anywhere and everywhere. This was one thing we thought we could definitely change!

Here's a little fun fact about Duipiple. If you cross the latitude and longitude of Nepal, Duipiple is smack bam in the middle. This is what they recognise it with...

Really tells you the story doesn't it?

Dinner was the usual. Rice. Lentils. Some kind of curry, usually potato. And then an early night!

Wednesday breakfast consisted of rice. Lentils. Some kind of curry, usually potato. I honestly don't get the concept of rice for breakfast, but hey ho...
Wednesday was an extremely proactive day as we managed to interview lots of people. We started with the principal of the main school. Unfortunately, we've come at a very busy time for the schools, and they will be having exams until our 7th week of being here. As unfortunate as it is, that doesn't discourage us from the things we have planned from week 7 onwards. He seemed keen, so fingers crossed our plans will please.
Next was the hospital. Not the usual type of hospital we're used to, but they help people as much as they can, and that's the main thing. The hospital didn't have a great deal to say but told us they'd support us 100% on all the health programmes we want to implement in the community. On a similar health note, we visited the health post for a more generic overview of health in the community. I suppose these act as a kind of doctor's surgery really. He told us that if we wanted to be effective in the community, then we were probably best to head up into the hills to speak to the communities there. This was really reassuring, as I think Meetum and I were beginning to get a little worried about no work.
We decided to head up to the hills and find a community who needed our help, and horrah... we found one! Nepal has a caste system and one of the lower castes is the Dalit community. It just so happened that the people of this village were from the Dalit caste. We spoke to them about whether they had attended any VSO programmes before, and it would appear that VSO has never ventured up into the hills before. We spoke to them about any health concerns, and they had no knowledge on uterine prolapse, a specific problem to Nepalese women. Also, they were also saying that they rarely visited the health post in Duipiple, and if they needed medical assistance, they would travel to Pokhara instead (which would take over 19 hours to walk). This got us thinking about the potential for a health camp and also to build a better relationship between the health post and Dalit community. The men of the village, and there weren't many as a lot go to the Middle East or India for work, were keen to learn more about animal husbandry too. I remember we spoke to one elderly man who had 3 sons. All three of them are married. 1 son lives in Duipiple and works in agriculture. The other 2 sons are in Saudi Arabia, and have been for a number of years, to earn an income. It was deeply upsetting seeing this man well up because there are so many risks with Nepalese men working in the Middle East. They are basically treated like slaves whilst they work for a pittance on a construction site. What was even more upsetting was seeing 1 of his son's houses next door, all locked up.
After quite a long day, we headed down with lots of ideas whizzing around about how we can help the Dalit village. Again it was rice for dinner, but I don't think my bidy could handle it anymore. I felt really nauseous and had to leave the table to which I was ill. I felt super guilty as I had to leave food, but Didi has been really understanding. You'll see how in a sec...

FRUIT! All I wanted was fruit. After awkwardly declining breakfast (as I was not even remotely ready for more rice), Meetum and I headed out for some fruit. After what seemed like a search for the lost ark, I managed to find some bananas. They definitely helped!!!
We then attended a community meeting which went in for hours. All in Nepali. I thought a 3 hour church service in Zambia was bad... it was still going on when we left after 4.5 hours. We met up with some of the other volunteers as they were in town, and then we headed home. Didi, knowing that the rice was getting to me a bit, made us noodles. Honestly, this was one of the nicest things she could've done for me as I was feeling so crappy.
An early bedtime so I could get back on form!

Didi gave me bread and peanut cookies fo breakfast. She's an absolute star, but I definitely had to make an effort with rice that night. We spent most of Friday planning our first Community Action Day (CAD) and Active Citizen Day (ACD). We've decided to hold a Litter Picking Day, which takes place on Saturday 21st March. We're also holding an interactive workshop on Tuesday 24th March, whereby the community gets to use recycled products to make agricultural tools. I'll post more about this next week, along with some photos. We've also planned our ACD around Waste Management to show how beneficial this may or may not be to a community.
This was alo a good day, as Dai (the host father - not his name but much like Didi) let us have the WiFi password! Woohoo!

Saturday was our day off and we met up with the rest of the volunteers in Sami Bhanjyang. Let me put where Sami is into perspective. I climbed Snowdon right? That was easy compared to climbing up to Sami!!! Jeez... it was absolutely boiling and after and hour and a half, it was a relief to see the other volunteer's faces. We went to a lookout point an the view was stunning.

It was really nice to just chill out and speak to the other UK volunteers.
I got noodles again for dinner. It sounds so ridiculous, but it is such a relief to have anything other than rice!

We have decided to have our team meetings on Sunday's, so this was our first one. It was great to hear how similar and vastly different our ideas are for developing our communities. We spent the rest of the afternoon eating noodles and momo's, at what I think will be a regular jaunt for everyone. It's really annoying that we're so far apart, but at least we'll have our days off to see one another.
I spent the rest of the early evening just chilling. Meetum and I are so lucky to have WiFi as we can do research and keep in cotact with people via Skype and Whatsapp.

We spent Monday morning speaking with the mayor type person to finalise the details of our litter picking day. Hopefully a few people will turn up and make the event a success.
We also met the leader or the women's group and hopefully we'll get to conduct some programmes and workshops with them. We have a few ideas in mind, but it's running something that they'll actually want.

Yesterday we met with the Health Assistant to plan our Community Health Programme in the Dalit village, which will be held on the Saturday 4th April. He seems really positive about the event and will be offering free medicines to the community. PROGRESS right there! Ha!
In the late afternoon, Meetum and I decided to go for a walk down to the river. We had to walk through the rice paddies which are not normally planted until June/July time (the rainy season). It was so beautiful and peaceful down there, and just reminded me of a walk I took through Snuff Mills last summer. The sounds or the river. The birds tweeting. Bliss!

On our way back, we came across women planting rice saplings in the field as the water had flooded that particular rice paddie. They even wanted us to join in... not today thank you. I may have had my jabs, but I don't know what's lurking in that water...

So... that's my first week right there. I'm not going to lie... it has been pretty tough adjusting to life in Nepal. I didn't think for a minute the food would be an issue, but I'm really struggling. However, I'm continuing with a positive mindset, getting on with the work and embracing every moment of this journey.

I promise I will keep this more up to date now so you can share in my adventure too! =)

Namaste everyone!

Alice x

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