Hello from Denise :)
I arrived home Tuesday night from a three-week vacation in Nepal, where my eyes and heart were both opened wide. The first week of our trip was spent on a "Hidden Journey" with Change Fusion Nepal, where Andy and I were introduced to people who are tackling some of Nepal's greatest challenges—poverty, women’s rights, fair wages, working conditions, sanitation, and clean drinking water; to name just a few. ChangeFusion Nepal is an organisation that supports and empowers social entrepreneurs who are making real and long-lasting change in this developing country. The next part of our trip was spent climbing up to Annapurna Base Camp, where we were surrounded by some of the highest mountains in the world.
The changemakers we met in that first week had a profound impact on me. Experiencing what these people are doing, often with very little, was nothing short of amazing.
Early in the week, we travelled to Dhulikhel and enjoyed a tour of an organic farm in the making. Farms in Nepal are all terraced, making use of every available bit of space. Our guide, Jason, showed us his plan for vegetables, fruit trees, animal grazing, and water collection. The farmhouse had been rendered unlivable by the earthquake so Jason had it torn down and was re-using the wood and clay roof tiles for the new home he is building—an innovative rammed earth design with 24-inch walls, a rocket stove for heat and cooking, a beehive incorporated into the outer wall, a full solar panel for electricity and hot water, a biofuel catchment system in the animal shelter to provide cooking gas, and a rain water collection system. His plan is to offer a home stay for other young farmers who want to learn to farm sustainably.
We spent a day with B.P. Shrestha, the former mayor of Dhulikhel, who truly transformed the town in the 30+ years he was at the helm. He installed water and sanitation (sewers and indoor plumbing), started a hospital, a medical and dental school, started a well-recognized university, and started a girls school—giving girls an equal opportunity education.
Sunita Nhemaphuki connects and provides resources to some of the poorest farmers in her community. Five years ago, she started a magazine (http://www.agrinepal.com.np/) that shares information about the agri-market, technology, seeds, fertilizers, and more to farmers across Nepal. The magazine now has over 5000 subscribers. Sunita organizes a monthly “Friday for Agriculture” meeting, bringing together farmers and others in the industry to discuss issues and ideas; she writes bank and business proposals for other (illiterate) farmers to help them secure loans; she runs ten “green shops” in and around Kathmandu where she and her fellow farmers (a co-operative of 300) sell their vegetables; she has partnered with three schools (so far) to provide fresh, healthy organic veggies for school lunches; and she runs an education/internship program for schoolchildren to come to the farm and learn about organic and sustainable farming. Farm education is mandated for children in grades six and seven in Nepal. How cool is that?? Oh, and she runs an organic farm that employs a number of local women at a fair working wage. Just an incredibly inspiring story. You can read more about Sunita here and here.
We also met Sabita Maharjan, a domestic abuse survivor who runs a knitting co-operative that employs 300 women—full-and part-time—in the Kathmandu Valley. Andy and I bought two of the most beautiful, warm sweaters from her during our visit. You can read more about Sabita here.
Friends Shanti and Nirjala Shrestha run Friends Handicraft, a business producing beautiful (beautiful!) things (hats, slippers, mobiles, flowers, purses…) from felt. Shanti and Nirjala employ 125 women from low income households, giving them a living wage and good and safe working conditions.
Check out this YouTube video to meet these two wonderful ladies.
What really struck us about each of these folks (and the dozen or so others that we met) is the passion and commitment they have to making things better—not just for themselves but for their whole community. There is a deep connection to place in Nepal. We met a young architect, Rabindra Puri, who has been (very successfully) rebuilding traditional Newari-style homes using earthquake-proof methods. At 40, he gave away half of his wealth and started a foundation, saying: “How I can I be a rich man in Nepal when so many others are needing?” He has started a trade school, training young men and women in the work needed for his restoration company, guaranteeing all of them jobs when they graduate. He employs over 500 local people. There is a profound sense of wanting others to do well; to help others.
Every day I collapsed into bed marveling at the vision, tenacity, and generosity of the people we were meeting. And every day, I would shoot Patricia messages about our experience and about what we were learning, and the connections I was making between what is happening in Nepal and what is happening here at home.
§ Organic farmers in Nepal face the same challenges as we do here—chemically-grown veggies are easier to produce to a more uniform size and shape, and are therefore easier to sell to supermarkets.
§ Children in Nepal wear uniforms to school, which I really liked because in a caste-system country, it puts every child on equal footing with their peers.
§ We complain about our roads here in Canada but in Nepal it can take 20 hours to travel 100km. A new highway between Kathmandu and the Sindhuli region (135 km away) has created a 4-hour distribution channel for Junar (a type of orange) farmers to market and sell their fruit into the city.
§ We are so very lucky to have access to clean drinking water. In Nepal, only 27% of the population has access to a toilet and while 80% of the population has access to some form of water, it is not clean. We visited the Smart Paani offices (smartpaani.com) in Kathmandu. These folks make rainwater harvesting and filtration systems and have installed them in schools, providing schoolchildren access to clean and safe drinking water.
§ People with vision are changing the world!
Above left: SmartPaani is bringing safe, drinking water to the Kathmandu Valley.
Above right: terraced farmland
Above left: radish drying in the sun
Above centre: delicious lunch at the women's co-operative in Kurtipur
Above right: a ubiquitous meal of daal bhat--it was different (and delicious!) everywhere we went.
That just scratches the surface of our experience with Hidden Journeys in Nepal. I am so inspired by the work being done there and feel grateful for the life I have here at home that allows me to travel and immerse myself in another culture so vastly different than my own. I’m also grateful for the opportunity to work for folks like Patricia and Josh, whose vision and values were a common thread in the social entrepreneurs I met while away. We have our very own changemakers here at home.
And finally, a few photos of the mountains :)