Posts Tagged With: Kathmandu

Goat-ed into greatness.

 My first visit to a Heifer Nepal project took me way up into the hills surrounding Kathmandu – where immediately the air got sweeter and the views became more and more spectacular, with the Himalayas shimmering like a mirage in the distance.

My Heifer guide, the lovely Puja, told me that when Tibet invaded Nepal, the cavalry stayed on the hilltops as lookouts and they eventually settled there, which helps explains the Tibetan look of the Tamang people here (and my immediate attraction).

Our destination was Ramkot Village where a Heifer project had been started in 2008 through a local partner group: Women’s Feeling Unity Forum, with the adorable acronym WFUF. In Nepal, Heifer always partners with a local NGO (non-government organization) that has organized the community through a Women’s Self Help Group, proven the participants are committed and motivated, and then applied to Heifer for animals and training. Once approved, WFUF’s staff was trained and paid by Heifer to be the hands-on managers of the project in Ramkot and three other villages — and their hard work with Heifer has paid off. Even though this Ramkot Heifer project is complete (projects are active for 3 years, then go into a reporting stage for another 2), the group continues on, thanks to the efforts of some very compelling women.

Vice President Tirtha Tamang (everyone’s last name is his or her caste group) is 38, married to a farmer, with 2 sons and 1 daughter. Like two-thirds of women in Nepal, Tirtha is illiterate – but in the Heifer program, she learned to read slowly, write her name, and do basic arithmetic. From the original Heifer gift of 2 does, Tirtha has raised, bred, fed and sold dozens of goats to pay for her children’s education; now two are in college and one is entering high school.

Think of that! Instead of passing along illiteracy, she has totally rewritten the future for her children, turning goats into college degrees. And that’s not half of what Heifer has helped this community accomplish for itself!

Madame President Mithu Tamang

Under the leadership of President Mithu Tamang, Ramkot women started a group savings account in 2008 (each member contributing 100 rupees – about $1.20/month), enabling the members to borrow money for seeds, medicine, school fees, or family emergencies–like food– at minimal interest. When you’re living on $2/day income, easy access to money means a lot… and the repayment rate is 100%. The women have built a new, cement community center to host their meetings and other village events, as well as two beautiful new bamboo greenhouses for starting seeds. In fact, with the manure from their animals and Heifer trainings in raising organic produce, the women grow enough vegetables to feed their families and sell in the market. It’s a 3-hour walk to the market (each way) and they carry their produce on their backs, leaving at 2 a.m. twice a week during harvest months — but on a good day they can make 500 rupees ($7) in sales.

Tirtha & Mithu with the women’s group water harvesting cistern, new greenhouses below, and hills of pumpkins.

OR… if they sell a young male goat about 4 months old, the women can earn 12-15,000 rupees (over $100). A female goat can start having babies at 6 months, have 3 kids every pregnancy, and up to 2 pregnancies a year.

So –don’t you love Heifer math that adds up the multiplying effect of the single gift of a goat?? (And of course, all the women have passed on the gift of offspring and trainings to other village families in need.)

Heifer has been working in Nepal with women’s groups since 1993, and in less than 20 years has helped more than 60,000 families like those in Ramkot with the gift of livestock and training. That’s a great story. But as we were bouncing back down the road to Kathmandu, Puja started telling me about how Nepalese women’s groups are joining forces, forming larger cooperatives and instituting change on a whole new scale – like the $60,000 water project all the villages around Ramkot are working to build, that will allow them to double their production.

Why Women’s Self Help Groups (and co-ops) are a great idea.

That concept (and the beautiful smiles of the Tamang people) took my breath away. More on co-ops tomorrow!

Never underestimate the power of a Nepalese woman!

Categories: Agriculture, Animals, Heifer International, Nepal, Photography, Travel, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

Divine peaks & intransigent Maoists… or “Welcome to Nepal!”

As I was flying from Chengdu, China to Kathmandu, Nepal – over the most spectacular vistas you will ever see from the window of a plane (8 of the 10 highest peaks in the world are in Nepal and they’re on glorious display), you might have thought I would be in a paroxysm of delight. And I was … sort of.

The only Tibetan I met.

But I was also plenty cranky because we were flying over Tibet – where I was supposed to be going for three spectacular days, if my visa had not been rejected by the Chinese government. Yes, after I’d spend $200 to assure that my passport, Chinese visa, 30-day in advance Tibet visa application, confirmed flights, carefully crafted bio (in which I assiduously tried to avoid using the word “writer”) and thorough retinue of places I wished to travel was in order, China flipped me the bird.

Now, the fact that you even need a separate visa to go to Tibet, which China is obsessive about referring to as its own territory, adds salt to the wound of having to pay $500+ for a stupid Chinese visa … it’s like paying an arm and a leg for a USA visa, then having to pay extra to visit Montana (which would be totally worth it, btw). In any case, I was bitter about my aborted visit to Tibet when I could SEE IT from the plane… in fact, we landed in Lhasa and spent an hour in its militaristic little terminal.

The Lhasa Airport (all I saw of Tibet)

To make my bitterness even more acute, my adjusted plans to visit additional Heifer projects in Nepal (after my last-minute rejection in Tibet) were jettisoned by threatened Maoist strikes throughout that country. So yeah, I was experiencing a little Global PMS (Post-Maoist Sh#$%t).

But then I got to Kathmandu and the sheer, delightful energy of the place blew my crankiness straight away.

This dusty, frenetic city of 1 million people is wall-to-wall shopping, drinking, eating, building, bargains, music, stupas, shrines, westernized food, trekkers, scarily fit Europeans, aging hippies, buskers, players, monks and prayer wheels.

The eyes of the Buddha are upon you.

Nepal was a surprise to me on many levels – probably because I assumed I knew quite a bit about the country (so many people I know have been there) but in truth, I was clueless.

I thought Nepal was mostly Buddhist; it’s actually 90% Hindu, with an ingrained caste system that is rigid and unforgiving, particularly for women.

I also thought Nepal was a monarchy; but the King and his family were assassinated in 2001, and a Maoist revolution succeeded in 2006 (hence the strikes that truncated my project visits). This small landlocked country, sandwiched between the titans of India and China, is the only Asian nation never to be colonized and knows well how to walk the delicate line between diplomacy and independence.

Nepal’s 3 regions: Terai lowlands, Hill Country & Mountains — and what mountains!

Not to sound too tourist guide-y, but Nepal is a land of contrasts, from the rice paddies of Chitwan to the nosebleed peaks of Annapurna and Everest– and a country of constant surprises.

The swastika is a Hindu symbol for prosperity, and the Star of David stands for knowledge – but what a juxtaposition to see on a home’s entrance gate!

I knew Nepal’s 26 million people were poor, but I didn’t realize that 40% of children under five are underweight and likely to be stunted in growth.

And I didn’t realize there would be so many adorable things to buy, but for once I’d have no appetite for shopping.

I was happy to be in Nepal, and a bit sad to be alone in my sweet room at Kathmandu Guest House.But mostly, I just needed to go see some Heifer projects and people… the cure for all crankiness.

(But that’s tomorrow’s story.)

Categories: Children, Heifer International, Hunger, Nepal, Photography, Poverty, Travel, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

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