It’s been three weeks since we arrived in Nepal and I love this country already. It’s a complicated context with troubling politics and some social justice issues. But it’s also an exceptionally beautiful, spiritual, soulful and charming place.
Moving here, I was both excited and nervous that my new role was going to prove incredibly challenging. The first weeks have done nothing to change my mind on that, but it has succeeded in bewitching me with this country. I am beginning, in a very small way, to understand some of the depths of need here as well as the breadth of Nepal’s beauty. It has ignited in me a fire to achieve something deeply valuable with the time I have here. Some sort of meaningful impact for the most vulnerable and especially those excluded by an age old caste system. It might be naive to expect to create any lasting change within just two years, but I hope I can prove that wrong.
Today is our 22nd day here. A fuel crisis has stricken the country since we first arrived, making transportation difficult to find, food expensive and some restaurants closed. Even still, I was lucky to have the opportunity last week to spend 7 days out in the far western region for program monitoring. In practice, traipsing the western hills of the country meeting a handful of isolated communities. Reaching them required trekking and some thirty hours on the road through tricky, winding terrain. Nepal has a large population of incredibly vulnerable small communities that live dispersed across a broad terrain in the hill areas, over 2000m above sea level. Access to electricity, irrigation and plumbed water supply is scarce, which means food is also scarce at certain times of the year.
The vastness of the hills is something I couldn’t have understood by reading words alone…
Life in the mountains is incredibly tough. Women spend their days carrying heavy loads of firewood, dirt and harvested grains to cultivate enough food for their family. Soil erosion and irrigation challenges have created food insecurities for many. Despite endless year-round labour in the gardens, there are distinct hungry periods, especially during the dry season. To survive, communities have painstakingly carved out terraces across the steep slopes, creating space for farming at altitude.
The experience last week opened my eyes to the real Nepal. It’s one thing to read statistics on paper (which tell you that over 40% of children are suffering stunting from malnutrition), but it’s something else to hear it personally from a mother who is struggling to feed her child year round.
It is challenging but not impossible to solve many of these issues when you combine innovation, action and community empowerment. It was exciting to see the impact that World Vision’s program was having on malnutrition amongst infants, through a project teaching mothers to increase nutrient concentration in their cooking using locally grown food.
The reward for humanitarian work in Nepal is breathtaking views and personal connection with the people who still manage to create beauty in their lives despite such strained conditions. Communities are beautifully constructed with houses built from slate and stone carried by hand across the slopes. Women work the fields in brightly coloured cashmere and woollen shawls, while young boys heard flocks of goats and old men sit sipping chai in slender glasses.
I can’t wait to get out of the city for some more trekking the next chance I get and to sharing our journeys with you here. If you’ve been to Nepal I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.