Plan visit: Makwampur 2010

The "Agricultural" road

The "Agriculture" Road

As you know Oct 2009 I offered my climb to Plan and I got off the phone and went “what have I done?”
Now I know. It opened up so many opportunities to me. The chance to see things and meet people that I would never have dreamt of.

I was greeted in Kathmandu by the Plan crew.

The journey into the  Makwampur region was along the “Agriculture” road (3 hours of potholes and windy 1.5 lanes!).
The first thing Plan does upon entering a remote region is “punch” through a road. Otherwise all the work they are about to perform would be fruitless. No point setting people up with loans and new skills with which to farm, if you can’t get your fresh produce to market. Kathmandu and other markets are now just hours away, not days or weeks.

Shreeram and I were joined by a couple of local journalists and local Plan workers.

Honour "Garland"

Honour "Garland"

Now I must admit I was under the impression that I was coming to observe. That’s what the itinerary said. But no! I was made to feel like a Royal visitor. At each stop I was greeted by an honour guard or should that be “honour garland?” They were all bearing flowers that they had picked in the forest and waiting to greet me with a traditional Namaste. I really did feel like Princess Diana, my “lady in waiting” coming behind to gather the flowers when my hands were full.

The flowers were stunning reds and yellows. The reds were Nepal’s national flower, the rhododendron. The yellows I have no idea but not too dissimilar to the guinea flower (hibbertia) in my garden at home. Some of the girls had gone to the most amazing effort decorating their posies with local grasses etc and some of the youngsters gave me a single flower or some grass clenched in their little fists. The leis were predominantly yellow, much to my pleasure, but may I say they get very heavy, very quickly!!

A song and dance of equality

A song and dance of equality

The first stop was the Women’s Savings and Credit Co-operative and a kids club. I was treated to a display of song and dance from both the women and the children. The songs were about women and girls being equal. All key members of the co-operative introduced themselves and their work at the co-op and the changes it has brought to their lives. Bottom line:
In the 2 years of Plan:

  • By supporting each other through the co-op, domestic violence has reduced (in conjunction with “Anti-Trafficking” programme for the community which has lessons on how women should be treated and”Life Skills” classes for women).
  • All kids are now in school.
  • They see a great future for their daughters.
  • They themselves (& grandmothers) are in adult literacy classes.
  • Just like western women, running a business, a household, helping kids with their homework (which they can now do!) is tiring but worth it.

The kids? They just love to learn. (Little mimics! I had no idea I screw up my nose when I smile until I saw all this “nose wrinkling” back at me!)

As an accountant I was interesting in learning how they “kept the books” for their individual businesses. It took a while, they were answering purely about the savings and loans, at a high level for the co-op and their own personal passport account. Then it dawned on me. They don’t keep books. They just know their Profit & Loss. I guess if it “aint broke”. I wonder if living a life of illiteracy you have a greater capacity to keep it all in your head and they tell me the agriculture costs and revenues are quite simple. I know my memories definitely not that good.

We were now officially an hour and a half behind schedule.

Off for a quick lunch and toilet stop (good practice for the coming weeks).

Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation

Our second stop was a combined Kids club and Teenage Girls club. I was again transfixed by their singing and dancing. I got to make my second dancing appearance for the day to great applause ahhhh well amusement! These songs focused on the right to equality particularly for the “untouchables”. “You take my goods and services but you will not take water from my hand”. Nepal is well rid of the caste system and it was wonderful to see previously “untouchables” within the group. Such a ridiculous word untouchable and now I’m glad to say an obsolete word here!

I asked the girls what message they wanted me to get out to the world. It was quite simple “Equality and Education”. They appreciate their education but don’t get me wrong when I asked “who loved school?” NOT all the hands went up but they do appreciate it. So kids I know you might not like going to school but I hope that you can appreciate what a precious gift it is.

Cricket Australia comes to Nepal

The next Nepali U19 Girls Team?

Finally came my chance, thanks to Cricket Australia, to give a little back and be able to do a bit of my own laughing! A set of the Milo in2cricket equipment went to each club. The other 2 sets will be given to schools here in Kathmandu when I get back from Everest.

Note to self: I was fascinated to see that all the right handers who hadn’t played cricket before picked up the bat left handed without exception and yet I had demonstrated in our traditional right hand stance!

The kids club were telling me of their activities much of which focused on Hygiene. They clean everything! Including once the whole town! But I think the thing of which they were most proud is the power they have within the community and the change it’s bringing about. They literally inspect all the houses and if the toilet is not up to scratch or not present at all, they give the household a couple of weeks to comply or they are excluded from the clean water programme until such time as they get their “toot” in order. This is all part of the “No Open Defecation” scheme. (You may have read about this in Dhan’s story on the Plan page.)

Kindy kids

2 hour walk to greet me.

At this point the schedule is cactus! and sadly it has an impact on our next destination the “Early Childhood” care or as we call it kindergarten. Many of these children have to walk 2 hours to get home and they have had to leave as it is now late afternoon and night is approaching. There is much excitement in this village, it’s the very first time a Plan vehicle has entered. Until then they’ve walked in, which we started to do until our driver, free of passengers, felt he could negotiate the, shall we just say, technical bit! The ankle’s loving this.

The kids were adorable and Clean!! Funny thing to say? No. When I asked one of the Mum’s “What is the biggest change she had seen in her kids?” Her reply “They’re much cleaner”. Interesting answer. I asked the Plan staff if this had a flow on effect to health ” You betcha!” How great is that? The kids were given a chocolate lolly and I immediately jumped in with “remember to brush you teeth”. Well! The look of glee on the kids’ faces. They jumped into a circle and sang, in English this time, that song we all sang as kids. Can you remember it?

Brush your teeth

Brush your teeth

Wash your face everyday
Brush your teeth
Wash your hands
Brush your hair
Then I was taken inside to see their hooks. Everyone has a handkerchief and comb on a hook and their own toothbrush in a box. I consider myself well and truly told!

They were gorgeous kids and it was wonderful to talk to the facilitators and parents. Hugs all round which I’m especially fond of as this was a community of many of that obsolete word!

As per my itinerary we are done. I’m emotionally drained not in a “sad confronting” way but from a “My cheeks hurt from smiling” kind of way! And I’ve taken in so much information. I’m looking forward to food and bed. But wait there’s more. Not quite a set of steak knives. Better.

During the day in the town below a meeting had been held to identify the causes of the school drop out rate among girls. If the sheets of butcher paper around the room were anything to go by they’d had a productive day. I and the other members of Plan were guests of honour at the closing ceremony. But I didn’t realise this. I thought we were there for the meeting (in my tired hungry stupor I hadn’t noticed the butcher paper lined walls yet!) The introductions and speeches are going on and on and then it’s my turn for my 4th off the cuff speech of the day. Remember I thought I was observing! Didn’t anybody read that bit!! We got a few laughs I said thiiss much and Shreeram translated thiiiiisssssss much. I’m looking at him “I said that!” he just shrugged. Then I said thiiiiiiiiiiiisssssss much and he said thiisss much. I looked at him he just said “you take a lot to say it”!!!! Me? Come on! Never. Ok stop choking you lot!!

Next thing I know we’re all receiving Plan T-shirts and the meetings adjourned. Now I see the butcher’s paper notes!

An hours drive to the Hotel, dinner and bed at 3,010m. So I’m hoping I’ve got a few more red blood cells today.

The journey home took us along Highway 2 and I can tell you they must have started construction of #3 because there are big chunks missing here too! But it was blacktop all the way, so far less dusty. That didn’t mean the air was any clearer. They’re currently burning as part of their agricultural practices and the smoke covers all the countryside I’ve travelled through.

I’m now back in Kathmandu and trying to process everything that I’ve seen and heard.

Irrigation System

Making it happen - Community working on irrigation

One thing I can assure you of, this is not a group of people who need your pity and tears. These are an amazing bunch of women and kids that just need to be given the “tools” and they run with it! Plan is empowering them and the talk in this region is of the day that Plan will pull out, as their work is done and they can move to the next district that just needs to be shown the “tools”.

Ok, so it’s a little more complex than that but the point Plan wants to make is they are not rescuing these people they are just guiding them. They have the capacity to improve their own lives they just need some help.

BUT and there’s always a but. What I’ve witnessed is at the local level. Plan is representing these people and particularly ensuring that the voices of the children is heard at the decision making level. And that’s the clear message the girls wanted me to get to out you all. They are equal and they must be entitled to all the same basic rights that we are. Access to education, health and nutrition, the right to live a life free from violence in the community, in the home and in their school and the right to be counted.

An amazing woman

One of those amazing Women and a very proud Mum

I am now counting down the sleeps until I am fortunate enough to again visit Plan’s work in Nepal.

I look forward to a longer visit and the chance to meet even more amazing women and girls.

I really want to witness the “Map” in action and so many other amazing projects that Donal and his dedicated hardworking team so enthusiastically told me about.