It’s been (nearly) two weeks since returning from Nepal! Amidst the busy pace that is this time of year though I have had a few moments to reflect on the return trip that I feel very privileged to have been able to undertake (thanks Tom and the boys!). High time then to share a few of the highlights –other than extended transit in travel, there were really no lows at all.
It was with both interest and excitement that I joined a field visit to Gorkha, the district of the epicentre of the 2015 earthquake, to look at some of the post-earthquake re-building underway. Having contributed to the proposal document for the GRACE (Gorkha Rehabilitation and Community Empowerment) project and reading some of the updates, I was particularly enthused to be able to visit. Sharing the journey with some of INF’s living history was a bonus! On board the bus to Gorkha were women who had lived in Nepal for years in the 1970s and 80s, a selfless time before electricity and flushing toilets. One shared with me that the last time she had been to Gorkha there were no roads. “It took four days to walk from Pokhara,” she told me. As we sped around blind, dusty corners I tried to be thankful that we were now able to drive, whatever precarious position that left us in, although each time we met a vehicle on the narrow road I thought perhaps I would rather be on foot. We also had a couple of structural engineers with us who confirmed that the earthquake resilient homes finally being constructed have in fact been constructed to earthquake standards. It has been a frustrating time of delays with the building, including governmental delays agreeing with policies and building guidelines, however having buildings that meet the required standards appears well worth the wait in the long term scheme of it all. I also particularly enjoyed some school visits, where in the reconstruction disability access has been included, such as wheelchair ramps.
Gorkha: A concrete foundation and steel reinforced columns at the beginning of house construction (note the earthquake damaged mud brick home behind); the blind alphabet hung up on the newly painted school wall; wheel chair access at a re-constructed classroom
INF day was celebrated as INF day always is – many speeches, some music and dancing, awards (notably for over 25 years of service) and dal bhat. What celebration would be complete without it?
Happy 65th birthday to INF!
The INF conference provided a time to celebrate achievements with the INF family from around the world and across Nepal, while also looking ahead to the future. It lived up to the theme of “Together for Nepal,” some highlights being client stories of empowerment. One lady who had hidden in the forest for 60 years has now been treated for leprosy and was looking forward to the elections, where finally, “my voice counts”. Another lady of the low caste Dalits shared of the confidence she had gained through a self-help group and is now an elected member of her local ward, gaining recognition not just for herself but a whole segment of the community, particularly speaking up for equal opportunities for education.
At the conference I ran a short session on story writing – with great attendance much to my surprise! And following the conference I spent two days with 25 INF staff from across ten districts doing a hands on story writing workshop. The participants visited INF’s hospital and income generating farm to collect stories that we could work on over the two days. We practiced the ideas of setting the scene, explaining the activities and then tying in the impact with the project goal. I loved the “aha” moments where it fell into place and feedback from the participants as they explained how much more confident they were now they understood how to better tell a story. The real feedback will be in reading the next case studies that come by…
It was a surreal time, living back in our old neighbourhood but merely passing through. A wonderful time spent catching up with friends and neighbours, former colleagues, various projects we support and consuming lots of food: 12 dal bhats in 13 days, momos, samosas, sel roti with Ranjita. So much the same, so much has changed. The mountains continue to form a magnificent backdrop to Pokhara, which is undergoing rapid development. But that’s an update for another day.