Why You Should Rally for the Right to Health with Us This Sunday

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Since the start of the semester there has been a lot of hubbub surrounding “Article 25” and a “Global Day of Action” and something about a rally? Just to clear up any confusion and get everyone on the same page here’s some basic background about what we’re trying to do.

“Article 25” refers to a specific statement in the United Nation’s Declaration of Human Rights which states that:

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

Although it is not explicitly stated that medical care itself is a human right, having access to both health care and sick care regardless of geographic location or socioeconomic status is certainly an integral aspect of “security in the event of… sickness” and “a standard of living adequate for the health” of the individual.  The Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) have had a huge impact on the international move towards a healthier world, focusing on issues like poverty, hunger, HIV/AIDS, child mortality, and maternal health, and though a lot of progress has definitely been made, we still have a ways to go.  The UN is currently meeting to discuss post-2015 MDGs and other aspects of development that should be prioritized in the coming years and the aim of the Global Day of Action is to make sure health is on the top of their agenda.

The focus of the campaign in Boston is on erasing health inequities here in Boston as well as abroad, and in a timely manner. For this rally, we will be advocating for a Single-Payer Health System in Massachusetts and a $20 billion emergency fund for epidemics, so that catastrophes such as Ebola are never repeated. For us, Ebola is a case study for the need of health-systems strengthening around the world, and Article 25 demonstrates that we made that commitment long ago, but have a long way to act.

Please join us at the Boston event, a rally on the Common, on October 26th. It is one of the loudest ways we as students can make a splash in the fight for global health and equality and help choose the direction the international development effort is headed in for years to come.  It is absolutely essential that you all lend us your voices and make yourselves heard.

So, grab your friends, your peers, that random person you kind of recognize in the dining hall and say “hi” to in passing even though you don’t actually recall their name or where you know them from, and come together on October 26th on the Boston Common and make a stand for change and the right of human beings everywhere to live healthy lives.

Alex Boden is a junior majoring in Anthropology and Biology.  She is a member of the Policy team.

A reflection on Ebola fears in the U.S.

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If one were to flip through news channels or read the newspaper, it is very likely that an article or an opinion piece on the Ebola crisis will appear. A recent Time article written by Josh Sanbum points out that the probability of acquiring Ebola in the U.S. is almost zero. Despite this, parents are pulling children out of middle school in Mississippi, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist is banned from speaking at Syracuse University after working in Liberia, and an office building has closed in Ohio over fears of an exposed employee. Why is Ebola so acutely feared in a country where only three confirmed Ebola-related deaths have occurred, compared to the 4,400 in Africa? According to University of Oregon psychology professor Paul Slovic, it is all related to risk perception. As the media continues with its front-page headlines about a possible epidemic sweeping the nation, we forget about probability and statistics. There is no question that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is dangerous and deadly, and requires a coordinated global approach and international efforts. But in the U.S., the flu will kill tens of thousands of people this year and heart disease remains the foremost cause of death. Technology and media allows stigmatization to occur at a rapid pace, and in the midst of counterproductive and unnecessary reactions it is important to educate oneself about the crisis and be grounded by facts.

Michelle Shah is a senior majoring in Cognitive and Brain Sciences.  She is a member of the Communications team.

Jump-start to the Year with PHASE

This week during our GhU information session we discussed what it means to have a successful partnership. GlobeMed defines a successful partnership in several ways: mutual respect among all actors, the community at the center of the system, open communication between all actors, and common vision for and measurement of success among other central goals. As a GlobeMed chapter we discussed what it means to us to have a successful partnership with PHASE Nepal, that benefits both ourselves as a chapter and benefit the communities in Nepal in a meaningful way. We aim to work together with PHASE in order to help them meet their goals all while achieving our fundraising aims and objectives of raising awareness within the Tufts community. This means a continual process of assessing what our needs are and how we can benefit PHASE Nepal in the most meaningful way. For this year, this means a fundraising goal of 10,000 dollars, which will go towards educational supplies for PHASE Nepal, and the communities they work in. For example, creating programs that work towards getting students to think creatively and critically instead of simply memorizing words and facts.

Adrienne Caldwell is a sophomore majoring in Biology and Psychology.  She is a member of the Communications Team.  

Article 25: Rally for the Right to Health

Article 25.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

On October 25th and 26th, people from all around the world will get together to rally for the right to health. Global Day of Action on October 25th is a day to remind ourselves that health inequity is a pervasive and pressing issue, and long-standing commitments are necessary to face these disparities. On October 26th, GlobeMed at Tufts is partnering with other Boston community organizations for a Rally for the Right to Health at Boston Commons in hopes of raising awareness of the global health crisis and making universal health coverage a goal in the 2015 UN agenda. This event and others like it will serve as the launching of local and national campaigns around the world, encouraging countries to make rights-based universal health coverage a main goal in the post-2015 agenda and promoting ways to allow individuals to launch their own campaigns. To get involved with the rally at Boston Commons, email tufts@globemed.org or check out the Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/947549945259088/

For more information about Article 25 and Global Day of Action, visit http://join25.org/

Michelle Shah is a senior majoring in Cognitive and Brain Sciences.  She is a member of the Communications team.

A Bhalcandra School Update from Binod

It’s been just over 3 months since the GROW team returned from Nepal, and we’ve been anxious to check in on life in Rayale. When working with the child clubs at the Bhalchandra School and Shree Shanti Niketan, one of our main focuses was designing goals with the children that they could work towards and accomplish even after we had left. Sustainable solutions are a fundamental part of PHASE Nepal’s mission, and therefore the GROW team hoped to brainstorm self-sufficient yet attainable projects for the students to tackle this year. Because we were working with such incredibly driven and creative kids, we were never worried about the fate of the child clubs after our departure!

Thanks to Facebook, receiving updates on the latest happenings at Bhalchandra School is just a click away. Binod, an English teacher and the adult coordinator for the school’s child club, was more than happy to share both stories and photographs of some of the great work the Bhalchandra School Creative Child Club has completed in the short time since we’ve been gone. He told me how proud he was of their work, and it’s easy to see why! Here are some of the inspiring and innovative programs that the students have organized:

  • A quiz competition, in which the winner received a small prize paid for by the Bhalchandra School teachers and staff
  • A “week of sport” that included running activities for all students as well as a football (soccer) tournament for those interested
Bhalchandra School football tournament participants, (photo provided by Binod, in center).

Bhalchandra School football tournament participants, (photo provided by Binod, in center).

  • Activities for Children’s Day, a widely celebrated holiday in Nepal. While it was already customary for Bhalchandra School to host a special event, the child club volunteered to aid the adults. They managed crowds and materials, supervised the younger children, and provided water, tea, and biscuits to the rest of their classmates. Binod was also excited to share with us that they won 2nd and 3rd prizes in singing, dancing, and oratory competitions against 13 schools!
  • Maintenance of the vegetable garden started with the help of Nick and Morgan during the GROW trip. This was a special program that we were able to bring to fruition during our time in Rayale, so it was really cool to hear that the child club is still taking care of it, and that the vegetables are doing well!
Bitter gourd from the Bhalchandra School vegetable garden (photo provided by Binod).

Bitter gourd from the Bhalchandra School vegetable garden (photo provided by Binod).

We’re so lucky to be working with schools in Rayale that have such passionate children and adults, like Binod, supporting both GlobeMed and PHASE Nepal’s missions even when we aren’t able to be there with them. It’s great that we are able to keep in touch over Facebook and share in their success. Binod also described his hopes to implement a special management committee for the child club that would provide funding and adult assistance with programming, so we’re sure that we will only hear of bigger and better things from the Bhalchandra School Creative Child Club in the future!

 

Nick James Macaluso is a senior majoring in Biology and Environmental Studies.  He is a member of the Campaigns team.

GROW Returns to Kathmandu: A Reflection on Rayale

Hello from Kathmandu! We arrived back in the capital a few days ago, after having spent the past three weeks living in the village of Manadhova, Rayale in the Kavrepalanchowk District of Nepal. While relatively close to Kathmandu (no more than a few hours by bus) and the most developed PHASE project area, it was still a big change for all of us GROW interns. The natural beauty of the village we lived in was awe-inspiring: rolling hills covered in robust green forest alongside miles upon miles of rice paddies. Often, women in brightly colored Nepali clothing worked in the rice paddies from dawn to dusk, creating breath-takingly bright and colorful views. The sense of community and serene environment was a very welcome change from the dusty and loud streets of the city.

Our day-to-day experiences were based primarily in two local government schools: Nick and Morgan worked with the Shree Bhalchandra School and Reilly, Emily and Linda worked with the Shree Shanti Niketan School. In each school, we worked with students from grade four to grade ten in multiple contexts, including teaching English and creative writing as well as establishing and directing extracurricular child clubs, which are similar to student governments. Child clubs are school-run student groups endorsed by the Nepali government that act as forums for conversation and action in areas such as child rights, child protection, youth empowerment and leadership, health education, and extracurricular activities.

After being in the schools for a few days, we realized how different the Nepali teaching methods and education system are overall from what we experienced in our own elementary and middle schools. In the Nepali schools we observed a heavy reliance on rote learning in English classes, and much less focus on creativity, open-ended activities, and active participation. Part of the PHASE education development program is to improve teaching methods with the help of highly-trained traveling PHASE staff. We were able to sit through certification sessions, where PHASE teacher-trainers observed lessons taught by schoolteachers and provided feedback. Following the session, several teachers were newly designated as mentors with the responsibility of using their new skills and knowledge to further PHASE education initiatives with their fellow faculty. Watching this process allowed us a glimpse into how exactly PHASE works to improve educational practices in these rural schools.

In addition to working in the local schools, were also able to experience the livelihood and health aspects of PHASE programs by spending time with on-the-ground PHASE staff in their respective roles. Kriti, an Auxiliary Nurse Midwife in-training allowed us to observe her in the health outpost multiple days, and Kabita, a livelihood specialist, came out to Rayale to guide us around local “practical plots” that were grown with the help and training of PHASE staff. Even though our time spent experiencing PHASE’s health and livelihood sectors was comparatively short, we were grateful for the opportunity to gain a fuller understanding of the PHASE approach to breaking the poverty cycle.

Experiencing firsthand PHASE’s multifaceted model of development in rural communities allowed our team to see how the three programs (education, livelihood and health) work together to create a sustainable solution in the project areas. Isolated attention on any one of the three programs would not effectively break the cycle of poverty; the best quality education will do little to help a child who is too hungry to concentrate or absent due to illness. Likewise a child in good health can never reach his maximum potential if the school system is failing him. Realizing the interconnectedness of these three aspects while in the villages helped our team fully understand the PHASE mission of achieving self- empowerment by engaging communities rather than providing a one-time delivery of external aid.

We worked with PHASE not to implement new infrastructure or an educational program project during our three weeks in the village, as traditional volunteering expeditions might. Instead, we used our time there to learn about the needs and mission of the schools and PHASE to be better able to make an impact through advocacy and fundraising once we return to the US. The model of this approach, termed “service learning,” is aimed to allow us to make the most of our relatively short time in Nepal by setting achievable and practical learning goals that focus on future sustainability in our partnership with PHASE. While the internship was focused on the idea of service learning, we also felt that, unexpectedly, we perhaps had made a lasting change within the schools. In a small way, we were able to show teachers active participation activities, which were not widely used before, and we, hopefully, made a lasting impression on the children and families that we met.

As our GlobeMed at Tufts partnership with PHASE began just this last academic semester, this trip was for the GROW interns, GlobeMed at Tufts, and even PHASE Nepal, a learning experience. We went into this internship knowing that we were acting as a sort of experiment – to see what worked and what didn’t for the GROW internship. We were also acting as the initial bridge between our two organizations, charged with laying the foundation and cultivating a relationship for a long-term partnership with PHASE. In our opinion, it was amazing. We are extremely lucky to have worked with the dedicated and compassionate PHASE Nepal staff, and also to experience first hand the communities they work in. In a joint effort to improve our relationship and future GROW internships, we have begun discussing plans for both the upcoming academic year in terms of fundraising, advocacy, and the GROW trip in 2015. Our aim is that future GROW interns will continue to facilitate progress toward child club goals, with a specific focus on improving student health conditions and knowledge, including implementing standard health checks. If our trip has been any indication of what is to come for the GlobeMed at Tufts and PHASE relationship, the future looks bright.

The GROW team with Kriti, PHASE Auxiliary Nurse Midwife, and children from Rayale

The GROW team with Kriti, PHASE Auxiliary Nurse Midwife, and children from Rayale

 

“Cheating = Copying = Bad” A Post by Linda

From Day 1, we are taught that cheating is bad. Copying homework from your peers, however common it is or innocuous it feels, is a punishable offense and if you ever feel the wandering eyes of a neighbor on your exam, the instinct is to wield your body as a shield and protect your hard-earned answers. Honor codes, tutorials on proper citation, and Turnitin.com are all dedicated to ensure that each student does their own work. The war against plagiarism may be ingrained into the American school system, but this was not the case at the Shree Shanti Niketan School.

ImageFor the older students in grades 9 and 10, we often gave them writing prompts to practice their English and prepare them for the standardized exams they’d have to pass at the end of the year to move on to the next grade. If you could go anywhere is the world where would you go and why? What do you want to be when you grow up? Those types of questions. We wanted to give the students a chance to think creatively and stray away from memorizing things out of a textbook. I got called over by a student to check her work, fixed some spelling mistakes, and tweaked some grammar.. “Good job”, I’d say as I hand back the notebook. A couple minutes later, her neighbor would raise her hand, I’d go over and do the same thing, thinking hm, maybe it’s just a coincidence that they both want to be teachers. Another student in their desk row raises her hand and I read for the third time an identical paragraph about why being a teacher is the best job.

This happened in every class and at first, I was shocked. The entire GROW team was confused that the students didn’t seem to recognize that cheating was wrong. They never tried to hide it from us and never showed any guilt over it either. It was one of the most glaring differences I recognized between American and Nepali schools. Once you gave that first student the affirmation of a “good job”, all of the other students recognized it as the only right answer to the question and therefore jumped to copy it. This was the problem – students assumed that there was only one correct answer to our prompt, one correct sentence structure, one correct word choice. Their mindset was a product of years of rote learning  – repetition and memorization of material to get good test scores even if students didn’t understand the concepts. PHASE’s teacher training initiatives aim to break away from traditional rote learning and introduce new teaching techniques that encourage students to be more engaged with their classes. We echoed this, emphasizing that there is more than one right answer and that we didn’t care whether their answers were correct, we just wanted everyone to try. As we spent more time with the students, I believe that our message began to resonate with them. Shy students felt more comfortable participating and there was less cheating as students began to take ownership of their own work. Seeing this was an encouraging start for the GROW team and a deft reminder of why PHASE’s investment in education development in rural communities is indispensable.  

 

3 Weeks in Santi Niketan by Reilly

     There seems to be a phenomenon when you are in a new place that the first third of the trip just creeps along but, once you’re comfortable and adjusted, the rest of the time accelerates and passes with the blink of an eye. My three weeks in Rayale were no different,  though while the time there was fleeting, the memories I made will be engrained forever. My experience working with the children and teachers of Shree Santi Niketan School will shape the decisions I make in one of the most important years of my life and beyond.

     I arrived in the village of Manudhovan, with the four other GROW team members (Emily, Linda, Morgan and Nick) with zero expectations and a rough plan to help implement child clubs in the two schools in the district, Balchandra and Shree Santi Niketan. The trip from Kathmandu took about 4 hours– consisting of a 3 hour bus ride and a one hour hike. We were received at Shree Shantiniketan during their morning assembly, in which they do a series of odd calisthenics and sing the national anthem, with great enthusiasm from the principle, teachers and students. They introduced all five of us and presented us with traditional Nepali scarves then we spoke briefly about what our goals were for our time their and we were on our way to the second school, Balchandra. Emily, Linda and I would be working in Santi Niketan, which was about an hour walk from our lodge and was less funded than Balchandra. We worked our way up to the second school (where Nick and Morgan would be working), introduced ourselves and had the rest of the day off to walk around the village. Because all five of us were staying in the same village it was impossible to accommodate home stays for everyone so we were placed in a “lodge,” which a family ran as a secondary source of income. The family consisted of five direct relatives (grandfather, father, mother and two daughters) and what seemed like 30 extended family members who also lived in the village and were always around. They were so accommodating and helpful, cooking all our meals and teaching us Nepali every chance they got, it was hard to say goodbye when we finally had to leave.

     Getting back to the the real theme of this post, our first day of school was the Monday after we arrived. The Nepali work week is Sunday-Friday, Saturday is their only Holiday, which holds true for the schools as well. The one redeeming factor about a six day school week is that school didn’t start until 10:05 every morning, which gave us plenty of time to walk the two mile path to school everyday. Our first day we went early to meet with the teachers and discuss how we would implement the child clubs and what other resources we could bring to facilitate better learning. Our main goal for child clubs was to teach health education and child rights as an extra class but after meeting with the teachers and the PHASE staff who accompanied us, these goals widened greatly. SSN School is a relatively new project site for PHASE in all programs (healthcare, education and livelihood) so the teaching techniques PHASE is trying to apply were not fully realized in these schools and they wanted our help in this facet. PHASE and the school’s three English teachers wanted us to help facilitate English language conversation and writing for the older grades as well as teach health education and child rights in the child clubs.

     The first day got a little awkward when instead of observing like I thought we had discussed, the higher level english teach expected me to teach a full lesson for her tenth grade class. I stood in front of the room introducing myself for about 2 minutes before asking her what her plan was for the day, to which she replied, “you will not conduct the lesson today?” I told her I didn’t know this was the plan and maybe it was best I observe a day before teaching anything, as I didn’t know the level or content of the classes English. Things could only get better from here.

      At first I was surprised they were so eager to have us in the classrooms working to improve the English of their students. Coupled with this emotion was nervousness that our methods would not be up to snuff and we would be taking away from valuable English class time these students desperately needed. The first week I struggled with this dilemma but soon after I realized even having native english speakers around the school encouraged the students to speak english and within the classroom we could help correct english usage and facilitate participation from more students, an aspect which seemed to be lacking in the English classes especially.

     Working closely with the English teachers we designed games and activities that encouraged active learning. With the older classes especially, writing paragraphs and speaking publicly in english was of utmost concern. We would provide prompts to these students and encourage them to work with us to effectively convey their thoughts in English. After the prompts we had students share in front of the class– at first this was like pulling teeth because the students were so shy. With the younger classes simple sentence construction and vocabulary were emphasized. We played word lottery and matching games where students had to choose words out of a had a and construct a sentence using them as well as interactive vocabulary activities sometimes having them draw and label to encourage everyone to think creatively.Of course at times, especially in the beginning, the language barrier was hard to overcome and we felt like we were struggling to convey the concepts we hoped to teach but we found the more comfortable the students became with us the more they would participate and benefit from the exercise. Once we were able to break through the reticence of the students, the activities started to work very well and teaching them became very enjoyable. I was excited to go to school everyday and help teach. I wanted to help these students improve and after every lesson I felt like we had contributed to their learning. On the walk to and from school I was constantly thinking of new activities we could help introduce and fun games that encourage full class participation- though this was hard and I gained a lot of respect for teachers through this process. One of the main problems we noticed when observing classes was that the same talented students would be continuously chosen for contribution, which would increase the separation between them and their classmates. We spoke with the teachers about including everyone and encouraging involvement even if the answer wasn’t exactly correct. Even in our short three weeks in SSN I saw more and more different hands be raised in class and heard new voices previously unheard. hands on hands

     This experience made me realize how important sound teaching techniques (like the ones PHASE is implementing) are and how simple shifts in thinking can result in considerable success in the classroom. Additionally, this revealed in me a newfound love of teaching. I had always known I liked working with children, running summer camps and coaching, but never thought I would enjoy teaching like I did in the school. I realized I was able to engage the students (most of the time) even in a foreign language and now am seriously inclined to pursue some form of teaching. Before my time in Santi Niketan I took many teachers for granted and never appreciated the hard work that goes into engaging a classroom with many different ability levels and varying desires to learn. It was hard work but extremely rewarding and I feel that this experience will significantly alter my upcoming career choices as I reflect on my time there and the importance of motivated educators like many of the teachers of Shree Santi Niketan.

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I Fell in a Water Tap: Rayale Reflections by Emily Miller

I fell in a water tap. Within 36 hours of our arrival in Rayale, I had already experienced public embarrassment.  We’re not just talking a quick, graceful fumble either. One second I was casually trying to wash off at the tap and the next thing I knew I was parallel with the ground. If I had any hope that my fall had gone unnoticed, it was quashed immediately when everyone in the surrounding area let out a collective “oooOO!” Yep, everyone was watching. What could have been terribly embarrassing start to my time in the village, actually turned out to be a great way to bond with the teachers of the Rayale schools and the PHASE staff visiting the village. I couldn’t help but notice that while walking on completely flat, dry surfaces I was the only member of our group who was repeatedly reminded to “watch out it might be slippery.” Good to know that humor transcends language barriers.

IMG_0293After my grand entrance to Rayale, there was nowhere to go but up. I mean this both metaphorically and literally. Our time spent in Rayale was characterized by a lot of climbing hills and mountains. An example of this is actually one of my favorite moments in Rayale. We were lucky enough to spend our first few days there with a group of amazing teacher-trainers from PHASE and were able to accompany and observe them evaluating teachers in some of the Rayale government schools. One of the first days, Linda, Reilly and I joined them on a trip to observe teachers at more distant schools. The trek started out relatively easily, but by the end we found ourselves climbing a steep, rocky wooded area in our sandals in the rain. It was an amazing hike with amazing views, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned while in Nepal, it’s that when someone mentions going up a “small hill” or taking a “short cut,” they actually mean we are going to climb a vertical cliff in the jungle. I am only being a little dramatic.

Observing a teacher-training session after our hike to a more rural Rayale school.

Observing a teacher-training session after our hike to a more rural Rayale school.

Rayale is an incredible place. We spent a considerable amount of our time there in the schools, but I always loved coming back to the community and the home in which we were staying. It was incredible to see all of us transition from shy strangers to comfortable acquaintances, and even good friends.  This was particularly evident with the two daughters of the family in the house that we stayed in. The initial days in which we found them shyly watching us from behind their parents seemed far away by the end of our stay, when more often than not I was awaken by their bursting into our room early in the morning or climbing in my bed. I loved spending time with them. It’s an amazing experience to be able to really feel a part of something, as we did for our time in Rayale. Going on hikes with groups of children we had met, meeting relatives and friends, and just speaking with the people of community were experiences I’ll never forget. I hope that our time together was that of mutual benefit and learning, but I know for sure that the experiences, insight and kindness they showed me are invaluable.

Last but certainly not least was my experience with PHASE in Rayale. There really was no better way to understand PHASE than to be in one of the many communities they serve. Our work in the schools, observing PHASE teacher trainers, seeing PHASE-supported livelihood programs, and spending time in the PHASE-supported clinic and its outpost helped me gain a broader and deeper understanding of the organization’s approach. It’s one thing to hear about an idea, concept and approach, but to see PHASE in action was incredible. Their staff is deeply committed and extremely friendly, and for the kindness and time they took to share PHASE with us I am incredibly grateful. One week into our time in Rayale, Dr. Gerda Pohl visited us and our group had a conversation that has kept me thinking ever since. She spoke of the PHASE approach of working in the sectors of health, education, and livelihoods, and how good health means very little if you do not have the education or livelihood skills to support yourself, or how having education means very little if you are too sick to work or learn. The three sectors may at first glance appear unrelated, but the more I learn and experience, the more I see that they are inextricably linked. The concept of breaking the cycle of poverty by attacking livelihood, educational and health problems together just makes sense. I know I will keep with me these lessons and other values and approaches embodied by PHASE well into the future.

I can’t believe we have already reached our final 8 days in Nepal. I have so much more to say and I have learned and experienced more than I can currently write about. We plan to spend our final days here working in the PHASE office in Kathmandu and sight-seeing. I can’t wait to see what else our time in Nepal will bring!

Reilly, Linda and Emily on our final day at Shree Shanti Niketan school, dancing during the farewell ceremony.

Reilly, Linda and Emily on our final day at Shree Shanti Niketan school, dancing during the farewell ceremony.

Going Green in Rayale: A Post By Nick J. Macaluso

For me, one of the most exciting aspects of staying in a rural Nepali village for three weeks was the opportunity to escape some of the undesirable realities of city life. Especially after experiencing the chaotic nature of Kathmandu, I was intrigued to leave behind the hustle & bustle and all that came with it: dust-filled air, smelly tap water, and an abundance of litter in the streets. Stepping off the bus in Rayale, I was met with some shocking and unwelcome sights. The village was, of course, picturesque and the views were breathtakingly beautiful, but the problem of pollution persisted. As an environmental studies major, I was troubled by the fact that these village residents – a community that depends so much on their natural surroundings for sustenance and livelihood – were treating the land so poorly. When one imagines an agricultural society in the countryside of Nepal, they certainly don’t expect to see the river, used for both drinking and washing, to be inundated with candy wrappers and old soda bottles!

On our fifth day in the village, both of the schools we were working in were closed for a holiday with an appealing premise: environmental clean-up. The idea could not have been welcomed more wholeheartedly by myself and the other GROW interns. After a handful of lightning-speed Nepali speeches from those in charge that hopefully contained a message of the day’s importance, the children hopped into the river and began their work. I followed closely and clumsily behind, trying to gather as much trash as possible without losing a shoe or succumbing to a deadly leech bite (just kidding, Mom).

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However, while the organizers of the event certainly had good intentions, some of the specifics of the environmental clean-up revealed unfortunate gaps in their understanding of proper waste disposal. First of all, the plan was to make numerous piles of the collected trash and burn them. Because there was a variety of materials in these piles – from plastic shopping bags to metal cups to rubber shoes – this was neither the greenest nor most efficient way of solving the problem. Furthermore, these piles were all placed directly on the riverbank. When a huge storm occurred hours after the event’s conclusion, we joked that the clean-up had definitely been successful in moving the trash – a few kilometers down the river. If the goal is protecting the village’s main source of water, then new and improved waste management methods are necessary.

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Although this environmental issue is far from being solved because it involves serious changes to Nepal’s infrastructure, other ecological concerns of Rayale were far more promising. The GROW interns and I spent a day with PHASE Nepal’s livelihood coordinator, Khabita, checking in on the status of one of the village’s “practical plots.” PHASE’s livelihood component involves education in areas such as vegetable farming, animal husbandry, and beekeeping, in an effort to teach villagers more sustainable and effective methods of such practices. The “practical plot” that we visited was one of five in the region, and contained tomato and cucumber plants grown from seeds provided by PHASE. Both proper planting knowledge and the plot’s produce were available to all nearby residents, and it was doing quite well. It was a real treat to experience the success of PHASE’s livelihood program – especially when we were able to taste one of the cucumbers!

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Before I came to Rayale, PHASE Nepal’s work with vegetable farming was always extremely interesting to me. Focusing on improving this major source of income is both useful to villagers and relatively easy for staff to implement. As an intern, I envisioned that this could be one way I could help the organization. During our time at Shree Bhalchandra School, Morgan and I were in charge of facilitating new activities for a child club, a collection of driven and passionate students between grades 6 and 9 that wanted to engage in social work and help their community. I suggested that we start a vegetable garden at the school, and the kids loved the idea. Morgan and I purchased seeds in Panauti, a nearby city, and the next week, our work began.

The child club started preparing by cleaning the grounds behind the school nursery, where our garden would be located. For such a narrow strip of land with few passersby, it was filled with trash – likely thrown out the windows from bored students. After disposing of the crumpled essays and food wrappers (organized into yet another pile to be burned), the students began to form a seed nursery with soil and fertilizer they brought from home. We formed an assembly line of burying seeds into the soil and passing them along to be kept with their respective types – even learning their Nepali names along the way! After repeating cacro (cucumber), golberra (tomato), chimi (green beans), and carella (bitter gourd) numerous times to Sujan, the chairman of the child club and final person in the line who placed each vegetable type together, I know I’ll never forget these four words.

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Only time will tell if the garden is a success, but on our last day in the school, some of the green beans had sprouted! What was even better than watching the garden come to life was how inspiring the child club was. They were truly bothered by how polluted their school’s grounds were, and anxious to prevent it from becoming that way again. They began watering the garden every day before and after school, and Sujan told me that he wanted to create a rule that would enact punishments on litterers, especially near the garden. Rayale’s pollution situation has a long way to go, but with zealous and fiery kids like the Bhalchandra Child Club in charge of fixing the problem, the future looks green!

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