Kathmandu

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

 

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Going Green in Rayale

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