I returned to Kathmandu last night with ten hour bus ride from Jiri bazaar. the ride was highlighted by the maoist cutting down a huge tree to cause a road block (which was eventually pushed to the mountainside once there were enough stranded vehicles going both ways to provide the manpower) and some other type of traffic jam which after 45 minutes i just got my back pack off the roof and started walking west (direction of Kathmandu) until i found a taxi in the clear. had a hot shower, beer, dinner with friends, and a bed with linen... the simple pleasures we take for granted!
The trip was successful, though so different without my brother Namgyal. everyone stepped up to the challenge. Ben Ayers and the dzi foundation continue to amaze me. they handled all arrangements to get to Khotang, provided escorts to dipsung, arranged meetings with our two ngo's in the field ahead of time, and provided a translator. i also was able to meet up with ben in rakha, and as always , our meetings resulted in valuable advice.
Our meetings with nava jyoti (dipsung ngo) were productive. firstly, we made significant progress towards initiating our sub-health post project. to remind you, we had held up on construction mainly due to the mandate of the government of nepal to upgrade all sub-health posts to health posts. it is unlikely this will occur anytime soon (if at all), but i felt we should be in the position to accomodate this upgrade if it occurs. firstly, our option to build a health post outright has been dismissed. a sub-health post project is about $20,000, for which we have our donor who wishes to remain anonymous. a health post budget would be in the range of $320,000. this cost is prohibitive. on the other hand, if we build a sub-health post on the required 5 ropani land, the government could add additional buildings to accomodate the facilities of a health post if and when this occurs. in preparation for this, the village of dipsung has arranged the purchase of a 5 and one half ropani piece of land (the original site was only 3 ropani.i know, by now all of you are wondering what the hell a ropani is. just google it!) furthermore, it is now apparent that our current blue print was based on the school in dipru that dzi built last year. ben has advised us to have an engineer relook at our blueprint and budget, to make sure it is up to government standards (in the event of an upgrade), and more importantly to make sure it is "earthquake safe". an earthquake is inevitable in this area, and it is important to know we are being responsible. the engineer will also perform 3 site visits during this process, also giving us better reassurance that things are proceeding appropriately. ben is providing his engineer raj kumar for this , and he will be out there in about one month. any extra expenses for this process will be covered by our general funds in the foundation.we should be ready to break ground sept 1 after the monsoon.
Nava jyoti is also interested in us funding some additonal school teachers in the vdc. ben advises against this since it will not be sustainable, unless the government gives us a letter of agreement that they will pick up the salaries in about 3 years. i told them if they could get a letter from the government, and if the village would partially fund their salaries along with d2n, we would look at the proposal. they have also asked about chimneys/vents for their household cooking fires. these fires currently are on the floor with no ventillation. as you can imagine, the health hazards, especially lung disease is huge. i was encouraged they are interested in this, and asked them to research what devices are available , and the costs. ben mentioned to me privately that there is a simple method which eliminates 60% of the smoke, that costs as little as 14 or 15 dollars. more formal units which are more efficient probably cost in the range of a couple hundred dollars. this will be interesting to learn more about.if we can identify a good option for this problem, i suggested we do a pilot project with 4 households and determine the impact...
nava jyoti is working with namgyals family regarding a proposal for chorten building (buddhist monument) and puja (ceremony) in bane, namgyal's favorite site in khotang. i will keep you posted. i am seeing if rachel, micah, and betsy can go. if so, i will probably plan the ceremony around micah's december school break. all are invited...
i was able to locate 6 scholarship students in the village of dipsung. i was funding 3 already 50/50 with namgyal, and 3 more were new to start this year. i met them all this trip, got their pictures and basic info (age, grade, etc...). i met up with 3 more scholarship students in private school in ktm today at namgyals puja (they have puja immediately, at 21 days, 49 days, and one year). i got pics, basic info, school they are attending, etc.. i still need financial statements from their respective schools and more details to initiate an accountable payment plan. there are estimate 30-35 additional kids in dipsung vdc-many dalit ("untouchables") not attending school because of costs.... i have asked them to identify them with appropriate info, and we would take a look at this. as i mentioned before, i would like to set up a "namgyal sherpa scholarship fund" within d2n umbrella. i will personally cover these first 9 students each year (plus there appear to be some more info for additional existing students coming), but i would like to discuss the foundation picking up additional students as they are identified. it is all very exciting. i spoke wih yagya giri today at namgyal's puja. she is 11 years old and in class 6. she is delightful, and would very much like to be a doctor. her brother mangil giri is also 11 (another mystery in nepal- they are both 11, but not twins....) and he is in class 5. mangil would like to be a teacher. how exciting if we can give these kids an opportunity!
regarding communication with nava jyoti regarding status of projects, they suggested they will walk to diktel once a month and send a report. this would be too good to be true.
The meeting with cps ngo in rakkha also went well. the toilet construction in sungdel and rakha is underway, and i had the opportunity to inspect some of the sights. it's hard to believe i get excited seeing toilets! but it is amazing- when i first started to go to khotang, there was no where designated to go to the bathroom. i remember them digging a hole for me and taking bamboo mats to form a wall around the pit. now i have my choice of over two toilets in dispung alone (thanks to diana and ben)- just remember to bring your own toilet paper! cps will be building 125 toilets in this project, and should be half done in about 6 weeks. we have sent in the first 40% payment, and will send in second 40% when confirmed half completed.. there will be a two month break during monsoon, they back to work with anticipated completion november 1. there are still some outstanding issues regarding the rakha sub-health post (we have a contract to start building after dipsung is complete), but i believe all the kinks should be worked out once this first sub-health post is completed. the contract can be adjusted as needed at that time. regarding communication, cps has agreed to walk to diktel and send us an informal update q 3 months, and send us a formal report midway through each project, and upon completion.
Regarding our ktm connection, d2n has paid for office supplies/rent/staff through the end of 2013. doma, namgyal's wife, has taken over the office. ideally, they will provide our translation of documents, source of direct communications to the villages, etc.... this may totally fall through. if this is the case, my hero ben is again offering to step up to help us locate some temp services to provide translation, and to help some with communication. i have to be careful not to take advantage of ben and his dzi staff, and ben is very up-front of addressing this issue. regardless, this is temporary. when i return home, i will write up a job description for an employee in ktm who can prob work from home, with a salary of about $4,000/year (suggested by ben). this should be a person who would not only provide the clerical support, accompany us to khotang, but to also go to khotang on their own, work with the villagers, identify projects, follow through on things, etc... he/she should be able to function independantly. this will be an important step in making d2n sustainable.... ben has offered to work with me on job description, post the job at the appropriate ktm sites, and even help with interview process! i, and we, are very fortunate to have such help....
after the work was completed, jeeban (head of nava jyoti) and charma sing (porter) accompanied me on a 6 day walk to jiri bazaar, where i caught the bus to ktm. it rained in total 13/14 days (but most days not all days). it was hot and humid, and the leeches just loved the weather. my tent did an amazing job of keeping me dry at night. charma sing was great- he is half my size, and was walking stronger than me with double the pack! jeeban accompanied half way to jiri and then headed home. we stayed at jeeban's various relatives the first three nights, including his 6 step-brothers in the village of jubu. you have to love the name of that village! 3 of these step brothers were albino! one a school teacher in the village government school, who loved tolstoy/hawthorne/and french authors, but the "best writer of all time" is shakespear. it was a fascinating discussion till the whiskey and beer took effect, and then the discussion deteriorated rapidly! there was a huge faith healer festival (jakhris) along the way, with amazing dress and chanting/singing. this was a first for me.but , the highlight of the trip had to be me waking up at 1230 at night in my tent with a strange sensation on my lower lip. i was making out with a leech! what a pleasant surprise!!
The village of dipsung also held a puja for namgyal during my village stay. it was so sad. he will be missed by so many people that he has touched during his 35 years. it is hard to imagine his body at 8300 meters on everest. i am so fortunate he awakened my conscience, and i was able to benefit from our relationship for this short period of time..... at least we can continue his legacy...
Sooooo, todays puja (the 21 day event), was at bodha, the sherpa enclave. up in the gompa there were about 40-50 monks and one lama chanting all day-very surreal-with more activities down in the courtyard. there were so many people paying their respects, including ben and chokpa from dzi foundation. meeting our 3 scholarship students was just a lucky bonus. i went with armand, the dutch gentleman who was namgyal's silent partner in his expedition company for the last 12 years. having armand here has been great for me. he will be leaving ktm in just 2 days.
i will hopefully be meeting with lifeline ngo before i leave ktm. they still have the additional proposal to work with the village management comittees and the instructional booklet they plan on using for their educational program.if it is not completed, they will email it to us.
I will also tentatively meet with rameshore khanal, the economic advisor to the prime minister that i met with last trip. he seems eager to assist us in our work in khotang.
interestingly, but not surprising, the minister of health i met with last trip is no longer in power, and has been replaced.....it has nothing to do with his meeting with us i think......
There are a number of people following though on things when i leave Nepal. we are so lucky to have established such a strong support system here in such a short time.
In summary, this has been a very productive trip. Namgyal's loss has been devastating to me. but i am more determined than ever to continue our work here, and i thank each and every one of you for your support. i continue to feel that i am the luckiest person in the world to be in this position. i will continue to deal with my loss. we have all had to deal with tragedy during our lives. but we must resurface stronger and more determined, focusing on the positives in our lives.
See you all soon. I am waitlisted to leave Kathmandu June 7, and confirmed to leave June 10.