Nangi…my Nepali home

Lila cooking in the volunteer house kitchen.

This is my fifth trip to Nangi in the past ten years. The walk gets a little harder the older I get but when I arrived at the volunteer house there was Lila, my friend and one of the community healthcare workers (HCW), cooking dal bhat and tarkari, a spicy blend of lentils, rice and vegetables. The sight of her made the fatigue of the journey fade, replaced by her smiling face and laughter…Lila is one of those people who possess boundless energy and the ability to see humor in everyday life.

So began ten days packed with a schizophrenic potpourri of activities. Usually I just work in the clinic and teach emergency and wilderness medicine topics to the HCW but this trip I had planned several projects.

100 year old thatched home in old Nangi Village.

Collecting material for the book was a priority. I interviewed dozens of people including teachers and villagers who knew and worked with Mahabir. I visited the old part of the village where he was born; the site of the old school he attended; and walked the forest and fields to appreciate what it must have been like back in the 1950s and 1960s. I filled two notebooks with interview notes, quotes, observations, musings and as many facts as I could verify. What surprised me was everyone’s willingness to talk…and talk candidly about Mahabir.

As a member of the HEF executive board I visit the many projects to prepare a report for the board. In between collecting material for the book I visited the wireless projects; new volunteer projects in and around the Nangi area such as the water collection system in Mohare Danda; met with the school’s principle and teachers to discuss school issues; supervised a paper bead making class for the paper makers; observed the Lotka paper making process; and reviewed and visited the income earning enterprises supported by HEF such as the community trekking lodge and fish ponds.

Moti contemplates his cracker after a visit to the clinic for stitches…two days later I saw him running madly around the school yard…surprisingly with his bandage intact.

But my favorite times are spent in the clinic working with Lila and Rupa, the community HCWs. I taught emergency and wilderness medicine topics which suit the wilderness environment. Lila, Rupa and I taught CPR and choking maneuvers to the Aama Suma, which is the mother’s group.                                                                                              Join me next week as I describe the clinic, patients and these two amazing women, Lila and Rupa, who provide medical care with confidence and compassion in this challenging austere environment.

A Place To Hang Your Sleeping Bag

In 1994, two years after finishing his undergraduate degree in Science Education at the University of Nebraska in Kearney, Mahabir was teaching and living in Nangi. The village school, partially funded by the government, paid for education only up to the seventh grade. Mahabir had added an eighth and ninth grade. The teachers’ salaries for the eighth and ninth grades were funded by private donations from colleagues and friends in Nebraska. More students came from distant villages to study at the higher level. Despite this success he was not satisfied; donations are not sustainable, nor do they foster self-reliance.

View of Himalayan mountains from campground in Nangi.

That year he collaborated with a Japanese organization called The Institute for Himalaya Conservation to build a campground in Nangi. His principles were closely aligned with IHCs major goal to nurture creativity, and self-reliance for village development so it was a symbiotic partnership. The IHC funded a campground along with a community dining room, kitchen and shower/toilet facility. Ground was leveled in tiers to accommodate the large tents used by trekking agencies. Trekking companies, both foreign and Nepali based, started bringing groups of trekkers. For two years the camping business grew and provided income for the school…Mahabir’s dream was taking flight…only to be literally shot down by a civil war.

Tek, head chef for the new lodge which replaced the campground in 2011.

In 1996 the Nepali Civil War erupted between the government and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists). Over the next ten years Mahabir’s dreams were sidetracked by a civil war that killed more than 15,000 people and disrupted rural development. Yet despite a civil war, fleeing tourists and NGOs pulling financial support he managed to fly under the war’s radar and continue a personal war against poverty and ignorance.

Join me next week for the continued saga of my trip to Nangi…meet my old and new friends…especially the children.

Rolling Along

Someone asked me last week what the past few posts had to do with the book about Mahabir? Good question. My reply was; to understand the man you need to understand his  country and I think reading these stories can build better insight into both. Each story started with Mahabir’s dream; just like this story about bead making.

Paper making using Lokta fibers in Nangi. The bark is cooked and spread on mesh screens, then dried in the sun.

Mahabir believes education is the key to improving all aspects of Nepali life. Education needs funding and people should be funding their own education. Based on this linear principle he has worked to establish income earning projects in the villages to support the school and provide jobs. These include; yak breeding, cheese production, fish farming, community trekking and paper making which is one of the oldest projects. The paper making industry produces paper made from a local renewable resource, the Lokta shrub. This provided the materials needed for paper bead making.


Lokta paper beads in a bowl made from a sheet of handmade paper.

Paper beads are rolled from long, thin triangles of either new or recycled paper. Using the local Lokta paper, recycled papers and machines donated by Spellbinders, a craft supply company; steel rule dies donated by Apple Die, a metal manufacturer; and bamboo bead rollers donated by Janice Bautista, a paper bead artist; ten women from four villages participated in the workshop. They experimented with different weights and colors of paper to create paper earrings, necklaces and bracelets. The jewelry is sold to tourists who visit the villages and in Kathmandu.

Urmila wears her creations.

The jewelry is a source of income and artistic accomplishment for the women. I asked them what they would do with the income. The answers included buying basic food products such as oil, salt and rice to purchasing school pencils for a younger brother to buying clothing. The effect is indirect but unquestionable. Improving a household’s income strengthens a family’s ability to care for themselves and opens options not previously available, such as sending a child to school beyond the ninth grade.

Join me next week as I describe the community trekking business…sure to make you want to grab a walking stick and amble through fields of wild flowers while gazing at the Himalayan mountains.

Meet Chitra Bahadur Pun

Dr. Debra Stoner and Chitra Pun at Khopra Ridge, Nepal 2009.

Chitra Pun is the HEF Field Officer and initial contact for volunteers once they arrive in Nepal. As the field officer he coordinates and tracks the various income earning  projects, which are scattered across the 887 square mile Myagdi District in western Nepal. Since 2004 I have coordinate the HEF volunteers before their arrival in Nangi. We had worked together via email for years to ensure the transition was as seamless as a developing country in the middle of a civil war would allow. There were many bumps in the road but he always managed to absorb the shocks. It wasn’t until 2007 after the war ended that we met. That year I spent close to three months in Nangi and would see him off and on. But in the spring of 2009 I spent a month traveling with him around the Myagdi district and realized the extent of his work ethic, which is herculean. The following story gives you a sample of his abilities and dedication.

That spring I was teaching a series of medical classes including cardiac life support to the rural healthcare workers along with basic CPR and choking maneuvers to the “Aama Suma” which means Mother’s Group. We also visited four health clinics to assess their needs for supplies, equipment and structural improvements. He organized my travel for the month throughout the district including getting supplies to all four villages, setting up the schedule, notifying the healthcare workers, getting participants to the classes and keeping me fed and housed along the way. He, outfitted in a woolen hat, vest and jacket, easily plodded over ridges and down slopes, gaining and losing thousands of feet in elevation over dozens of miles. I, on the other hand, huffed and puffed along in as few clothes as decency would permit due to the heat but barely kept up with him. All the while he juggled the multiple projects he supervises for HEF, which included; papermaking, fishery, mushroom growing, cheese making, yak breeding, reforestation, the trekking lodges and the volunteer projects.

2012…a modern version of Chitra with cell phone.

This year was no different…except for the cell phone. All the way up to Nangi for six hours his phone rang non-stop. It was clear it made his job both easier, for obvious reasons, but also harder as he was constantly at the mercy of whoever needed him. Yet I have never, in all these years…heard a sigh of fatigue, a disgruntled word or seen him shirk responsibility. He is a rare man who consistently does what is right and not what is easy…and in Nepal, doing what is right is never easy.

Next week join me for the story about the new paper bead-making project we started on this trip…it will string you along and make you wish for more stories.