1st May 2018

Rebuilding in earthquake torn Nepal

On March 31, a few days after the one-year anniversary of the earthquake, a group of nine Hood River area residents will be heading to Nepal as part of the ongoing Kumari development initiative.

This particular group is focusing on the Kumari Farm. In preparation for the trip, I traveled to Nepal and Kumari in February for three days with community leader Jagat Lama and his team.

This situation in Kathmandu has improved for many people with regard to their living situations in the aftermath of the earthquake. But I noticed a harder edge in them, as if, understandably, the hardships have taken their toll.

This has been exacerbated by severe fuel shortages, brought on by a skirmish between the Nepali and Indian governments, where people face two-and-a-half day waits in lines with as many as 1,000 vehicles for a few liters of fuel.

Things were better in Kumari, where modernity is slow to arrive with things like the need for fuel. That said, many homes were still rubble, including Jagat and Chet’s homes — the leaders of the relief efforts. They stay in a small tin shack near the clinic, piled high with supplies and with little room to do anything but eat and sleep.

But many homes have been rebuilt as well and for those families, life is gradually returning to its new normal. Reconstruction of the clinic and school was well underway and I’ve learned since returning home that the clinic is now finished and has re-opened. The quality of all the new structures is much better than before, including earthquake resistant reinforcement. The school, which previously was constructed using small stacked stones with mud mortar, is now made with a metal frame and insulated concrete panels, resulting in a much more solid and attractive campus. There’s even a tiny store in Kumari now, the first of its kind in this village of 55,000 residents. I have mixed feelings about it because their main items are candy and processed snacks, which I understand are rare treats in a place where luxuries are basically non-existent.

Jagat is most excited about the new farm which the people have banded together and raised the funds to purchase. Again, I was initially apprehensive about the ability of the farm to meets its intended goals, which is to generate revenue to support the ongoing clinic operations (about $3,000 per month). However, as so often happens, Jagat won me over and then some with his astonishing grasp of the situation there and their most pressing and intimate needs.

He explained how virtually all residents of Kumari are subsistence farmers. They’re basically able to grow just enough to survive from one year to the next. The crops they grow are low-value crops (rice, corn, mustard greens, etc.).

The earthquake disrupted the farming cycle by damaging much of the land and altering the water situation, causing many farming families to be unable to meet their most basic needs. As a result, many have left for low-paying work in places like Dubai and Qatar. Our good friend Chet, in addition to farming, earns his living as a trekking guide for the company he co-owns with Jagat and others. But, again following the earthquake, the trekking business has ground to a halt with no bookings last fall or this spring. Chet, who’s normally outgoing and jovial, was subdued and quiet. I asked Jagat about it and he confided that Chet’s wife was forced to go to work cleaning the airport in Dubai while Chet stays home with their teenage daughter in hopes that a trekking opportunity will come about. His wife is paid $250 per month. Jagat went on to explain how this is common in the villages but made worse by recent access to very inexpensive cell phones (they can get service for as little as $5 per month). Many family members who stay home now spend time on sites like Facebook, often hooking up with people they shouldn’t. This is impacting the social fabric of the community and placing new stains on an already strained situation.

All that said, Jagat’s plan is to provide sources of income for as many families as possible to prevent them from having to leave for work elsewhere. Initially, I questioned how impactful the farm would be — maybe 30 jobs for 55,000 residents? But, again, I was missing the point.

His goal is not only to provide jobs on the farm but, more significantly, to demonstrate to the existing farmers how they can convert some of their subsistence crops to cash crops. They have been reluctant to do this in the past because they live so close to the edge they can’t take risks. But once they see it being done successfully, and with the Kumari Farm’s help including micro-loans, the risk for them is greatly reduced.

The Kumari Farm, which at this time is dormant, terraced land, is set atop a hill with panoramic vistas of the Langtang mountain region. They plan to grow a variety of crops and eventually have a bed-and-breakfast lodge for travelers. The road between Kathmandu is set to be paved soon, converting it from a rugged, bone-jarring three-hour drive to a pleasant hour of smooth, scenic driving. He also plans to lease large tracts of land from Kumari residents to grow coffee.

The Hood River group will spend a total of two weeks in Nepal. After a couple of days acclimating in Kathmandu, we will depart on rented motorcycles and head west along the Indian border, getting to know the country and her people. We’ll visit Chitwan Park, Buddha’s birthplace, Asia’s largest tiger conservatory and the mountain hamlet of Muktinath at 12,000 feet in the Annapurna range, all along the way to Kumari, the goal and highlight of the trip.

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