New Directions For Sansar Nepal
As we move beyond earthquake relief work into our next phase of outreach, the SSN team have considered and discussed how we may continue to help some of the earthquake stricken villages, whilst still supporting the young change agents who we met during the earthquake relief effort work and after. We have looked into the options of helping with the rebuilding of village schools, or sponsoring the education of earthquake orphans.
However, there are certain factors which have led us to focus our attention in a different direction
- We do not have an existing close relationship with any particular village as our own children’s family villages were not significantly affected by the earthquake.
- The worst hit villages are a considerable distance from Pokhara and would be very difficult to access during an ongoing building project.
- We have not been approached by any specific community with urgent needs since the relief effort and our Warmth for Winter appeal.
Looking closer to home, an idea has germinated which has the potential to benefit many, and to be a vehicle for real change, bringing together people from different backgrounds for a common purpose. It is an exciting new departure for us and although it is early days, this collaborative vision is already taking shape.
A Family Affair
Roshan and his four siblings, three of whom live with us at The Garden (the oldest is now married and lives in Kathmandu), were born in the small village of Dhabo in the district of Kaskikot, where their grandfather founded the government-run village school, Sri Bijaya Primary School. All five children attended this school for the first few years of their education. Their father, Tikaram, built a small house for the family where he and his wife Sitha continued to live after their children left, initially to live with Tikaram’s brother and family nearer to Pokhara, so that they could have a better education, eventually coming to live with us at The Garden.
Unfortunately, Tikaram’s health failed several years ago and he is unable to work. Although the couple no longer have the burden of feeding and educating their five children, in order to survive themselves, they were forced to leave their family home and village in order to move closer to the tourist centre of Pokhara so that Sitha could get a job as a cleaner in a hotel. They were able to find a place to stay rent free in return for farming the land and taking care of the property, the burden of which falls mainly on Sitha.
The Present Situation
The family home in Dhabo now stands empty and is sadly disintegrating. The family land, which one day will belong to Roshan and his siblings, is overgrown and unused. At the same time, other houses stand empty, as young people have left to find work in Pokhara or Kathmandu. The school has only 25 primary-aged children who come from six different villages in the district. Yet it is an idyllic spot and holds many happy memories for Roshan. He and his family are well-known and well respected in the village, which is still home to many family relatives and friends.
Dhabo can be easily reached from Pokhara, either by road (a new section was recently completed which runs right past the family house!), or by a pleasant day’s trek up the valley and into the hills, where Dhabo commands stunning views of the river valley and distant mountains. It is another day’s trek to Nayapul, which is at the start of several well- known Himalayan treks to Poon Hill and Annapurna Base Camp. The small family home is built in the traditional village style with stone walls, wooden beams, two storeys and a slate roof. Below it are grassy terraces. Electricity already reaches the house and fresh, safe drinking water from mountain streams is close by.
The idea of restoring and converting the house into a trekking lodge with camping facilities first arose several years ago. However, the forming of Sansar Nepal and setting up of The Garden took precedence at the time. Now, two-and-a-half years down the line, we are in a better position to consider such a proposal and have many more contacts and connections!
A Trekking Lodge and Campsite
To convert the house into a simple trekking lodge, we will need to repair the walls, re-roof, re-wire and possibly extend the original structure to include a simple kitchen, toilet and shower. The downstairs room will serve as a meeting room/dining room for wet weather, whilst the upper level will provide a dormitory style sleeping space. The aim is to use only local materials and cutting-edge eco-design in order to create a model of simple but comfortable, aesthetic village housing. The surrounding terraces can be used for growing organic fruits, vegetables, herbs and medicinal plants, as well as for camping spaces, fire pit and meeting area. At a later stage, more of the surrounding rice terraces might be purchased or leased to create meeting and camping areas, including a yurt or something similar to accommodate larger groups. We envisage guests from The Garden, as well as other visitors to Pokhara, enjoying an authentic “village experience”, perhaps as a two-day-one-night trip, or an overnight stay either at the beginning or end of one of the longer Annapurna treks.
Education and Training
The lodge and campsite will also be used for educational purposes; we see groups of international students partnered with Nepalese students of the same age from Pokhara or city schools learning together the disappearing skills of growing food and living in harmony with nature. We also envisage older members of the village teaching the ancient but disappearing arts of basket making, weaving, wood carving, butter churning etc. to the younger generation, to prevent such skills from dying out, which is a concern repeatedly expressed by our young organic gardener and artisan friend, Garima. Our young Nepalese change agents, working with other young international partners, might introduce new knowledge and skills into the village, such as new crops to cultivate, cheese making, new handicrafts, and so on, as a way for families to earn more more money. We also see ourselves supporting the village school, bringing in both Nepalese and international volunteers to teach English, improving facilities, and offering the children more opportunities for learning, experiencing and broadening their horizons. We may also provide educational/vocational sponsorship for young village residents.
Mental Health and Wellbeing
The facility could also be used as a retreat centre for overburdened teachers or at-risk young people, where mental health and wellbeing training could be given, possibly in partnership with Psychbigyaan and Amrita Foundation. We also have a dream of welcoming the physically disabled to enjoy a specially designed outdoor adventure under the care of our trained partners, maybe embarking on treks from the lodge on horseback.
The Gautam Family
Roshan sees his mother and father, Sitha and Tikaram, taking on new roles, perhaps as caretakers of the lodge, with a smaller new home for both of them built nearby, where they can spend time with Roshan and the other children on their own land. With part of the revenue, Sitha can give up her cleaning job and help with the running of the lodge. Roshan and his siblings will have a legacy and the opportunity of paying something back to their parents, but also to the village of their birth.
The Dream Team
Paolo Coehllo says that, “When we find our true purpose, the whole universe conspires to help us on the way.”
It so happens that we have a ready-made team here in Pokhara (or soon to come) to begin the work; Micky (builder and contractor), Mike (electrical engineer) assisted by Santoshi (electrical engineering student sponsored by SSN), Dawnell (architect and interior designer), Baldo (our neighbour, photographer and computer specialist), our own Prakash (civil engineering student), Mandy (occupational therapist), Dave (website administrator), Garima (organic gardener), Michelle (educator), and most importantly our leader and key player, Roshan (diplomat, communicator, go-between and man of many trades!!).
The Win-Win Factor
Apart from those listed above, we also anticipate the following benefits:
- Part of the profits from the lodge and campsite can be used by SSN to support further outreach projects promoting education and change.
- Employment of local people to work for and with us, teaching and learning new skills.
- Bringing new life and energy into the village, leading perhaps to the opening of more tea shops, another general store, a craft shop, home stays…
We believe that this vision will become reality. It is the right thing to do, coming from the right place, all the conditions are right and the right people will be drawn to join us! With our help, Roshan and his siblings can continue the work begun by their grandfather, so many years ago, and so bring it Full Circle!
If you would like to be a part of our vision, please let us know how you might contribute. Fund-raising is an obvious area, but if you can think of any other ways in which you could support this exciting project, we would love to hear!
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has!” Margaret Mead.