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Inspirational Projects, Sustainable Farming, & Extreme Roads!
The Earthducation team is traveling in Nepal, capturing education and sustainability narratives from a broad array of individuals in urban centers and small villages alike. In the first week in the field, we were welcomed into two starkly different communities: the capital city of Kathmandu, and the remote village of Nangi in the mountains west of Pokhara. This full update details our travels to date, from May 2 through May 3. We’ll stay two nights in Pokhara before returning to Kathmandu, and continuing on to a farming community outside the capital city.
Day 4: May 2
The temp dropped last evening after the thunderstorm came through Nangi, a nice respite from the heat we experienced in Kathmandu and Pokhara. We took the opportunity to work on field updates as we listened to the rain pattering on the roof. The electricity went out as we sat down to work, so we spent the evening working with portable battery and satellite systems by candlelight and headlamp. In the morning we woke to a beautiful sky and a landscape that is difficult to describe in words. The breathtaking snow-covered peaks of the Dhaulagiri range were rising from the clouds as prayer flags snapped in the wind.
We trekked to a home where four women were making a wine called Raksi, which they sell to adjacent villages. The Raksi-making process is no easy task. First they cook millet over an open fire that is mixed with a medicine call Marcha. The cooked millet then sits for fifteen days as it ferments before it’s put on an open stove from which the Raksi is collected. The reason these women in Nangi produce the Raksi is to fund a jam-making project. They then sell jam to trekkers that come through the valley — yet another example of the many projects that village members are doing that allow for a sustainable lifestyle.
We also had the opportunity to sit down today with Chitra Pun, our translator and the Coordinator for Community Projects in Nangi. Chitra described some of the amazing work they are doing here in Nangi. As showcased in earlier posts, the projects here seem limitless. From paper making to growing trees from seedlings to be replanted in the forest to the making of bags, the locals have joined together to make their lifestyle sustainable in ways we have not seen during other Earthducation expeditions to date. In every direction we look, community members are working on sustainability-focused projects and involved in cultural practices that have been in place for thousands of years.
Chitra described the vision of Mahabir Pun, with whom he works closely. Mahabir’s vision fifteen years ago was to make Nangi village a place where community members would want to stay — and have the opportunity to stay through access to education and employment. As Chitra noted, one of the biggest challenges in small, remote villages like Nangi is the opportunity to earn an income that can support a family. In many families, the male head of household has to move away to earn an income, leaving his family at home for months at a time, traveling to Middle Eastern countries to earn income, which he sends back to the village. While he is away, the mother and children are left working the fields. Another challenge Chitra noted is the preservation of culture. In a changing world, it is difficult to retain customs of the past, especially when few elders remain from whom to learn such customs.
At the foundation of everything Chitra discussed was the importance of education and the connection of education to sustainability. He noted, “Education is the most important thing in the life of everyone. Education is a tool of life that gives us the opportunity to survive and live in the village or in the city or anywhere you are. We should receive an education first from the family. After the family, they need to receive an education from their teachers. In my life I have felt that education is the most important thing for me. If I was not educated, I would not be able to communicate with foreigners. Now, due to my education I am in this position that makes me very happy. This is my wonderful life.”
Chitra also shared his perspective on sustainability and the challenges to sustainability in the mountains. He observed that sustainability is most successful in the mountains when the community is strong and cooperative. “You can see in this area we have done many projects, which is the symbol of sustainability. The villagers are working together for the community.” And yes, you can definitely feel the strength of the community in this region. The villagers have come together in a way that showcases their pride and culture while building a community centered on sustainable practices.
One of the most memorable experiences that took place today was our visit with a local farmer and his family. We hiked to a local farm where a family was working the fields with two oxen. The family walked behind the oxen as the oxen pulled a wooden spade. The father controlled the oxen while the mother and her friend planted corn immediately behind the spade. The labor was intense. They controlled the oxen in a methodical way, back and forth across the terraces of the mountain.
We interviewed the farmer, Mr. Kesh Bahadur Purja, about his farming practices and what education means to him and his way of life. He described that he was planting corn for the growing season and that he learned his farming practices from his father. In about five months they will harvest the corn and that corn will be used for food. Mr. Purja described that for him the importance of education is to maintain his culture and way of life.
As we interviewed Mr. Purja, we heard rain and thunder moving in like a truck behind us. Before we knew it, it was again raining and hailing. A neighbor, Ms. Keshari Sherpunja, invited us into her home to escape the rain. We took this opportunity to sit down with her and ask about her life as mother of the household. Ms. Sherpunja is married and has four children. Her favorite part of living in Nangi is working in her potato fields. When asked what challenges she has in her life, she simply replied, “I have none.” A beautiful perspective.
When we returned to the Community Lodge for the night, the sensory overload of new experiences continued. A Katuwale, the local messenger, came to the lodge. He climbed on a platform of rocks and, in songlike fashion, shared the messages of the day for all villagers to hear in their homes.
Day 5: May 3
The next day we were up early for our 74 mile (119 km) trip down the mountain to Beni and on to Pokhara. It was an even more dramatic ride down the mountain than the trip up had been. The rain had turned the mountainside into a ski slope and the Bolero literally slalomed its way down the mountain. Aaron, Chitra, Matthew, and Charlie jumped out and walked for a while until the vehicle was on firmer foundation. Charlie still didn’t like looking out the window when the switchback put him on the cliff-side of the road.
Once we arrived in Beni, we ate a quick meal, switched to a taxi, and headed off to Pokhara, a drive that took another three hours. As noted in the daily update, Pokhara is a popular tourist destination in Nepal, with three of the ten highest mountains in the world (Dhaulagiri, Annapurna, and Manaslu) within 30 miles of the city. It offers great views of the Himalayas and relatively easy access to the Annapurna mountain range. Being on the roads in Nepal has been quite an experience. The chaotic dance between vehicles, people, and animals is ongoing. I’m glad we didn’t have to learn this dance ourselves while we are here.
What a ride it’s been so far! Stay tuned for the next daily and full updates. We are in Pokhara for two nights and then off to Kathmandu to collect more insight on how this beautiful country views education and sustainability.
Please share your perspective on the EnviroNetwork! Our goal is for people around the world to share their ideas on how education and sustainability intersect. For example, what do you believe is the importance of education and how does education, be it from a formal school or your parents and elders, impact your ability to sustain your way of life? We would like EVERYONE to participate. No matter if you are 13 or 90 years old, we want to see you on the network!