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Lisa's Blog0005: Trip to Sarlahi

Lisa Pier March 30, 2016; Wednesday 10:50 NST (Nepal Standard Time)

After I had spent about four months in Hoste Hainse's main office in Kathmandu, dealing with our programs from the organizational point of view, we finally made it to visit Hoste Hainse's core activities in Sarlahi, a very remote area in Nepal's south. Sarlahi is a so called 'durgam chhetra' what means that poverty in this district is very high and the education level very low. I knew all that before we left Kathmandu on Sunday March 6, 2016, to visit our four schools and around 2,000 students, an Income Generation Program and grounds for a fish farming Income Generation Program which is supposed to be established soon.

Although I knew it, I had seen photos, communicated with our local program coordinator, Binay Chaudhary, and was pretty much involved in our Sarlahi projects, it was very eye opening to actually go there, spend two whole days and see everything with my own eyes. Sarlahi is, as I already mentioned, located in Nepal's southern part which is mostly very flat and hot, so in the end totally different from the post earthquake Hoste Hainse project I visited in Sindhupalchowk in December (see blog entry #2). And it's not only about the landscape which differs but also the projects itself: The Hoste Hainse projects in Sarlahi started over 17 years ago and within this time four Community Schools in the villages Shreepur, Sahodwa, Dhangada and Padariya have been established. The school in Dhangada is a High School while the three other ones educate kids until grade five, starting with an Early Childhood Development center. The term Community School in Nepal has got quite abroad range of meanings since the Nepalese government started transforming its public schools into Community Schools (means run by a local committee) to decrease its expenses on education. Like this the Nepalese government ended up spending only 1% of its annual budget on education. Anyway, for Hoste Hainse the term Community School has a different meaning: it is a private school which is free for everyone, so no fees, and is run by a local board / committee in cooperation with Hoste Hainse. Apart from the education programs, Hoste Hainse invested in Income Generation Programs which enable people who would like to improve their economic situation and hence, their living conditions but don't have enough money to finance the initial investments which need to be done. These people or communities received grants in form of goats, buffaloes, sewing machines or Skill Development Trainings to get their own little business running or be able to feed their families.

This should be enough background, let's come to our trip on March 06 to March 11, 2016:

On Sunday in the early morning we packed all our stuff while it rained after a long time. Rain while departure is known as a good sign for a fruitful and nice trip. So I was more than okay with it. :) We left Kathmandu around 9:30 am and started our journey to Sarlahi via very scenic roads. The one we used was only built a couple of years ago so there was not much traffic and the road was in an extremely good condition, compared to the paths which lead to Sindhupalchowk. Since I just did my TOEFL exam the day before, finished my last blog entry and had a lot of work during the last week I was very tired and my mind just empty, a long road trip with amazing views was just perfect for me. Sorry for having been so quiet all the way. ;)

Obligatory Dal Bhat break:

We passed this place which is famous for its oranges and of course we got out and bought some since oranges were kind of our main nutrition during the whole trip. Oh no; for Krishna it was definitely Pringles since he pretends to eat junk food only during trips, ha ha!

Around 5pm we finally arrived in Lalbandi, one of the bigger cities in Sarlahi where one can find a couple of hotels and shops and where we stayed and were welcomed by Binay Chaudhary. Binay worked for Hoste Hainse from the very beginning on in Sarlahi and has, as far as I got to know him, an extremely good knowledge about how to do successful development work in Sarlahi. He is the one who coordinates and communicates with everyone, whether it would be teachers, students or government institutions on a local level and reports to the HH office in Kathmandu.

The first evening we just spent indoors, having too much food, talking about our schedule for the next days and I tortured Binay through a lot of questions regarding the proposal for a fish farming Income Generation Program which will be established soon, funded by 3rd Creek Foundation. You heard this name before? Right, Gwen with who we went to Sindhupalchowk last December is a member of it and worked with Hoste Hainse for a very long time already. This evening was quite productive and we went to bed totally tired, the next day was supposed to be an exciting one!

But first the next day was meant to test my tolerance in the early morning once again: Dal Bhat (Rice with curries and dal) at 9 am. I could do it! Next we had a two hour drive to the first school in Sahodwa ahead of us, mainly via unpaved roads which were straight and long and had wheat or other fields ad little rivers on their sides, it reminded me to my time in India in January. That day was March 7 and time for the Nepali Shivaratri festival which is dedicated to celebrate the god Shiva. In Kathmandu this means that lots of so called Yogis stream into the city and do their Puja (prayer) at Pashupatinath temple. Apart from that Shiva is a god who used to drink alcohol and smoke weed - and to worship this everyone has the chance to get drunk and stoned at the middle of the day. But since we were on a serious mission that day this did not apply for us. ;) For kids there are other traditions though: On the way lots of little gangs stopped our car with improvised blockades, asked for money to everyone who went by and had a lot of fun.

After a while, driving through deserted landscapes and passing simple houses, made out of mud and coconut tree leaves, maybe with a buffalo or goat lying in front of it, people washing or bathing in the river, the Shreepur School appeared in front of us. Everyone lined up on the street and we were welcomed with smiles, flowers, tika and this lovely sign:

After we had a small talk with the teachers Krishna and Barsha started taking class photos of all students while I was talking to teachers. They were all super friendly, excited and proud of their school and students. The whole village community had come together to watch the people visiting the Shreepur school, I guess we were the first visitors after a very long time and especially western guests seemed to be quite rare.

We did not spend much time in Shreepur; just enough to take all photos walk once through all classes to say hi and see how it goes and then already left for the next school in Sahodwa. Before we left we also visited one student's home right next to the school. One of these mud huts which consist of one room in which everyone sleeps and a corner in which people cook. Now I know why it is difficult to accommodate volunteers in Sarlahi. This is not only extremely far from western standards but I think that people who are used to a western environment can almost not imagine how people live in Sarlahi.

Krishna is very skeptical about volunteers staying here because it has happened before that people stayed in the villages and had to return to Kathmandu earlier because they fell sick; hygienic facilities are definitely not at its best there. Since I already stayed in Nepal for so long a and was amazed by the peoples' kindness, I would just love to stay in one of the villages for a bit longer the next time I come to Nepal. Let's see what happens; meanwhile, maybe someone will build a simple vacation home in Padariya in which volunteers could stay when they need some basic western standards? ;)

Back to our schedule: After we left Shreepur, it was only a 30 minutes drive to the next school in Sahodwa. This has mainly been funded by the German Kindermissionswerk and also includes grades one to five, plus one Early Childhood Development class.

We mainly did the same procedure as in Shreepur: taking class pictures and we handed over a new plaque for the school building. There were a couple of girls in Sahodwa who were super lively and shy at the same time, so when Barsha updated data on her laptop, the surface of it worked as a mirror and the girls could not get enough of trying to stand in front of the laptop and seeing their laughing faces in it... wow.

Also this school we left very quickly after we all pictures were made and all classes visited.

Next stop: The Hoste Hainse Dhangada High School! This school is the only High School run by Hoste Hainse in Sarlahi and accomodates children successfully until their SLC's (School Leaving Certificate) after class ten, with it is a funny feeling when you walk into a classroom and everyone stands up and almost shouts "good morning" right into a passing rate of 90%+ over the last 17 years! The school is accordingly bigger than the ones in Shreepur and Sahodwa; so many children!

It took them a while to get back to their classrooms and until we started to take all their pictures. These were a lot of classes. From Early Childhood Development Center to class 10. Due to the heat which slowly came up it got really tiring for Krishna and Barsha to take photos and update our data sheets. But things need to be done. ;) Because the Dhangada School does not have enough space for all the children who would like to attend it some classes are held outside, seeking shade under trees or some kind of shelters. This should be changed soon through an additional building. What I also noticed in Dhangada was that many of the teachers, especially the ones who teach higher classes, spoke very good English and loved to communicate with me, explain me their schools or subjects, also when Pancha Narayan, our driver, and me made our tour through all classrooms while Krishna and Barsha did the photo shooting.

It is funny when all kids stand up and almost shout good morning right into your face and then don't really dare to speak to you - especially when their English is not as good yet and my Nepali, especially in very lose conversations, is definitely not sufficient. But some of the lovely teachers helped me out and somehow we made it!

After this we had a short break in which I made sure not to drink buffalo milk or anything as critical. ;)

One of our German partner organizations, Chance for Life Nepal, has the funding concept of private donors having a certain child they support in Dhangada. Since our local program coordinator is an awesome asset to Hoste Hainse the only thing he might still have to learn is how to take individual pictures of children which do not make them look like recently tortured criminals. :) So our objective was to take photos of the supported children in which they look as happy and beautiful as they are; this was Krishna's job.

See how beautiful they are, these little models:

Barsha and I meanwhile sat down with the other about 60 kids and encouraged them to write a letter to their supporters in Germany. This was easier said than done because when you live in a village somewhere in Sarlahi, totally cut off from the rest of the world, you simply cannot imagine what power a nice and personal letter to your supporter has and what their support, coming from Germany, mean. So we asked them just to write something about their personal lives, what they enjoy to do in their free time and what they would like to do in their future. Small children were just asked to draw a nice picture.

Being there physically definitely helped to make them write something personal. For some students, especially the older ones, it seemed to be a pleasure and they also helped to check younger children's letters; for others it was a bit more difficult. So what happened in one group was that one girl wrote a nice letter and all her friends just copied it because they didn't know what to write. So we sat down with each of them and did the whole thing all over again. Also there we had some communication problems so I was sometimes dependent on Barsha's translations or phrases she taught me until a young guy came buy who could not speak English but write and understand it, so with a funny mixture of Nepali and English we worked on a girl's letter.

This way of being with the children I liked much more than standing in front of them und just saying hi while we walked through all classrooms. I would love to come back one day and spend even more time with the kids here.

But also our time here came to an end and, while the sun set, we made our way back to the Hotel in Lalbandi. This was an exciting day and everyone was very tired, so once we were back all of us did their own work, sitting down in the dining room and rarely talking to each other.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016.

This day was only scheduled with visiting the Hoste Hainse Padariya school and the local fish farm plus grounds for the new Hoste Hainse fish farm and an Income Generation Program village. So again, waking up early, having Dal Bhat and then we made our way to Padariya where we were once again welcomed very warmly. The school in Padariya has only been built a few months back and educates children from Early Childhood Development classes until class five.

Since right at the very moment when we arrived there, traders had come to the local fish farm and we were very interested in learning more about all this fish farming thing we just quickly left for the fish farm right away and then returned to the school later.

It was stunning and for me also kind of disgusting to see how fish is caught in Nepal. They just walk right into the pond, catch the fish with their hands and then just leave it on a plastic sheet in the sun until it dies. I was happy when we left that place again. Just had to tell myself that this gives people business.

After this we just stopped by at a land which could be the grounds for the new Hoste Hainbse / 3rd Creek Foundation fish farming income generation program, accompanied by a group of men who would love to start a fish farming business but need help to start it.

Back to the school and, as usual, taking class pictures. Here it was even harder to arrange the kids in a nice way because most of them did not speak English at all and some of them also had very much difficulty with Nepali, so it was more a communication through sign language, but also this worked after a while. It seems to be a natural thing that Nepali kids don't like to smile on photos, so it needed quite a bit of motivation, jokes from Krishna's and Binay's side until we got nice pictures. The good thing was that they made literally everyone laugh and whenever the bunch of kids started smiling it sounded like happy bees humming. :)

On the way to Binay's hometown, Malhangwa, which is Sarlahi's capital and very, very close to the Indian border, we passed a village which received quite a few things to improve their economic living conditions through Income Generation Programs such as buffalos, goats or cows provided via Hoste Hainse.

One group of women also has got sewing machines and another one now owns one of these little shops where you can buy literally everything. Krishna bought 10 Cheese Ball packs and gave it to the villagers' children who were almost fighting to get one of these snacks, but they all shared it very nicely in the end. :)

It was a busy little town in which we had our lunch and then visited Binay's home where his wife made tea for us. Here volunteers have lived before. Having had a nice cup of tea and conversation we already left his place and drove back all the way to Lalbandi. Krishna and Binay all day had some probably very interesting talks in Nepali about background history in Sarlahi, other programs and whatever else and since I understand a bit of Nepali but not everything it got very tiring for me to listen to them. But later Krishna translated everything for, so I was ok. ;)

Also before we finally returned back to our hotel we stopped by at a carpet factory where Krishna and Binay talked to the owners while Barsha and I walked around through and took photos of weavers and lots of raw material. This was all because Krishna thinks about opening a child labour free carpet factory in Sarlahi to sustain his business Formation Carpets. This would be good for Formation Carpets, good for Sarlahi and also good for Hoste Hainse since Skill Development trainings for carpeting, accounting and weaving could be held so that people in Sarlahi have more perspectives to increase their income. Luckily building inSarlahi is, because of the flat terrain, very much easier and therefore cheaper than in Sindhupalchowk where another carpet factory to help the (not yet) rebuilt Hoste Hainse schools to be self sustainable is planned to be built soon as well.

Back in Lalbandi, Binay, Pancha, Barsha and me decided to walk around the town for a bit because I did not want to leave this place without having walked through it at least once. Since it was already dark by the time we left there was not too much to see apart from people selling vegetables for which Lalbandi is famous for and various shops and street food stands. The atmosphere was very nice, even though the 'Highway' goes right through the city.

The next day we already left Sarlahi again, back via the scenic route, just stopping once for a little snack on the road and then entering the Kathmandu smoggy world again (which became much worse after the fuel crisis lifted). It is crazy that you just realize how polluted the air in here is when you have been away for a couple of days. Sulo, who I still live with these days welcomed me with a cinnamon bun and a relaxed evening. I was already thinking about how to schedule my next days, a trip to Pokhara needed to be planned. :)

In the end our trip to Sarlahi was a very good experience for me because I finally was able to meet a lot of the children I daily dealt with and talk about in the office and I saw a very different and extremely remote part of Nepal which opened my eyes on how people have to live in some places, and how happy they can be at the same time. The next time I will come to Nepal and/or Sarlahi I would definitely spend more time at each school but for a first impression that all was more than fair enough, thanks that you made it happen, Krishna! And thanks for answering all my questions, Binay! Thanks for tolerating my 'craziness' about brushing my teeth, Barsha! And thanks for driving us and giving me company whenever I needed it, Pancha! :)

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