Bridge to Nepal Blog

Thursday, December 4, 2008

October 2008

This is my sixth trip to Nepal, and this time my son Daniel (25) is with me. We flew to Lucknow, the state capital in Uttar Pradesh, and Indian state bordering Nepal, then took a eight-hour ride over roads beaten up by the monsoons and crowded with myriad two-tone honking trucks to Nepalgunj, on the Nepali border.

October 17
Nepalgunj

We met up with G and stayed the night in a warm and simple place, a favorite with UN and NGO folks. On the menu is Nepali, Indian and Western fare. The beds are comfortable, and the bathrooms work and are clean. That night, we woke up to choking smoke, which came from a voltage regulator meltdown. We switched to another room and went back to sleep. No lawsuits here. Just life with a smile and great customer service

G serves village fellowships in many parts of Nepal. In 1998, around the time I found out about slavery in Nepal, G was writing articles about them, and looking for help for them. We have now been working together for nearly ten years.

October 18
Tikapur and PremNagar

We are staying at the house of P and B, and M and S, their son-in-law and daughter (left). S and her mother, B are still in Kathmandu, after just delivering her firstborn, Y.

M and S are our main partners in running the schools for the ex-slaves here. They live with S's parents in a nice house, in a two-acre compound that includes the church building, and a home for 30 children. These children are sponsored at $10 a month, with the understanding that they contribute by tending a vegetable garden and go to school. Many of the children have grown up with P and B; some now live in the house and a few teach at PremNagar school.

I found out at dinner that I was speaking the next morning at Tikapur. We drove into Tikapur well after the meeting started, and were welcomed with garlands, then it was straight to front. The brothers and sisters in Tikapur has grown to over 2000, and grown into many small congregations. There were barely 100 that day, and while speaking that day I made sure to go close to an hour, as anything less would be an insult to those rapt listeners. Then there were at least 20 waiting to be prayed for at the end of the meeting. Oh – we need God to step in, the sicknesses were so dire that no amount of feel-good would work.

That evening, we visited PremNagar, home to 51 ex-slave families. Many of the families live in brick homes built by Habitat for Humanity (left) for $1000 each, and make payments of $6 a month. They are relatively well off among other ex-slaves. We have been funding the school, but it is not a “private” school, and the government pays Maya, the principal. In April, we brought school supplies, a computer, and books, but since then a number of families have taken their kids out of the school. The school is overcrowded, and needs bars on the windows ($700) before M feels safe introducing the books and supplies.
This school was started by YWAM in 2004, and we took over funding a year ago. We have a committee that meets one every two months (right), but there is a lack of unity. G, M, Daniel, and I met with Maya, and a few other parents and young men on benches and charpais (literally “fourlegs”, a bed frame woven with jute rope, which doubles as a bed and sofa). A baby goat insisted on butting my leg with his bony head, and children milled around until the parents shooed them away. I explained that the unity of the community is critical, and that others will try to use money to gain influence to control the community. (See the section below on the economy). When we had taught and encouraged, there was a warm settling of old issues as the light faded and lanterns were brought in, and the group was ready to go forward, get electricity connected to the school, and stop the bickering.

Most of the PremNagar residents are in two churches that separated from the Tikapur church, and now meet in a small house a few steps away from the school. Fourteen lots in the village are in a low-lying part of PremNagar, and prone to flooding during the monsoons. This year, the water was four feet deep in many of the houses, and for two days the residents took shelter in the school. There is a piece of higher land that is adjacent to these houses, and the owner is willing to sell it as PremNagar separates his land from the main road. We are considering buying this, and building a new school as well while we are at it.

October 19
Grace School
I was here in April, with Suzie, Tim (23), Michael (17) and Gubby(15) to inaugurate the new Grace School (left). It was not ready then, but we went ahead and had our launch anyway. School actually started in June. About 75 are enrolled, and around 100 actually attend. There are blackboards, and desks, and the school looks great in its new colors.

This year we have nursery, and grades 1, 2, and 3. The little ones are reciting A, B, C …. with one guy belting it out in front of the classroom, and the others howling in unison. (click on the video clip at the bottom of this post to hear for yourself!)The blackboards are cleaned with a brush. Black powder falls from the board. We need to get some real green boards, but nobody thinks they have a bad deal. They so love their school. Looking out of the windows, the lines of reapers are leaning up sheaves of paddy to dry in the sun. I was trying to make a point about the importance of being in school when I asked the kids if they would rather be out in the fields. The looks I got said, “what planet are YOU from?” and “I have a pencil – I don’t do farming”. Finishing touches are still being applied. One of these days, we will get electricity. Then we will build the toilet block on the field next door, when the water table drops. Surrounding the school yard are rice paddies, and the crop grows in water a foot deep just on the other side of the wall. By buying the field next door, it will make it more possible for the septic system to handle the 150 kids. Grace School is in Peeperkoti, between AshaNagar (Hope Town) and ViswasNagar (Faith Town), each of which were supposed to house 20 families. Because the land is very fertile, the residents of AshaNagar moved out to a nearby area, so they can use their land for cultivation. Only 7 families live in ViswasNagar. Still, the school seems to have the excitement and support of the community. It is the largest building for miles and, with its brick red color and shiny metal roof, it stands out from among the mud shacks and rice paddies.

AshaNagar and ViswasNagar are separated from the Tikapur area by a river which is just a fordable trickle in the dry season, but grows to 20-30 feet in depth during the monsoons. Now, in October, the only way across is on a small, rickety, flat bottomed boat (left). It costs 5 rupees, 40 rupees for the motorbikes. Later in the year, the locals erect bamboo bridges so they can walk across. Even the motor bikers zoom across these little bridges. We are planning to build a zip line for this crossing. We need to buy land on both sides of the river. The floods this year wiped out land on the river banks, so a farmer is willing to sell us his land on one side, and the local government council will sell us a small piece on the other side. We visited the sites and Madan will follow up to buy the land in a few weeks. We will settle a few families on the land, and give them the job of operating the zip line and collecting fares.

October 20

Today was a long day of travels, from Tikapur to the Dhangarhi area, and then back to Nepalgunj.
First, a visit to Kichahi Siwir, where I visited in April. The team from Goa accompanied us to this very poor settlement of former slaves, many of whom were now followers of Jesus, prayed to encourage them, and dropped off a bale of old clothes. At the start of 2007, we had bought 17 buffaloes, and many in this village had received one.

This time, the village looked green and beautiful, the crops were just in, and there were about 35 waiting to meet us. G had visited a week ago, and brought more clothes from Kathmandu. The fields and roads had been flooded then, and now all was dry again.

Our next trip was to Khalladahe. There are 400 families here on a fertile river plain. Two weeks ago, the river surged, and within minutes the village was waist deep in water. Many buffaloes, sheep and goats were swept away. Many homes have traces of mud on their walls, three to four feet high. Outside one home, the stuffing of a mattress was drying in the sun (right).

We met with the church in a small hut with a cross on the wall, but there were about 35 in that small space, with mothers nursing babies, and a few men in the front. Many were sick; a doctor could spend a week here and just be getting started. Prem leads this church too. More than ten raised their hands (right)to say they had received buffaloes the year before. One who had a buffalo now has a small store, selling potatoes, soap, shampoo, matches, and other basics, testament to how a buffalo changes a livelihood very quickly.

A donor has already given money for two buildings to be built, but the need here is for a bigger building, raised four feet off the ground, so it can double as a nursery school and a flood shelter. There is no shortage of water here, but a Living Water system will also be needed here to help the folks get away from all of the water borne diseases that they live with.

I preached a short message, then prayed for dozens of women and children. Later, Daniel bought vitamins and sent them back with Prem, along with some of the first-aid meds he had brought with him. Like the bottles of water we dropped off at Kichahi Siwir, there is so much need, and so little that we can do.

I slept all the way back to Nepalgunj, and woke up at the Travelers Village. Tomorrow, October 21, it will be back to Lucknow, where I booked at a hotel for $120 a night. My cell phone and iPhone will be back online and I can read about the Wall Street woes and our panicked populace.

The Economy
The Maoists made promises before the elections in April, and now are delivering on some of them.

Khushi Ram (left) lives in PremNagar. We redeemed him in 2000. He and his family are featured in our 2001 film, “Setting the Captives Free”. Khushi now makes a living breaking rock by hand. Rocks are brought by truck from the bottoms of rivers, and a crew of people with two-pound hammers break the rocks into one inch cubes for mixing into concrete. Unlike the women who are now blinded by the little stone chips, most rock breakers now wear dark glasses. The price of a standard measure has been 1200 rupees. But now the Maoists have told them to sell for 1600 rupees, and they will fine anyone who sells for less.

Maya, the principal at the PremNagar school, will also get a raise soon. She is already paid NR 5,000, and the government will raise her salary to NR 10,000. Since the rest of the teachers are not paid by the government, their salaries will now be just a quarter of Maya's.

Gopal paid Ramesh, our driver, 3000 Nepali rupees. The exchange rate has “always” been 1.6 Nepali to 1.0 Indian. But now Nepali banks have no Indian rupees, and nobody in India will take the Nepali rupees. The exchange rate will have to give. But Maya and Khushi can enjoy their government-mandated wage increases.