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Posts Tagged ‘PRERANA’

Time for Chitwan stories! In the spirit of real blogging (aka not novels but somewhat shortish excerpts), I’m going to break this into two posts. Sorry that this is nearly a week after I returned home. It’s my last week of work with Prerana and I’ve been busy with the creation of a fundraising guidelines manual. That and I’ve been having delicious, late dinners with co-workers, travellers etc. which leaves me too exhausted to blog in the evening!

dinner with Matt and Shusa

You all know what sort of state I was in when I arrived, so we won’t relive those painful moments.

After getting some rest I ventured out for a ‘cultural’ walk with my guide for the weekend, Raja. The Terai district of Nepal is unbelievably different from the Kathmandu valley – it’s dry, rural, and hot hot hot! Not that Kath isn’t hot, but this heat was dry and much more intense (37-43 C in the afternoon). So even at 4:00 pm I got my sweat on just from walking out the front door of my hotel room.

out of my hotel room and into fresh, beautiful gardens!

We wandered around a traditional Tharu village  for over an hour.

Fact: Tharu’s are the only people who have survived in the Terai district for millennia. Since the region they inhabit was malaria-infested (until the WHO came in with DDT and solved that problem), no other ethnic groups survived the terrain. They’ve built up a genetic resistance to malaria and have had minimal problems with the disease that would ruthlessly wipe out thousands of other groups.

This was a quaint photo-op I stumbled upon… 

The village was interesting but also disheartening. These people continue to live so primitively, while we westerners seem to have access to everything at our fingertips. I admire the simplicity of their lives and the emphasis on family, but life seemed just all-around hard for everyone. They live in humble thatched huts made from mud and lattice – with limited access to running water and electricity.

And women were working so hard, cutting jungle grass, sifting flour, weaving sun hats, herding water buffalo, collecting wheat. You name it, they were constantly busy doing it.

Men appeared to be sitting around quite a bit…honestly! Either that or they were digging trenches to keep the rhino’s away from the village and crops. There were cows, buffalo, chickens, dogs, and goats running around everywhere. And loads of children were sleeping outside of the huts, on only thin-weaved mats.

I’ll tell you one thing, Nepali kids are freakin’ adorable. They just have that ‘something’ in the soul of their eyes. It’s vulnerable and soo honest.  

I discovered this little babe, relaxing in his crib…

During the hot walk, I was still struggling with my stomach, but didn’t really want to admit it. It reared its ugly head anyways when I had to pull over into some bushes. Sigh.

Raja immediately asked me, “poops?” I laughed and said, “no, pukes.”  He could see the pain on my face and promptly wandered into the forest for a few minutes.

I waited, since he didn’t tell me to follow.

He came back with an odd-looking leafy plant and shoved it in my face. “Eat it, Jamie. I swear you’ll feel not only better, but good in less than 20 minutes.”

I weighed my options – nothing could really make me sicker at this point and he didn’t seem interested in kidnapping me into the jungle…I ate the plant. It really didn’t have any flavour and the texture was similar to spinach.

Away we went. And away my stomach problems went too. He’s a smart man, that Raja.

I told Raja to take a picture, since this was the first time I was able to walk fully upright in a loong time. People who have seen me hung over know exactly what I'm talking about!

After the village wander, we plunked down beside the Rapti river and watched the sunset over the jungle – just the two of us and a couple of water buffalos grazing. Raja told me stories of Bengal Tiger and One-Horned Rhino encounters, while he pointed out the different species of birds flying around. It was spectacular.

I got a little nervous when the buffalo came too close.

Raja: “Forget them. They don’t care about us. They are hungry for grass.”

Me: “I think that one is giving me the evil eyes. Are they supposed to stamp their foot like that?”

Raja casually turns around, clearly only to humour my fears.

Raja:” Yes. Yes you are right. That one doesn’t like you. Get up. NOW.”

Me: “Expletives” and a serious mad dash to get over the nearby fence.

Throughout the entire weekend this same situation happened another three times! Raja suspected it might be my blue eyes that pissed em off. We’ll never know for sure, but I do know how to spot the ‘evil-eyed buffalo’ out of the crowd!

He's tied to a fence. I'm safe.

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The weekend all started with a productive work day on Friday wrapping up with a 3-hour long dinner meeting with the entire staff and board of Prerana. A lot of well-educated women make up the executive committee and it was inspiring to hear what sort of humanitarian work they all have their hands wet in. Plus, now I have some research behind me when I have to explain the female leader roles in the org for my proposal! The food at dinner was fantastic too, mind you, I’m struggling with all the -gasp- cilantro. I’m not surprised it’s so present in Nepali/Indian dishes, but ugh do I HATE that herb!

Saturday was culturally explosive for me. I was a guest at a Prerana cultural program, centred on action for women against violence, that took place in the Lele valley. It took over an hour to get there on a dusty, windy, ‘road’. Our bus was crammed to the max with women from all around Kathmandu (many of them disabled) and all of them full of passion! I’ve never heard such laughter, singing, and yelling!

The views on the ride up were spectacular

And, I finally saw clear blue sky! Kathmandu has such poor air quality that despite the fact that it’s been a balmy 25 plus everyday since I arrived, you can never truly make out the sky past the smoggy haze hovering over the city. I’ve figured it out now. Just drive for about 20 minutes straight up and wham! you’ve got green pastures, rolling hills, and ah, yes, straight up sunshine. Delicious.

After turning a barren-looking empty spot on the side of the road, into a full-blown stage set up (chairs, banners, sound-system, and sun-shielding tarps), the dancers/singers and I all sat down for a hearty meal of chow-mein. Some of the girls were around my age and are professional dancers in the valley. And they are in love with Western culture. It was riot to compare skin/hair colour, giggle at my attempt to speak Nepali (and them, English), and attempt to learn a few traditional dance moves. Plus, they couldn’t believe I put the ‘spicy sauce’ all over my meal. That’s right, I can handle it!

I blend right in.

The program itself was unreal. I imagine it’s similar to what some tourists see in the Newari/Nepali traditional restaurants in Thamel (tourist district), but so so much more. All of the entertainment had a clear message: women have to fight for their rights. They have to rise above only believing their place is in their home. They have a voice and they need to come together and use it as one.

What was even more inspiring than the women putting on the program, was the audience in itself. Women of all ages gathered to take in the festivities and they shouted along with the speakers as they drove home their message. They were cheerfully clapping along with the dancing and nodding in agreement to the discussions. I stared in awe at the glittering array of colourful sari’s, shining in the afternoon sunlight.

Lele villagers enjoying the performance

Men also gathered to watch the show and listen. Though, I did see one young boy rip up the info paper and throw it in a little girl’s face – disheartening, I know, but you have to persevere and keep pushing for change.

It all wrapped up with the awkward foreigner (me!) being forced to dance on stage with all the performers. At that point in the day I was pretty used to being pointed and stared at anyways, so I might as well make a fool out of myself!

dance, dance, dance.

Ah, you know it’s a good day when you fall fast asleep on a very uncomfortable bus ride and you wake with sore cheeks from smiling so much.

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Turns out that a move is not in my future after all. I’m pretty happy about the situation, since moving out to the ‘burbs of Kath wasn’t entirely appealing to me. Why the change of plans? I spent all of Thursday at the Prerana office, with no power and no internet (laptop has a crap battery, so that only lasted about an hour before it pooped out).

Since I’m doing quite a bit of internet research for work purposes, having access to the web for a good portion of the day is critical. And the two apartments I viewed had no internet connections and still involved an epic trek to the office.

So I talked it over with Rajendra (volunteer logistics guru) and we’ve opted for me to work from the passage house three days a week and I’ll commute to Prerana twice weekly. Et Voila. The commute will involve an hour-long tuk tuk ride, followed by a twenty-minute cab (but it’s cheap and hey, I came here for an experience!)

I’ve also narrowed my focus of work. I’ve already started drafting a proposal to submit to Global Women’s Fund on behalf of Prerana (centred around core funding access). My main challenges with this task are gathering/interpreting information and figuring out a way around the language barriers (most documentation is written in Nepali and only one staff member can speak English somewhat well). I’m also going to create a promotional double-sided 8.5 x 11 piece highlighting Prerana’s accomplishments and expertise. Right now they don’t have much to hand out at potential partnership meetings – other than massive documents that don’t give a solid overview of what Prerana actually offers. And hopefully, I’ll be able to tweak the website – make changes to the content and add a few new pages providing insight into specific programming.

It’s a decent sized list for what is now only eight days of work! 

Signing a partnership agreement with a disabled children's hospital board.

Outside of work, it has been relatively quiet. I’ve had several amazing South-Asian meals (which I promise I’ll take pictures of next time), got shuttled around the city on a motor-bike (SO fun!) and saw what I consider devastating – a starved, dead dog on the sidewalk. Tear. More and more I realize how damn lucky my own pup is. I always feel guilty for leaving her crated most of the day while we’re at work, but life ain’t all that bad. Obviously, the poverty levels with people is terrible here too, but dogs just tug at my heart-strings in a way I can’t explain…

Oh, and I also caught a monkey hopping a ride across the street on the back of a cow!  Pure Nepali entertainment right there.

Hitchin a ride with Pushpa around Kath. Nearly lost my knees in some of the tight traffic!

Off to bed – blogging has been my sleeping pill since day one here – it’s working perfectly! Looking forward to a cultural Prerana program out of the valley tomorrow and planning my upcoming weekend trip to Chitwan! Ciao.

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Well, jet lag caught up with me on my first night and I didn’t fall asleep until closer to 4 am. The plus side of that was we had power all night! There are serious problems with electricity in Nepal so everyone in Kathmandu is on a power cut schedule (regulated blackout periods to conserve). We have 8-12 hour blocks during day/night where we have no electricity. Luckily, we do have one floor with back up plugs and lights, but unfortunately for me, that floor doesn’t host my bedroom. Anyways, last night we managed to keep our power, despite the schedule indicating a blackout and that meant  I got to sneak in a few Skype sessions – always nice when you can’t sleep.

My following morning was a little sleepy, but fuelled by Vietnamese coffee – two program coordinators just returned from a regional meeting in Hanoi and shared their caffeine wealth. We had a tour around the CECI office (everyone seems to still be in Vietnam, so it was pretty quiet), followed by a meeting with my partner organization, PRERANA. Now, it turns out that they are located outside of Kathmandu (but still in the valley) and it took over an hour to get there. So, tomorrow I’ll be touring two apartments in Lalitpur (the location of PRERANA) so I don’t have to take expensive cabs to work everyday. Being able to walk to the org is extremely important since I’m such a short-term volunteer. Kathmandu has political strikes quite often and literally everything in the city shuts down while these carry on. They aren’t violent, but they are disruptive to traffic flows and business – walking allows me to get to work when a strike happens.

But back to my meeting with my partner org. The team I met was made up of program coordinators for women’s rights, educated board and chair members (and they literally call themselves educated in their titles), a comms/web person, and an accountant. Most of the ’employees’ who I met, have a second job that actually pays the bills since this one is mostly volunteer. They struggle with getting any core funding (consistent funding to pay for overhead costs) – which is why they wanted me to help with fundraising initiatives. These are extremely passionate people who care about helping others and empowering women. I was inspired by their determination the moment I walked into the room.

After getting settled on the floor, with a hot cup of tea in front of each of us, we got down to business. Oh, and I forgot to mention – the director of the Leave for Change program from Toronto came with me – just to make an already nerve-wracking meeting that much more comfortable!

Getting to know the PRERANA team.

Overall it went well. I left the introduction with a list of work expectations and a ton of reading to finish before I officially start on Thursday.  Some of their priorities are extremely important, but simply  not possible for me to finish in the 2.5 weeks I’ll have with the org. For example, number 5 on their list was, “support our processes and document a strategic plan for coming 5 year”. Hah – writing a proper strategic plan should take months! So, we decided they would put in another volunteer request solely for this task, someone who would be a 3-5 month volunteer. The ‘doable’ tasks include preparing a basic draft guideline for fundraising, helping with a draft proposal on women’s rights for global funding, and creating an organizational profile which will outline their programs and expertise.

Whew. I’m feeling a tad overwhelmed with all the learning I have ahead. But, I do get to play a bit before I jump in headfirst. We have a city tour coming up and we’ve eaten at several appealing restaurants (the fridge doesn’t have back up power, so most meals aren’t at home). 

I've discovered our rooftop patio is a great place to relax with a book in hand. The view is wonderful.

And I even ventured for a walk, entirely alone. The traffic still rattles me slightly when I have to cross the road, but I’m getting used to the winding dirt streets and dodging cows – and their shit. Now if only I could navigate properly and not get lost on my way back!

A suprisingly quiet back alley in Kathmandu.

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