I have had the privilege of visiting Nepal a number of times over the last decade. The Nepali people and this country have a special place in my heart. Most of my visits have been for work, with the exception of a trek to the base camp of Everest in 2018 with my nephew to fulfil a lifelong dream. This was the first time I have been able to visit Nepal as a representative of Building Strong Families (BSF) and what a memorable time it was.
It was a visit that had a bit of everything: wild motorbike rides to visit communities during the wet season, meeting some of the most hospitable families who have so little but give so much, valuable face to face team building and planning meetings, delicious buffalo momos, some tummy bugs, and dodging dengue fever outbreaks. But perhaps what inspired me most was the wonderful changes in those facing poverty who have been empowered to keep children in a loving and safe family through BSF partnerships with so many who love and care for these precious Nepali people.
BSF began in January 2020, pioneering its first program in Nepal with our co-partner, CHFN. Since that time, we have assisted 40 families and over 150 people in Nepal with holistic family strengthening opportunities in the regions of Sunakothi, Chhampi, Dhapakhel, and Jharuwarashi. This recent visit was my chance to spend some quality time with our incredible team there, listen to them, learn from them, and check on how things are progressing. I didn't leave disappointed. Please allow me to share some reflections, photos, and videos with you from this inspiring visit.
Day 1 – After about 20 hours since leaving my family in Thailand, which included some flight delays and changes, it was great to finally touch down in Kathmandu, Nepal, and be greeted by Amos, our senior project coordinator who currently overseas our Dhapakhel program. After settling into my hotel (a room without any screens and plenty of gaps in the window frames and door) and being warned about the dengue fever outbreak, I was recommended to wear long pants and the one long-sleeve shirt I brought. It was great to meet up with an old friend, Rob, that evening for some yummy buffalo momos (dumplings).
Day 2 – Monday morning began with a meeting with another old friend and the Chairman of CHFN, Beni, and his leadership team. I was so encouraged to hear how things were progressing. After a delicious traditional Nepali lunch at the office, it was then time to head out to the region of Dhapakhel to see a BSF training day in action. By the time I arrived, families had already gathered and were learning about the role of parents in the family. This training was really interactive and fun…you could see they were enjoying it, learning lots, and their evaluations at the end confirmed that. The training even involved a family activity to try to work together to design packaging for an egg to prevent it from breaking when dropped from a large height…there were some winners and some left with 'a bit of egg on their face', but a lot of laughs all round.
Day 3 – This was what I was really looking forward to…getting out into the communities and meeting the families personally, hearing their stories first-hand, seeing their situations and changes, encouraging one another, and learning from them to try to make our programs even better. Amos kindly helped to facilitate this visit. The first family visit was to Dhapakhel where we met with Rama, Nandika and Ritika.
What an inspiring family! As we reached their mud floor house with a rickety roof, I learned that it used to be three stories but collapsed during a major earthquake and had never been fully rebuilt. Nandika had been trapped inside the house during the earthquake, but her grandfather managed to get her out. Due to extreme poverty and out of desperation, Rama made a decision to send her youngest daughter, Ritika, away to an orphanage to be cared for. After counseling from the BSF team about the importance of keeping a young child in a loving family, she changed her mind and Ritika was delighted to be able to stay with her family. Rama and her family have now been supported holistically in a BSF program with education, health, training days, family fun days, and livelihood assistance in the form of chickens and a chicken coop to help them earn more money to care for their family. I had the privilege of having Rama and Ritika give me a little tour of their chicken farm, and I must say that Ritika looked a little apprehensive about some of those chickens nibbling away near her feet. As I observed the love between Rama and Ritika, I felt so thankful to God for the privilege we all have to be a part of keeping this precious family together. Even just seeing that one family makes it all worthwhile for me.
We also had the privilege of visiting Kanchi and Joshuwa. Before joining BSF, Joshuwa had to drop out of school for a year due to poverty and not being able to pay his school fees. After BSF support, Joshuwa is now back in school and getting great grades. His mum, Kanchi, has also been supported with a greenhouse farm to grow vegetables and a chicken farm. They are so grateful and even made us all lunch, despite our repeated pleas that it wasn’t necessary and that we needed to go. These families give so much from the little they have. This always challenges me.
In the afternoon, we were blessed to visit two families from Jharuwarashi. Bibek is our project coordinator in this region and introduced us to the first family. Suntali was an amazing young widow (husband died in the earthquake) who was taking care of her two children and had also adopted another young girl who had been abandoned by her parents. As we sat in her little galvanized iron temporary shelter, it was hard not to become a little bit emotional. Suntali shared her moving story and also explained how blessed she has felt to be a part of the BSF program and the supportive network she now has to help her through life’s challenges.
As the rain tumbled down, we also visited Kamal Sunar (a widow) and her young adult son, Rabi. BSF has assisted Rabi with raw materials to create copper jugs and items to sell to support his family. It was fascinating to watch Rabi and his uncle skillfully carry out their trade that has been passed down through the generations. It was also encouraging to see how the family works together to support one another. As we sat and listened, it was challenging to hear the complexity of the poverty issue, but also encouraging to hear how the BSF program has brought so much light, hope, joy and opportunity into some dark situations.
On the way home, we also dropped in for a quick visit to meet Raju and Phulmaya. Quite a number of families have skills to raise livestock and goats and have requested BSF to assist them with this. Raju and his family are one such example. It was great to see how his goats are so healthy and have multiplied, providing in a significant way for his family to help them meet their needs. I was also impressed how BSF has gone the extra mile to insure all the goats we provide to families for their first year, and at only a very small cost per animal…this insurance is also subsidized by the government and gives families that added security in case something happens to the goats they receive from BSF in the first year. Raju was all smiles and so thankful to be a part of BSF! It was a pleasure to meet with this precious family and their family of goats.
Day 4 – Unfortunately, Alisha, who is our BSF Chhampi project coordinator, fell ill with dangue fever and was unable to join us but I’m glad we still got to meet up later in the trip as she is doing a great job. Our regular driver was also unavailable, and after one failed attempt with an obviously nervous rental driver, who wasn’t sure where the handbrake was, we decided it may be better to go on motorbikes that day.
Chhampi is one region where we are onto our second cohort of eight families. The first cohort have completed 18 months and so it was great to meet with one of our graduate families, as well as a family currently involved in the program. We also met with the partner church in Chhampi who expressed their absolute delight at being a part of the BSF program to bring hope, love and practical assistance to their community.
The first family we visited in Chhampi was Malit Darji and her two sons and grandmother. Malit is a single mother who had been struggling to cope after her alcoholic husband abandoned the family. BSF has helped Malit to set up and expand a sewing business from her home where she has orders for as much as she can make. I was so impressed with her son, Prajwal, as he shared so fluently in English about the impact of the BSF program in his family. Through help from BSF he has achieved great results in his education and is now choosing to give back to the program by becoming a volunteer with new families in the program. As I watched him interact with the new families as a volunteer, I was so encouraged to see this…for me, that is what we aim for…not just to see families becoming sustainable to support their own family, but to also see them then reaching out and passing on what they have received to be a blessing to others in their community. I feel so privileged to be a part of that.
Just as we were about to leave, Malit asked if she could make a little Nepali outfit for my son and daughter. I was so happy about that idea but said only on the condition that I could pay her the full price for the outfits…to which she repeatedly refused…so I had to settle on buying their son a shirt to express my gratitude. The little outfits looked so cute on my kids, and I am trying to teach them to be so thankful for the abundance they have and to learn to share what they have with others in need. I think they are slowly starting to get it as they see the pictures and hear more stories about our precious BSF families.
We also got to visit Binod and Rina’s family that day. BSF has helped them to set up a restaurant to become more sustainable so they can keep their children in a family. It was fascinating watching them make buffalo momos (dumplings). What wasn’t so fascinating was watching Bibek (BSF project coordinator) get a fish bone stuck in his throat. Thankfully, after trying all sorts of techniques from eating a lemon, drinking water, eating momo dough, etc., the bone eventually dislodged, and he was free to live on to assist more BSF families. Rina actually told us how she learned at a BSF first aid training how to dislodge something from someone’s throat and had used that successfully on her husband once…we were about to line her up to help Bibek.
After lunch, we visited Bibek’s home and the region of Dukuchhap where we may look to do a community assessment and start a new BSF program in 2023. After visiting Dukuchhap, we returned to the CHFN office to conduct a SWOT analysis of the BSF program in Nepal. We gleaned a lot from this analysis to help us refine and improve our programs even more for the future.
Day 5 – It was time to visit the office for a financial audit with CHFN to check on the processes and systems to account for BSF funds. I have to say that I am really impressed with all of their procedures, files, receipts, accounting program, independent annual audits, and the way they endeavor to use BSF funding so effectively for a maximum impact in the lives of our beneficiaries. It is a privilege to partner with them and I think the long-term relationship and friendship I have had with CHFN and the core staff there over almost a decade builds trust and proves integrity over time.
In the afternoon, it was time to attend a BSF Family Fun Day. I think this visit to Nepal really helped me see just how valuable these Family Fun Days are to our families to build relationships within their family, to create space for fun and laughter, and to just give people in a hectic world the opportunity to relax and love one another…and eat some yummy food together. Families from Jahurwarshi and Chhampi combined to celebrate Children’s Day and a special day together at a local botanical garden. As I chatted with Binita, a young girl who has just graduated from Grade 10 and who spoke fluent English, I was so encouraged to hear her share about how blessed her family have been through the BSF program. She is now getting A+ in English (I may need her help to edit this Blog), and her family were provided with three little piglets from BSF that have all grown up and just been sold for 75,000NPR of which they have used the proceeds to buy four more little piglets and after all that and their costs have still saved around 35,000NPR. That is awesome! It was so special to see Prajwal and his aunty at the Family Fun Day too (from the first Chhampi cohort), volunteering and giving back. After lots of fun and photos, it was time for a stroll through the gardens and a big meal to close out the day. One thing I am realizing is that nearly all of our BSF families have never gone on a special outing like this before…it just isn’t anywhere on their radar in the midst of the daily challenges and poverty they face. I am so glad that we can provide these simple but special moments for them to celebrate...moments that many have said they will remember for the rest of their lives.
Day 6 – After living and working in Asia for almost 18 years and doing a similar job much of the time with family strengthening and community development projects, I have realized that sometimes some of the most productive meetings are the informal ones. So, at the end of a busy week and some very long days, it was great to thank and reward all the CHFN team with a bit of a trek and lunch. As we trekked about 5km to the 2,700m summit of what the Nepali’s refer to as a “hill”, I realized this is higher than the tallest mountains in both Australia and Thailand. As we walked along through the clouds and rainforest, it was a wonderful time to connect as a team and reflect on the trip and the impact the BSF program is having in the lives of so many families. On the drive home, after a bit of motion sickness for some, we stopped for a final “last supper” together. What a full and productive week with some real heroes who are the backbone of this BSF program.
Day 7 – It was time for me to say goodbyes and return to Thailand. After a taxi pick-up at about 10am, a couple of short flights, and another taxi, it was nice to be reunited with my own family at about 11pm that night.
As I was flying home and reflecting on the week, I just felt so “full” and satisfied…and that wasn’t from all the delicious Nepali food our hosts provided. I can say I am so proud of our team in Nepal and the impact BSF is having in the lives of so many precious people and families. It is a huge cooperative effort, of which so many, including you, are a huge part. I genuinely want to thank you all for helping to make this possible. It is all by God’s grace and through your partnership with us.
BSF is a partner for project J1079 & J1102 with Australian NGO, Global Development Group (ABN 57 102 400 993). Donations to BSF through Global Development Group are tax deductible in Australia, NZ, and the USA.