Reflections from Nepal - 2023
Each year, I try to make time to visit our Building Strong Families (BSF) program partner, families and communities in Nepal. The Nepali people and their country have had a special place in my heart for many years. I always enjoy going back...and this year was no different!
DAY 1 - Touch Down in Nepal: After getting the earliest flight out of Chiangmai, I arrived in
Bangkok and rushed like crazy to make it to my connecting flight to Nepal. On touch down in Kathmandu, Amos came to meet me at the airport and greeted me with a big smile. He has been one of our most experienced BSF program coordinators in Nepal and it is always a pleasure to see him again. After arranging phone cards, exchanging money, and buying a few snacks, I made it to the hotel that I would call home for the next week.
DAY 2 to 3 - Family Strengthening Training: CHFN have been BSF's long-term program partner since we began in 2020, and it is a pleasure to partner with them. They requested to take part in a two-day Family Strengthening training to supplement the work we do together with BSF families and help improve our processes and systems in Nepal. Eight participants completed the two-day training, including three BSF program coordinators/representatives: Amos, Bibek and Jyoti.
By the end of Day 3 and the final day of training, my tummy was telling me I may have eaten something that wasn't so agreeable with my lower regions. By the time I reached my hotel that evening, I was having chills, lost my appetite, and was feeling pretty faint. After calling my wife for a bit of medical advice, I turned in early at about 7:30pm without any dinner, hoping I would feel a bit better the next day.
DAY 4 - Audits, New Training Curriculum, and the Zoo: After spending some time with Arun and CHFN finance staff at their office, checking BSF financials, audit results, accounting systems, and receipts and records, we then went through a new training curriculum for BSF program coordinators to use with families in our family-strengthening programs.
It was then time to head off for a BSF Family Fun Day with 16 families from Dhapakhel and Dukuchhap at the Kathmandu Zoo. My initial shock on arrival was the entrance price at the zoo, which was five times higher for a foreigner, but I figure it is probably a similar increase to what foreign students have to pay to study in Australia, so I guess it is even. It was great to just meet up with the families at the zoo and enjoy watching some interesting animals together. Some of the families had never had a chance to go to a zoo before, or to go on a special outing like this with their whole family. I am so glad BSF can create these special moments for them to spend some quality time together. After some games, sharing, food and photos, it was time to call it a day...and for me to rush off to find the nearest loo again...but things were slowly on the mend in that department.
DAY 5 - Visiting Two Families in Dukuchhap and BSF Amateur Video Productions: I woke up feeling on top of the world and looking forward to one of my favourite parts of every trip...meeting with our beneficiary families out in the field. I was also preparing to tackle a new challenge of trying to produce some BSF videos ourselves from scratch, when we (really, I) don't have a clue what we are doing...but we were going to have some fun trying anyway!
After an hour or more of bumpy driving up and over the mountains, we arrived in Dukuchhap. Mamta, her husband Bikram, and their two children were the first family we visited and what a precious family they are! After struggling to make ends meet to keep their children in a family, Mamta and her family were invited into an 18-month BSF family-strengthening program. Since then, Mamta and Bikram have been empowered with training and a 'tunnel farm' (similar to an open greenhouse) to grow tomatoes, chilies and other vegetables.
The family are now earning twice as much as they were before. They are able to cover the food and education costs of their own children and even saved some money to build their own little home. It was such a privilege to spend some time with this family and I hope you can enjoy a little more of their wonderful story in this video we produced during the trip...
The second family we had the privilege of meeting in Dukuchhap was Bikram's family (another Bikram...must be a cool name in Dukuchhap).
Amongst other things, BSF assisted his family to start a 'momo' shop. Nepali momos are like little round dumplings and they are truly delicious! I can say that one of our biggest challenges to film Bikram's story was the huge number of noisy customers coming in and out of his shop...it was wonderful to see...it was a bustling 'momo' enterprise which was helping him become financially sustainable to support the needs of his whole family! One of the funniest moments was watching Bibek, our BSF Program Coordinator in Dukuchhap, trying to eat a whole momo while talking to the camera! And what made it more funny was we had to do two or three takes of that same shot with new momos! We will have to do a bloopers reel of that one day.
Please be looking out for Bikram's encouraging story and video which we hope to release in early November...you can find it by subscribing to our BSF Youtube Channel.
DAY 6 - Visiting Raju's Family in Dhapakhel, More Amateur Video Productions, & a Short Hike with the Team
This was my final full day in Nepal with the CHFN-BSF team. We planned to visit Raju's family in Dhapakhel in the morning, and then have some down time together in the afternoon after a busy week by taking a quick hike out into the surrounding mountains. But first, it was off to meet with Raju and his family.
Raju is one of those guys you just can't help but like. He is always smiling and so warm and friendly. I had the privilege of meeting him a year earlier and after hearing about how successful his new goat farm had become, I asked if I could visit him and his family again and share their encouraging success story, to which they eagerly agreed.
Around 1,700 Nepalis leave Nepal every day to try to find work in other countries! Raju was one of those. He left his family for two years to try to find work in India and it was a struggle for him and his wife, Phulmaya, and their girls. BSF is about providing new opportunities for loving families fighting poverty, to help them remain together. When BSF accepted Raju and his family into an 18-month family strengthening program, it was to support them with their desire to keep the whole family together and to help them become more financially sustainable to provide for their needs. While Raju found some construction work in Nepal, Phulmaya had skills and time to raise goats and asked BSF if we could help her dream come true. She was provided with six goats and at the time of my visit, those six goats have grown to a herd of 15 goats! Phulmaya has been able to sell a few goats to provide for the children's food and education as needed. They are so glad to be all together again and that Raju no longer needs to go abroad to find better paid work. Please look out for Raju and Phulmaya's story coming out on our BSF Youtube Channel soon...if you haven't subscribed, please do so here so you don't miss out.
After saying our farewells to Raju, Phulmaya, and their girls, we took a quick lunch, and then headed out to a nearby mountain for a short hike, debrief, and some snacks with the team. I love nature so there is no better way for me to wind down after a busy week than getting out into God's beautiful creation and breathing some fresh air with some great people. I'll let the following photos tell the story...
I really want to honour and thank all the team at CHFN (our Nepali BSF program partner), and especially our BSF program coordinators and workers: Amos (mentor and overseer), Bibek (BSF Program Coordinator - Dukuchhap), and Jyoti (BSF Program Coordinator - Dhapakhel).
Without all of them, our work in Nepal may not be happening. We are grateful for their tireless efforts and partnership to help BSF keep children in loving and nurturing Nepali families, empowering them to become more sustainable to provide great care for their whole family...just like the families of Mamta, Bikram and Raju.
DAY 7 - A Memorable Taxi Ride, and Flying Back to Chiangmai, Thailand
On Saturday morning, it was time to farewell Nepal. I jumped in a tiny taxi at my hotel and zoomed off to the airport along the narrow lanes of inner Kathmandu. As we rounded a corner, another mini taxi came flying around the bend and we came to a sudden halt with our front bumpers just a few inches apart. A stand-off ensued with neither driver willing to reverse to make room to pass. Horns started blaring and cold stares started glaring. After a couple of minutes of this, I couldn't help but have a bit of a chuckle to myself. As a crowd started gathering, my very irate driver decided to get out of our taxi and go over and tell the other driver what was on his mind! My jovial mood was abating, and I started thinking more about how to preserve my life if this suddenly got very ugly! After sharing some choice morsels, my driver eventually got his way and got back in our taxi. The other driver reluctantly backed up. As we drove just centimeters apart, both drivers lowered their windows for one final farewell serve, using some words where translation was not required. I tried to cheer my driver up a bit as we chugged along on our merry way, eventually arriving in one piece at the airport.
My flight home was a lot less eventful! As the clouds drifted by and the mountains of Nepal faded into the distance, it created a moment for me to just chill and reflect on a wonderful trip. I felt so grateful for the privilege to be doing what I love with others who share the vision and seeing so many lives and families blessed as a result.
After returning to Thailand and reflecting further on the week in Nepal and all that we do with BSF, I am just grateful to God for all our co-partners around the world who continue to journey with us to make this all possible! Thank you so much...I really mean that...thank you for helping us keep families like Raju's together and for giving them hope for a brighter future. We couldn't do this without you. I'm reminded of the words of Mother Teresa that I have here on my desk as I write: "What I can do, you cannot. What you can do, I cannot. But together we can do something beautiful for God."
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.