Greetings from Nepal where I've just spent the past two months working at Her Farm. Wow, it's been an exhaustng and exciting two months and the end of construction is in sight. This infrastructure phase is, however, the real key to the success of the program. Let me illustrate that with a true story that happened just last month. We brought a young woman out to visit the farm. She's all of 18 and was forced into an arranged marriage at only 15. She has a 3 year old daughter and her husband left her and took another wife. She lives with her daughter in a small, dingy room in Kathmandu where she cleans houses to survive. You'd think a young woman in this position would jump at the chance to live and work at the farm, but there are other considerations for her. Primary among her concerns is who will care for her daughter while she is working? Right now she can take her daughter with her when she cleans houses but holding a child in one hand and a hoe in the other while trying to work fields is a much harder matter. While at the farm we showed her where the daycare and preschool program would be located in the future, where her housing is now, but housing without a kitchen at the moment so we showed here where we were planning to build the kitchen in the future. The problem facing this young woman was this "in the future" part. You see, people in Nepal have been promised so many things that never come to pass that promises of what will be "in the future" hold no force or effect, they want to see it NOW.
The young woman returned to her dingy room and to cleaning houses and perhaps when the future arrives will take another look. That's why we are working fast and furiously to create that daycare center, build that kitchen and finish our irrigation system as well, so that next time she visits, there's nothing to be done in the future, it's all here and ready to use now.
We have finished the daycare center and the preschool program is up and running as well. See the video link for more on that. The construction is fully underway for the kitchen at this time too. Once all the infrastructure is in, we will be able to bring young women like the one in the story above and they can see that we aren't offering future promises but have a new life for them and their children NOW.
To be honest, we need your help more than ever to make this final push and finish this phase of work.
We've created a master plan for the farm in terms of housing and services. The plan calls for several buildings to provide housing for women and children, for the farm staff, for volunteers who want to come and help at the farm and for a community center. I've added the architects rendering of the complex.
To date, the large, long building called "future residence" is nearly complete. A majority of the work was done by a high school group of 30 from Canada who visited for three weeks. The building called "future small house" which is staff housing is nearly complete as well. The building called "existing kitchen/toilets" is actually a two story house for volunteers. On the ground floor there's a large kitchen and dining room and adjacent to the house are two toilets and two shower rooms.
The community building will be the next undertaking. This building will be used for two primary purposes. First, it will be the home of a before and after school program for the children in the village and living at the farm and the second use will be as a day care center.
For the older children, they will be able to come in the morning before school, get a good breakfast, shower, brush teeth and change into their school uniforms. We'll keep the uniforms here as we are able to wash them and keep them clean for the kids. After school we'll have staff on hand to help with homeword.
For the small children, not yet attending school, this will be an early childhood education center. At present, these smaller children spend their days in the fields with their mothers as the mother works. In some cases, older daughters are kept home from school to watch younger siblings. Having a safe place to leave the kids frees mom up to be more productive in her agricultural pursuits and helps ensure that older daughters aren't kept home from school.
Finally, there's a youth group in the village consisting of about 30 people. These youth want to learn English and computers. They are aware that their peers in Kathmandu are learning these things and worried about being left behind for employment opportunties if they can't compete.
This past month 34 high school students volunteered to build a house for women at Her Farm. Previously, one volunteer from Colorado had spent two weeks putting in the foundation for the first "earth bag" house to be built in this part of Nepal. The students then spent one week and were able to finish 50% + of the house. Consisting of 4 rooms, each one 18ft by 18ft, it's a large structure that involved hundreds of hours of labor to complete. Earth bag housing is built using rice bags which are filled with dirt, stacked as you would bricks or cement blocks with barbed wire acting as mortar, then compacted with a heavy tamper. A steel and concrete ring beam around the top of the entire structure ties all the walls together for strength. It's an environmentally great way to build and provides a home that is also free from chemicals. We finished our earth bag house off with mud plaster and a metal roof. We've just to finish the floors inside the rooms and it will be ready for occupancy.
Happy to report that thanks to our Global Giving donors we're making great progress on the farm. First, we've hired a caretaker, a husband and wife we've known for several years. The husband is skilled in the building trades and is engaged right now in building an out building on the farm for livestock so we'll soon be able to move our animals to the farm. We are buying a pair of oxen to use for plowing the fields. In Nepal, people use a team of oxen and a wooden plow for their fields. With the sometimes-steep, terraced farming that's practiced and the lack of mechanized equipment in the company, oxen are the most popular choice for plow animals. We will also be adding a cow for milk and some goats as soon as the livestock building is complete, which should be by the end of December.
Another woman and her children have moved in at the farm. She's an experienced farmer, escaping a very abusive marriage and we're so happy to be able to provide her with a good home to live in and prime farmland to grow food on.
A volunteer is arriving at the farm this week to start putting a foundation in for another house on the farm. He will be there for three weeks and is optimistic he can complete the footings in that time. Then, in March our school group from Canada will return and begin construction of another house. We'll be using earth bag building for this as it's inexpensive, earthquake resistant and provides warmth in winter and cool in summer. It's also an easy material to work with for volunteers. Instead of bricks or cement blocks, rice bags are filled with compacted dirt and stacked atop each other with barbed wire in between the bags that acts as a mortar. Once finished the interior and exterior can be plastered with mud, after the local fashion, or cement, a style more popular in the cities of Nepal.The house will have 4 rooms, about 18 feet by 18 feet each. We are building a common kitchen and toilet/bath next to the house. I'll have photos of the kitchen/bath soon as it is under construction now.
Shari Davis & Ellen Currin are InTheField Travelers with GlobalGiving who are visiting our partners’ projects throughout Nepal. Their “Postcard” from their most recent visit in Nepal:
A two-hour bus ride from The Mountain Fund’s volunteer house in Kathmandu took us to the site of their women’s cooperative farming project. A few of the volunteers were participating in a home-stay program in the village, and we first dropped of their belongings, then began our two-hour hike to Mankhu Village Farm. This site contained the land and housing for their farming project, where women suffering from domestic abuse are provided safe housing and farmland for themselves and their children.
We spent the day digging and planting around 100 trees on the sloping land owned by the Mountain Fund. The organization’s local staff organized and supervised our planting efforts, explaining the trees will provide food and shade for animals, which can provide additional means of livelihood for the women.
It was HOT. We were sweaty and dirty by the time we finished. Our Nepali family made it worth the effort, fetching us fruit from trees, turning a fallen log into an amusement park ride, and leading a game of javelin with our planting equipment. It was a bit of a miracle we got any work done at all.
I only wish we could see the impact of these trees during the coming years, shading the valley of the women’s cooperative farmland, feeding the animals, and helping provide a fresh, new start for many deserving families.
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