Written by Jimmy Pritchard, Nicole Lacker, Tess Greenberg & Loren Intolubbe-Chmil
By Tuesday afternoon on the 24th of May, we had all arrived in the Kathmandu Valley as participants in the Johnson & Wales University Sustainability and Community Engagement in Nepal study abroad program – each of us have had very different traveling experiences, and only one of us had been to Nepal before. After a mid-afternoon cab ride through the vibrant streets of Kathmandu, we arrived at the place that would become our home for the next two weeks – the Kevin Rohan Memorial Eco Foundation (KRMEF). We made introductions and learned more about where we would be staying during our time here. As we prepare to depart – just two weeks later – this post is a combination of reflections that each of us would like to share, giving just a small glimpse into our experience at KRMEF and in Nepal.
The focus of this study abroad course is on sustainable practice and engagement within the local context- and we started right away to learn more about what is going on at KRMEF that would support learning and contribution with those interests in mind.
We started right off on Nepali time- by changing the schedule a bit and being flexible, putting our hands to work in the tomato garden, as Jimmy describes:
Our very first morning at KRMEF, we were tasked with helping to set up canopy over the new bio-dynamic tomato farm that the foundation had only just planted. The drainage ditches had been dug over the few days preceding, and now we were given huge sheets of plastic and ties to fix the canopy to the bamboo framing that had been built by the incredibly talented foundation carpenter.
Immediately, I was right at home in the dirt with the Nepali locals, as we worked side by side to get the job done for the community…. literally, I was paying to do the same work that I had despised as a teenager, and loving it. My familiarity with agricultural labour back at home [in New Zealand] had equipped me with exactly what I needed to make a difference now. Dad if you’re reading this, I’m sorry I never made much of a difference back home, but: we each must find our own path…I came all the way to Kathmandu, Nepal, and the comfort of good, tilled soil between my toes instantly made me realise that this was where I could leave the most lasting and beneficial effect of my brief, yet enlightening time with The Foundation, even though my major at University (Hotel and Lodging Management) had entirely nothing to do with it.
The project of the tomato garden was about a day and a half, with the goal of completing the three canopies being accomplished – additionally, Jimmy has been inspired to present a concept for a gravity powered drip irrigation system as a sustainable practice for watering the tomato garden.
An additional aspect of the Foundation that we have learned more about is public health, in particular the extent to which people in this region of Nepal continue to be affected by leprosy. In the afternoon of our second day here, Krishna Gurung (founder of KRMEF) took the JWU study abroad group to a leprosy colony community near the Foundation. Tess describes our learning experience there in this way:
Leprosy is a disease that affects the skin, nerves, and mucous membranes which can cause discoloration of the skin or in some severe cases, disfigurement. The disease causes the inability to feel pain which can lead to loss of extremities because injuries or infections go unnoticed. The diseasecan be treated, although the disfigurations usually occur before it is treated. Often after even being treated, the inflicted are ostracized by their community, especially because the disease is often seen as apunishment for sinning in a past life.Leprosy is mostly contracted between people with weakened immune systems and those living in poverty.
Upon visiting the colony, Krishna showed us the previous livingquarters, which were deemed unlivable after the earthquake last year. The living situationseemed to have been extremely cramped, where a small room was given to a family of up to 6 if two members where inflicted with leprosy, and if more than two were inflicted. The current living quarters are located a short walk down the road, where there is a courtyard enclosed. Krishna told us how KRMEF helps out at the colony by getting nurses and clinics down to the colony. KRMEF’s initial work coincided with helping out the leprosy colony in getting the resources it needs.
Another one of the initiatives at KRMEF that we learned more about is the sustainable architecture design, known as bottle brick or ‘dignified’ house. On Saturday the 28th of May, we shared a true Nepali/KRMEF transportation, trek, and engagement experience in the service of dedicating a dignified house to a woman in the mountainous Dhading region. Afterwards, Nicole offered this reflection:
I’ve learned a lot about the bridge between our cultures here in Nepal. “We’re going a walk” doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as it does back in the States. This “walk” turned into a 2 hour steep hike along the mountain side. It was a view out of magazine. One of those picturesque moments that I will surely never forget. We were traveling to a village in the Dhading region…There were no businesses, schools, or vehicles in sight and yet there were so many Nepali people working; they were doing what they had to do to survive. It’s incredible how many people we passed along our journey and everybody seemed to have some sort of duty. Everybody was helping to contribute to the daily jobs including the children. They were farming, tending the animals, cleaning and cooking. I was awestruck.
After we presented the house, and we helped to clear rocks and plant trees around the house, this family provided us with this feast of rice, potatoes, soup, other vegetables. I don’t even eat that much within one meal back in the States and yet, it just goes to show the generosity that exists here. The destruction of the earthquake had left this family with so little and yet here they are, giving us this enormous amount of food. Not to mention, there were about ten to fifteen of us to feed. This family doesn’t eat like this every day and I don’t think I could ever express the gratitude I felt that they chose to share the minimal food they had with us. It’s a feeling that I will never forget.
As Baking & Pastry/Food Service Management majors, Nicole and Tess also met with KRMEF staff to better understand how Leela’s Eco Café runs, and are working on plans that will contribute to the Eco Café operations.
We are preparing for our final couple of days here at the KRMEF, an experience which has been challenging and rewarding and discomforting and joyful and many other things. In the time that we have been here, we have: walkedgreat distances, up and down steep hills and stairs; strategized for hot and dusty days; logged many miles on buses and in taxis (and maybe a scooter or two); caught glimpses of the beautiful Himalayas; para glided; and toured urban, rural and World Heritage areas. Through it all, we have created community, pushed our boundaries, learned to navigate meals and habits that are unfamiliar (and that sometimes do not agree with us, in every possible way), and have had the opportunity to think a bit more about where we fit in as part of this wondrously complicated world- our experience at KRMEF and in Nepal has helped us to see how sustainability and community engagement are taking place here and how everything we do has an impact, wherever we are in the world; dhanyabad KRMEF and Nepal…Namaste ~
Link to original text with images- JWU Visit