Neither here nor there, yet everywhere

Parsa district is a fifteen minute flight over the mountains from Kathmandu to a much warmer climate which borders the State of Bihar in India. We are here to visit some rural schools recently impacted by flood. Image

The road is full of gaping potholes not unlike Gulu Road in Uganda, but in an almost similar comparison to the difference in cultures, the Parsa road was a bit softer because it is all mud and dirt while the Gulu Road had been previously paved so the bumps were sharper and less forgiving to navigate. In a way, the situation in schools is also a bit softer, although the situation for girls seems equally disparate in both places. Maybe it is not a reasonable comparison, it might just be…ImageFor me, I’ve been working in three countries now in less than 3-months and home in between to face equally grueling challenges. With only a few weeks between missions, and an incredibly demanding pace/schedule of meetings and appointments, the culture shock has me a bit tongue-tied… or shall I say, finger tied! There is so incredibly much to share, but I am overwhelmed on where to begin.

For the first time ever, our UNICEF driver was female and she did a fantastic job of navigating the muddy road. I noticed that she was a bit more careful/mindful about the gaping craters in the road, slowing down and sometimes stopping before shifting gears and forging forward. It was an all-female mission with three of us documenting the programmes and one driver, which was also strange since the meetings were dominated by men, the irony of was not spoken in public, but felt like the detail was indeed noticed by us all.

 

Adorned with hand-crafted flower necklaces that had to have taken so much time and energy to make, I learned that only 20-short years ago this area was a forest/jungle. The deforestation has been rapid and rampant. I didn’t even ask the question and it came up as the greatest concern in all of the schools and Imagemeetings with decision makers. They told us that the poorest, most illiterate people are still the ones cutting remaining trees because they have no other way to make a meager bit of money. This story of course is not new to me, but I haven’t heard it told in such a powerful way in a while. The children told us that if people knew how to read and could do other work, they could restore the local environments. Without education they have little hope. What to say? None of the schools had toilets. When I spoke with my UNICEF WASH colleague she told me that people prefer open defecation and that they’ve tried behavior change in this district for the same 20 years. What to do?

I need to make three different presentations on Monday and am at a loss for how to present the finding in a way that will motivate others toward a sustainable solution. They consider me to be an expert, but I have no idea what to do. They solutions seem simple, but are not for so, so many reasons on so, so many levels.

Each school has only one child club member, represented into the young leaders, most of them are boys. When I asked the boy we met how he could engage with the other 900 kids in his school his response was not encouraging.

The success of the gardens in Uganda was meaningful, but these projects are so dependent upon a motivated and consistent facilitation support system. In Parsa, one Resource person covers 30-50 schools and it is virtually impossible to make it to more than 3-5 schools in a week without adequate transportation and the resource center that we traveled 3 hours each way to visit did not have any books or resources! Only head teachers from neighboring schools getting together (see picture above of the head teachers).

Sorry for being so random today, I’ve been feeling a strong need to write, yet still confused with the content. Tomorrow is the Hindu festival of Teej when women dress in red to dance and sing and pray to Lord Shiva in the streets. The purpose of the prayer is for the health and well-being of the man in her life. It is also International Literacy Day and I will join Eva Ahlen, Chief of Education here for a reception in the evening. Maybe it will be possible to talk to someone about the connections between literacy and trees… maybe that would be a place to start… maybe…

Love,

Donna

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