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As you probably know from experience, there’s often a certain gap between theory and practice and between the effort expended and the results. In my case, the “gap” was the distance of almost 6,500 kilometers that separates Germany from Nepal. I work for Govinda, a volunteer organization for sustainable development cooperation in Nepal. Daimler ProCent helps fund our cooperative development projects for severely disadvantaged people in Nepal.
Daimler employees can donate the cent amounts of their net monthly salaries to the ProCent program. Daimler matches each donated cent, thus doubling the amount. The proceeds are used for charitable projects in Germany and abroad.
One of these projects is the development work that our organization, Govinda, is running in Nepal. I traveled to Nepal on behalf of this project in order to look at the conditions on the ground and find out how the vision of a more just society is being realized there. My destination was a place called Kalikatar, south of Nepal’s capital of Kathmandu. The village is located in the Makwanpur region, which is even poorer, less developed, and more traditional than Kathmandu Valley or the tourist regions, due to its extreme remoteness.
First stop: The educational center sponsored by ProCent
The bumpy and strenuous drive from Kathmandu to Kalikatar covered 110 km and took nine hours. Here, you search for hotels, hostels, and restaurants in vain. As a result, we slept on thin mats in the ProCent-sponsored education center.
This facility also serves as the home and boarding school for 15 girls aged 11 to 17. In this region, it’s not unusual for a walk to and from school to take one hour each way. From their homes, these girls would have even had to walk for four to six hours to reach the secondary school.
That’s too much even for Nepalese children. The alternative to school would be house and field work and, in many cases, also an early marriage. By living in the education center, the girls have the opportunity to attend secondary school. The girls were very delighted when they saw the rare visitors from Germany and the most daring of them took advantage of this opportunity to practice their English with us. Our attempts to speak some Nepalese, which we had learned recently, caused the girls to giggle shyly.
Poverty in the remote regions
The next morning, we made our way to the various educational and health projects. The numerous impressions we got along this route caused us to feel many conflicting emotions. We were overwhelmed by the contrast between the sublime beauty of the natural landscape, on the one hand, and the shockingly poor living conditions, on the other. We saw derelict huts that are still inhabited, families with small children who live with their chickens in the same room, and mud houses whose open hearths fill the entire dwelling with smoke.
As a worker at Govinda, I had already seen many photos of how the people live here. However, I was deeply moved when I stood in one of the squalid houses myself and experienced the various impressions and smells first-hand as well as the lack of hygiene and the poverty that was visible all around.
What is beautiful for the eyes is not always beautiful to live.
That’s the comment of Jay Shankhar, the chairman of our youth organization, Shangrila Development Association (SDA), who skillfully and empathetically accompanied us on this trip.
The story of Jay’s life is quite impressive. An orphan, Jay benefited from Govinda’s projects from a very young age. Now he is an aid worker himself, who helps his countrymen as a volunteer.
Visit to the village school rebuilt by Govinda and SDA
With shy and furtive glances, children from the village schools expectantly greeted us with garlands of flowers. With the help of village residents, workers from the SDA and Govinda have rebuilt four schools and 34 homes that were destroyed by a devastating earthquake in the spring of 2015.
However, the new buildings were constructed to be earthquake-resistant. The youth organization SDA provides help for the schools. The children receive school outfits as well as materials such as books, notebooks, and school backpacks. Measures are also implemented to improve healthcare. Courses in hygiene are an example of this.
Each child gets a hot lunch in school every day. This meal provides important help in a region suffering from undernourishment and malnutrition. Full of enthusiasm and fervor, the children entertained us by singing songs and proudly showing off how much they’ve learned.
Health post and organic farm
It would be unimaginable for me to get sick in such a remote place. In order to visit a doctor, people have to walk for several hours, followed by a costly bus trip on bumpy roads.
Luckily, we were healthy and in good spirits as we began our return journey to the valley, where we visited the simply furnished health posts of the villages of Kalikatar and Bharta. The SDA supports these facilities so that the population can be provided with basic healthcare. The latest project involves the construction of a birth center where women can safely give birth in order to reduce the region’s very high infant and maternal mortality rates.
On the following day, we visited the organic farm that’s run by the SDA. This experimental and model farm offers training courses for the villagers so that they can help themselves. Until about 50 years ago, the people of Kalikatar were nomads, so their knowledge of farming is very limited. The organic farm’s harvest is used for the school lunches.
With this post, I would like to forward the joyful gratitude of these people “from the other side of the globe” to the employees of Daimler AG, whose donations to ProCent have funded these projects. With fresh enthusiasm and greater motivation, I will continue to work together with many other “Govindians” to improve the living conditions of the disadvantaged people of Nepal. A lot still needs to be done. Let’s keep up the good work!
Danyabad – Thank you.