Thursday, March 24, 2011

Final Blog and thoughts of Kirantar

I write this final blog as a chance to put into writing a little piece of what I have felt and what I have observed.  Due to my ankle and knee injury I did not make it to the other schools in the mountains above Chitwan.  Thankfully I was able to meet several of the Principals of those schools who traveled to the Kirantar School.  The discussion I had was illuminating and the Principals and teachers I met were dedicated to helping these children.  These schools are mainly Chepong tribal people who survive with little education and hard work.  They have no safety net and sometimes the children are kept home as the parents go into the forest or jungle to find edible foods until the harvest.  The children at home are then working the fields, watching the younger children and doing other chores.  Yet since we started the lunch programs the attendance in these schools is quite amazing.  Kirantar Primary went from 100-140 in a year of the 195 registered students. Pokhari Primary went from 85 to 132 of 191 possible students.  The same was true for the other 4 schools. The lunch program funding is running out so I ask for your help for that and also the simple things that make a school work pencils, pens, paper as a start. I have started an exchange program with some of the schools in the Bharse Valley and in Chitwan as part of our Sister Cities Program.  Independent Day School was the first and I am pleased to announce that Admiral Farragut Academy is joining in this.  This is a start. If you read my poem and my blog you will understand that travel here is not easy and the work seems hard.  Yet when I visit these schools, meet the parents who have stepped up to volunteer making the food, see the hard work my friend Rupendra does organizing it, I know we are needed here and very much appreciated.  Who knows maybe one of these children will be another Mahatma Gandi, or Barack Obama, achieving what was not thought possible. Thanks to my friends Lt. Col Bineya Rana and Sadhana who put me up at their house in Kathmandu and a special thanks to Bhim Gurung from Qatar Airways, who showed compassion and service, I am on my way home.  Enjoy the photos and I love to hear your comments.  Rob 

Visit to Kirantar Primary School above Tandy, Chitwan

The Mountains are high
In the distance they call
Are you coming today?

But can we make a difference?
Rupendra says yes
And my heart says yes

It is like the grains of sands of the river
So small a grain, so big a river
Yet if one gets the teachings, we are all raised
They will shine like pearls

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

posted 4 new blogs

I wanted to include these last photos to the blog.  The Mother and child seemed so peaceful and this building is where I stayed next to Hem's house and finally the reward after that long trek was the village girls who came up in the evening to dance and sing to me and Didi, Hem's sister.  Remember to go back as I have just posted 4 new blogs in chronological order and they tell a story. Stay tuned more to come.  Rob

The Trek to Shreejanjyoti Primary school

We set out at on a beautiful morning at 7 am, the sun was peeking over the hills and lighting up the Bharse valley.  Our plans were ambitious to hike up the mountain and down the other side to the first school and then down and up another mountain to the second school and then up and down again to Bharse village.  The views kept me snapping pics as we ascended to the heights.  Toply, the highest mountain in this region, 8,000 feet loomed over head and we were hoping for views of Annapurna, but there was haze in the distance.  When we reached the top the vista below caught my breath, yet they my friends did not realize how beautiful it was as it is normal for them.  How many things do we see each day and not understand the marvel before us?  This trek of 5 hours was tough on my ankle and knees and by the time I reach the 1st school I knew I would not be able to make the second journey and be hard pressed to make the return easily.  The welcome at Shree Janiyoti was again warm with the young children not exactly sure what we were there for.  The stared at me as if I was from Mars.

After the ritual welcome, which I have come to know as eventual with the placing of red dye on your face and being covered by garlands and a few speeches, Then it was my turn to thank them and share the small amount of art and school supplies. I then shared of a school on the other side of the world that wants to be friends and help them.  They have no maps of the world in their 2 room school house and this is something we have to do something about.  The children watched us eat lunch and I remembered my friend Delaram, a school official and teacher from the main school telling me that they don’t get lunch in any of the schools and very few children bring anything.  The parents know little of nutrition and how much children need to eat to grow. At this time our party separated and ½ went to the other school for the welcome they planned for me and to present a small amount of the art and supplies.  My friends Delaram Dhakal, Nabin Thapa, and Khrisna Thapa helped me slowly hobble back to Hem’s house.  I could not have done it without them.  It was another I did it for me and yet despite the pain I was elated by the experience.  I want to thank the students and teachers again from IDS as they have no idea how their gifts are being appreciated.  Rob

On the Road to Gulmi Poem

The Goat goes on the roof
Children Doing homework

Our Jeep that safely delivered us

Lunch Stop

Women Working in the Field
On the Road to Gulmi        
The Road is Steep
The views are more than breathtaking
It is the long journey I take

On the Road to Gulmi        
The narrow edge draws my eye
Treacherous and deadly
Our driver does not flinch

On the Road to Gulmi        
People wave and we stop to chat
Sometimes They stare at me
It is with curiousity I know
I wonder What will I find at Bharse

On the Road to Gulmi        
It is just a short way now
Over another mountain
How far away it seems
From my home

On the Road to Gulmi        
We spy the village it is perched on the mountain side
Beautiful and peaceful
People are waiting
For me?

The welcome is overwhelming
They shower me with blessings
Covered with garlands
I feel in adequate

It is not I that deserves this welcome
It is all that have said go
You know who you are
I hope I can share this with you
You too are covered with garlands

The Assembly at Bharse Valley

High School students taking exam
Being Honored by student

Tika Ceremony
Explaing the Sister School Independent Day School Project

Tesselation Mural from IDS

Third Grade Mural IDS
 FYI the goat ended up in the back seat, Rob

On the Road to Gulmi


Cucumber Girl

View from the bus

Another view from the bus
Kathmandu street on the start

Our bus at a lunch stop

Butwal Street
It is disconcerting to wake up in total darkness in a city and switch on the lights and have nothing happen.  The power gets turned off part of the day and most of the night and some hotels and homes have inverters or batteries that give you small amounts of power to operate the lights. The city of Butwal awoke in darkness and people were walking to work with flashlights. The horns of trucks and cars sounded the alarm that morning had come and you had better watch out.  The car or truck horn is used all the time to let other vehicles, people, rickshaws, and bicycles know you are there.  There seems to be no laws other than which side of the street you mainly drive on, (the opposite to us) and that rule is often broken.  Motorcycles are often cutting in front of everyone and it is a wonder there are not more accidents.  I would hate to have to drive here; it is not for the faint of heart, or even a New Yorker.
As I reflect on how I got to Butwal it was a long bus ride from Kathmandu with my good friend Hem Pun.  We discussed his role in the fighting that happened here between the Maoist fighters and the Nepal Army.  At one point he showed me where his column of vehicles was ambushed.  He still limps from the wound to his leg and his stomach is not the same from the operation there to remove a bullet.  Yet he is determined to believe that peaceful resolution between the previous enemies is possible and he searches for a wounded Maoist soldier to work to end the hatred and bickering for power.  The Center for Peace in Norway made a documentary about him called “Silencing the Guns” that was shown at a Norwegian film festival this year and he was flown there to attend and participate in panel discussions.  It is an honor to be working with him to help his beloved Bharse. 
The scenery on this ride varies from small wayside villages, and breathtaking views.  Travel is slow with a constant passing of slower vehicles on winding roads sometimes with long drops to the valley below.  One very interesting moment came when a young girl boarded the bus.  She was selling cucumbers and she and her brother walked the length of the bus hawking their wares.  They had to wait till the bus navigated to the bottom of the hill several miles before they got off.  I asked her if she was in school and she said sometimes in 9th grade.  Her brother was in 6th grade and they spent all day riding buses up and down the hill selling cucumbers or other treats for the passengers.  At the end of the day she probably makes $5 and that is quite welcome to the family.  You can see how easily the lure of making money is a challenge to children being able to attend school.  I am looking forward to our next stop the Bharse Valley, where the air will be cleaner without the pollution of smog that seems to hang in the air and especially bad in the cities.  Till then, Rob

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Day 2 Kathmandu, Rob's Blog

I will say that my second day in this city was both amazing and trying.  I have been staying with my friend Lt. Colonel Bineya Rana, with whom I have been staying within his beautiful house with his wife Sahdhana.  He took me to the Durban Square, home of many of the kings of Nepal.  With his military connections we were given a special tour.  The architecture alone is outstanding and I have tried to capture photos of the positive and negatives of this city.  The old and the new and even the pollution in the air which you can see in photos that are hazy and the river that smells like a sewer.  The people themselves are disgusted and the government seems powerless to make any changes.  Right now power for the government is being contested by 2 political parties after a 7 years’ war.  I hope they can really learn to work together rather than spending all their time fighting for control.  Met with the community leaders from Bharse where we are planning our work.  Today I take a micro bus, like a van all day to the town of Butwal.  In the morning we will head up by jeep to this remote area and I am excited and a little scared of the challenges I will face.  I always believe you have to face your fears and then you have those I did it experiences that you build your strength from.  On a personal note I had dinner with Hem Pun who you will learn more about and his nephew my good friend LT. Col Prem Pun as well as the Rana's and some others.  There were times they spoke in Nepali and I just listened, and I also was still jet lagged and tired...  Prem who I played tennis with when he served at Central Command introduced me to Hemu Adhikari, who was at the IDS talk, and also to his Uncle Hem Pun.  These connections have been essential in the work we have done.  Thank you Prem.  Enjoy the photos and I will try to get back soon.  Rob

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Day 1 Travel to Nepal and Kathmandu

Traveling to Kathmandu is quite a long trip.  Now that I have arrived and spent part of a day here I marvel at the 31 hours of flying and layovers I have spent.  My first experience, apart from the bustle of the airport, was the haze surrounding the city.  From the plane we were able to see many large dry river beds coming down from the mountains.  Without a steady rainfall, one day of rain in the last month, the water in the rivers are quite low and that means this county which is dependent on hydroelectric power is rationing its electricity to about 5 hours of power daily.  I will include some photos I took while driving from the airport and also to my trip to the US Embassy where the US AID offices are.  For over 60 years, US AID has supported the building of airports, roads, bridges and many other projects. We are hoping they might be interested in helping with the new projects we would like to start,  canning of fruits,  computer and education programs for young adults.  Thank you for visiting this blog and your support.  Rob