During our trip to Harriya I was able to learn more about the work of the Nepal Social Development and People’s Empowerment Center, NESPEC (the COCAP member organization that is hosting me this summer in Gaighat). I knew that as part of their recent programming was devoted to agricultural and economic empowerment – specifically, they are helping poor local farmers learn to cultivate crops during non-traditional seasons. By providing them knowledge and “technology,” NESPEC creates an opportunity for farmers to earn a significant profit by providing crops out of season and helps them shift from being subsistence farmers to profitable farmers.
As our trip progressed and we stopped at hamlet after hamlet to look at these bamboo domes, I learned a little bit about the farmers involved in the project. It turns out that many of the farmers come from the Tharu community. Tharus are one of Nepal’s indigenous groups and have been able to live in areas uninhabitable by other groups due to their malaria immunity (when malaria became manageable others settled the areas). For generations they previously owned and occupied much of the fertile land around the Triuga river in Udayapur District. Unfortunately, as a result of economic degradation the Tharus in this area have become landless and incredibly poor.
Due to a need for firewood local people have increasingly deforested the hills surrounding the Gaighat Valley. As a result of this deforestation there is significant runoff of soil from the surrounding mountains into the river beds, particularly during monsoon season. This “siltration” has raised the level of the river beds and ultimately consumed the once fertile land which the Tharus own and formerly occupied, making the land worthless and depriving them of their means of survival. Not only is NESPEC responsible for working with them to help them develop small cash crops, but Arjun-dai played a large role in helping them relocate once their lands were ruined, working with the local government to provide long-term leases with reasonable rates to these farmers on undeveloped government land.
Lastly, I met Selina. She is a 14 year old girl from a very rural mountain village who, along with her disabled brother, through some circumstances I’m unclear about ended up being trafficked into a circus in Bangalore, India. A Nepali anti-child trafficking agency rescued both her and her brother, and returned them to Nepal and helped to rehabilitate them. Selina now lives in Harriya in the Nepali equivalent of foster care, being integrated into a family who will care for her in exchange for help with their domestic work.
The NESPEC volunteers launched a campaign to raise funds for her schooling by requesting a single rupee each from a large number local community members. She is incredibly bright, and in addition to the schooling she is getting she earns a small sum which she is able to send to her parents in this remote community.
Throughout the summer I have been impressed with NESPEC as an organization, but seeing many of their projects in person gave me both an increased understanding of the fundamental problems they are helping people overcome and an appreciation for the quality of their work.
Posted By Nicole Farkouh
Posted Aug 20th, 2014