Happy Tihar!  The 5 day festival of light and hope.  Over the last few days crows, cows and dogs have been worshipped, and yesterday was a big day celebrating Laxmi, the goddess of wealth and luck.  Today is the Bhaitika day and sisters and brothers share their appreciation for one another, they pray for longevity and good days to come, and most children are busy making garlands, families collect their best harvest, surround their houses with bright and beaming tihar lights (diyos) to welcome and guide Laxmi to enter their homes.

A few days of colours, glimmer and hope.  The candles, lights, flowers and decorations turn the country in to a scene out of a happy fairy tale.  However, life on our planet is not a fairy tale right now.  The virus is still circulating, and things are tough in Nepal.  It’s interesting to ponder how people in different parts of the world deal with what’s going on.  People in Nepal are incredibly stoic, despite a bleak prognosis of the current situation, and seem to have a sense of determination to just plod on, get through yet another phase of hardship.  We hear from our friends, and nobody is really complaining much.  Because they just don’t do that, they get on with it.  It may be easier to live by that motto if you never had endless opportunities in the first place.  And what they have, they appreciate.  Hard work has always been part of life in Nepal, and although a huge proportion of people who had paid jobs are now unemployed, somehow the survival instinct finds other ways for them to get by.  In the villages, as is usual in November, most people have been busy harvesting rice, and we hear it’s a good season, thankfully.  It’s heavy work and people are out in the fields from morning until evening.  Kids too when they are not at school, as now some schools in certain areas and villages have gradually started to re-open, at least intermittently.  But others may still be trying to study at home if they’re able to, but that’s not always easy, without books, wifi, and with little support, especially if the parents are illiterate.  But at the sound of the first cockerel or ‘moo’ from the barn, while it’s still dark outside, the parents would be up, scramble with the aluminum pots to make chia (tea), feed the animals and get themselves ready for a day in the fields.  That’s part of normal life, even though things are far from normal right now.  But people get used to new situations incredibly quickly, and as the weeks go by not much has changed since our update a couple of months ago (read: GFM https://www.gofundme.com/f/az3g4z-helping-children-in-nepal ).  And we want to continue to provide support where we can.  It’s nice to see that many NGOs are especially active during these times, with all kinds of support initiatives (see websites and updates from the charities we endorse on the front page).

One problem in Nepal is that lot of people don’t have internet access, and those who do, may not know which news sources are accurate and where to go for the latest rules and regulations.  Much of the guidance from the government seems unclear, and as a consequence actions may be based on mis-information and rumours rather than on facts and logic.  Say if you have a cough, one person may insist that you must go to hospital (if any symptoms at all), another tells you to stay at home.  You may feel pushed, or worried so you walk for hours to get to a hospital, just in case it gets worse.  You can’t get tested but you are told to go home and isolate.  But it may not be possible to isolate in your own house.  Where do you go if your large extended family only has 1 room?  You may be shunned out of your community because people are afraid of catching the virus from you.  As testing facilities are limited, it’s not even certain it is coronavirus, it could be a normal common cold.  However, the fear of contracting the disease is real, perhaps like it was when deadly diseases like Tuberculosis or Spanish flu were spreading across the world, and nobody wanted to be anywhere near a person with any apparent symptom (infected or not), and people had to stay outside, away from their families.  Many died, whether from the particular pandemic or from other causes.  Nepal is a huge country with the biggest mountain range in the world running across from east to west, mountain sides dotted with thousands of very remote villages that are difficult to access.  Without a doctor or a health post anywhere near your village, and knowing it could take days to walk to the nearest health care provider it’s no wonder many people feel scared.

This is just one problem right now, and trying not to make this post too long let’s think about what we can do to help.  It might all seem overwhelming and people may feel what little help they can offer won’t make a difference.  But taking an interest in reading this is already something.  We are not one of those huge charities that is backed by a multi-million $ commercial company for funding, but we work with our friend, Krishna, at Nepal Alliance (see https://volunteerworkinnepal.org/ ) , who we know puts every penny where it matters, where there is a need and will make a significant difference.  Over the last few years, we have been able to provide uniforms and shoes for several schools, (both for winter and summer), donated masses of clothes, supplied notebooks, pencils, study materials, a printer, computers, etc. to schools, and held health and dental camps.  We have offered rice, lentils, oil, some chickens, and other essentials for several particularly poor families over 2 years at the Dashain festival and recently we sent $1000 to provide huge sacks of basic food supplies to 37 families in the small village of Pame (the school with 64 kids we’ve been supporting).  Below are some pictures from this day.  We helped to rebuild a house that was crumbling, repair the roof, install solar cell electricity for a large family with 10-12 kids who were going through difficult times, and we also offered help to some sisters who lost their home and parents to a landslide a few months ago (for the time being they’re living with their uncle’s family).  Most recently, now that some schools have started to re-open, we ordered good quality (and cool!), washable masks for everyone (see photos).  A mask is now a requirement when outside, and they are not that easy to get hold of, family members may share a single-use masks, and a dirty one actually does more damage than good.  All of the above efforts count, it’s doing something, something we are proud of.  And every single person who has contributed, whether you donated £5 or £100, bought pots, wooden spread knives, bracelets or pencil cases, or donated clothes, has made a difference to some child or a group of individuals.  With the money we have received recently we would like to help another family in need, who in turn is able to make a difference to the lives of several orphaned children.  The family was ‘found’ a few years ago by another volunteer.  The father had a paralysed leg after falling from a tree, and the volunteer helped him with physiotherapy.  A couple of years ago when The Nestling Trust opened the children’s home for orphans (a project in collaboration with Alliance Nepal – see https://www.nestlingtrust.co.uk/ ) the mother of the family was offered a job as one of the ‘aunties’.  The family was placed in a house nearby that belongs to a friend of Krishna.  The friend has now lost his job in the city and needs his house back in order to make a life from farming, so the family has had to move out and currently they are staying with another family.  The mother and daughter sometimes stay over at the children’s home.  They have all been involved with helping to make the children’s home as self-sufficient as possible, which has been of particular importance this year; growing vegetables (a greenhouse was built earlier this year) and looking after the buffalo.  We are giving them £1000 towards building their own house with 2 rooms (The Nestling Trust also donated the same amount).  They will be starting next week.  Updates on the progress to follow!

Since we are not able to do the markets this year, but a lot handmade crafts, e.g. ceramics, bracelets, spread knives and Christmas cards have been made, we would like to offer the opportunity to buy things directly from us instead.  Please check our Instagram https://www.instagram.com/handinhand_nepal/ and get in touch directly with us for more details and pictures of what’s on offer to buy and we will arrange delivery.  Every £1 will go in the pot.  It’s wonderful to see the results of these collections so far, how much we can all do to help, what a difference the money people donate can make.  We know first hand how appreciative they are, and hope that comes across from the pictures we show too.

Sharing is caring.  Thank you… We, and they – the people receiving, are entirely grateful.