TEAR’s Phil Lindsay reflects: “After many years working in the field, the question we need to constantly be asking is: Are we really making a difference in the lives of the poor? Are things changing for the better or is the cycle being perpetuated by outside interventions?”
With these questions in mind, Phil travelled to Nepal with Greg Hewson, and Daniel Wieckmann from Kintaro studios to see first hand the work of our partner Share and Care. The project, working in the impoverished Nuwakot valley, was coming to an end after six years and our team were eager to see its impact within the lives of families, communities and entire districts.
What they found has now been made into TEAR Australia’s latest video and presentation: Release – Good development in Nepal.
Through the passionate and faithful work of Share and Care’s dedicated local staff, they saw clear signs of God’s Kingdom breaking through, bringing “release to those made captive by systems and narratives that have bound and inhibited people here for generations”. This is all despite the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit on 25 April in 2015 and killed an estimated 9,000 people and destroyed more than 500,000 homes. This area was one of the worst hit.
Sometimes we wonder, ‘If I give money to a development agency, where does it go and what does it do? This is where it goes. We have seen it on this trip with our own eyes. It goes to bringing real change skills have been built up, leaders have been developed.
As Phil shares: “Central to this work, and something that has humbled and challenged me throughout our time here, is the role of Share and Care’s Christian staff. They're so committed to being here and being part of the community to share their lives. They lived alongside the community during the earthquake and all along have shared their joys and sorrows, the struggles, the celebrations, and the thing that they really bring into this work is that they are here, they are understanding the people, they understand what is going on and what needs to happen to bring about real change.
Sometimes we wonder, ‘If I give money to a development agency, where does it go and what does it do? This is where it goes. We have seen it on this trip with our own eyes. It goes to bringing real change skills have been built up, leaders have been developed. Share and Care can leave these communities knowing that they've done good work. That's what good development is about.”
In a real sense people have been released, to a new place of hope.
Punya Prashad Pokharel is a father of three, an organic farmer, an agriculture trainer, and a disability advocate. His story is one we feature in the ‘Release – Good Development in Nepal’ presentation. Punya also has the extraordinary skill of walking ‘upside down’, placing his hands on the ground to steady his body compensating for the lame legs he's had since birth.
Not that he sees his lameness as a problem. Indeed, Punya is somewhat dismissive of his own ‘disability’; for him, not being able to walk is not really a problem as he gets around just fine on his hands. Though he owns a wheelchair, the terrain renders it useless. Even at 51 years old, his own arms are far stronger and more suited to mountain life than any assistive device could be. Of his own life, he says: “I am in this state now and I have lived as a normal person with a leg would live, as a self-sufficient person.”
Punya Prashad Pokharel is a father of three, an organic farmer, an agriculture trainer, and a disability advocate.
Like the other farmers in his village, Punya had struggled to grow enough food for his family. Their small garden did not produce enough for them to eat, much less sell at market. He tried using chemical pesticides and fertilisers, but they were expensive, and some were extremely toxic.
This was the situation in Punya’s village until Share and Care offered training and support for farmers to improve their yield. Embracing the opportunity to learn more, Punya joined a Share and Care Farmers' Group and began his extraordinary journey to release his family from poverty. In turn, Share and Care recognised Punya’s natural leadership ability, and have nurtured his capacity to help others.
Through the training, Punya learnt to make his own organic fertiliser and pesticides. This has the triple benefits of saving him money, improving the crop yield, and improving his family’s health. The vegetables taste better too. Four years after he completed the training, his land is free from any manufactured chemicals. Further, the new methods of planting, such as plastic tunnels and improved tools, have reduced the labour load.
His land now boasts around 150 banana trees, alongside vegetables and a little rice. There are goats and poultry providing milk and eggs, while also being a good source of manure for the vegetables. And, he’s got plans to expand the garden with an orange orchard in the coming season.
While what Punya has received from Share and Care is significant in the health and wellbeing of his family, it is his contribution
to others in his village that is far more impressive. Having been released from the binds of poverty himself, Punya is determined to make a difference for those less fortunate than himself.
When Share and Care helped him access the government’s disability benefits, Punya became determined to enable the hundreds of others in his region who live with disability to access their entitlements. This is no simple process. It means travel to the government district office to register for a Disability ID, where Punya then steps families through the assessment process. The benefit is that card holders can access discounted public transport and possibly a small pension.
So far, he’s helped 135 people access the cards and, of those, 45 have also received a goat from the government program (with another 36 to come). These government benefits amount to a total value of 175,000 rupees – far more significant than Share and Care would be able to provide as grants. These items help people with disability become household contributors who can earn an income.
“Previously, people with a disability were hidden. Now it has changed through these interventions. Now they are involved and valued in the community. They are involved in community groups and social activities.”
Punya has bigger plans. “I am planning to open an office for the disabled peoples in this village, and I plan to incorporate an organisation for (them) there.” Punya’s plan is to unlock the potential of people with disability to make an impact on their communities. Once their abilities are recognised, they can contribute much more than they are currently. “Previously, people with a disability were hidden. Now it has changed through these interventions. Now they are involved and valued in the community. They are involved in community groups and social activities.”
Within his own Farmers' Group, Punya has been elected as Chairperson, and is now in charge of much of the agricultural training, as well as acting on the accounts committee. These groups give him an opportunity to pass on what he’s learned, both from Share and Care and from his own farming and small business experience. Almost all farmers in the group are now organic farmers, having overcome the need for the expensive, toxic chemicals. The Farmers' Group also run their own savings and loans schemes, helping the members manage their finances through the seasons and giving them access to credit when needed.
With the project drawing to a close, Punya is hopeful that change will continue. “It breaks my heart that Share and Care is going. (But) I am not going to let the developments die, and I plan to work for the betterment from where it has left us and let’s see where I can get us. Even without Share and Care, the groups we have won’t die. Making it big and strong is my plan.”
His three children, and one grandson, spur him on. “Parents always think good for their children. In spite of being disabled I hope my children’s future will be bright – but they have to work for it too. I cannot forge it for them but I want to see their future bright.”
And for himself? “I always wish to work. I don’t wish for a day off. Sometimes with health issues I cannot work but that’s an exception. I don’t want to sit down and do nothing. I want to make my livelihood in front of others. I prefer working than seeking other’s help. Working is better than begging.”
It is people like Punya who testify to the value of the work of TEAR’s partners. Their vision for all people to flourish drives them to invest in the potential of people – whatever their physical ability. They see beyond the barriers of poverty, of social status, of gender and experience, to bring freedom for the benefit of all.
Punya says: “In spite of me being disabled, I am capable. I want to make it as myself and I wish that people will remember me by my work. If disabled people are as self-satisfied as normal people, I want to do this.”
Share and Care's involvement in this area is almost at an end. When they leave, they will give a full ‘year of silence’ with minimal contact between the project and community. This
is to ensure that their work has taken root deeply within the community. So rather than just do an evaluation at the end of a project when everything is still fresh and people want to say the right things (which is the normal practice), the evaluation will be conducted at the end of that year of silence. Share and Care expects that the evaluation will then give a better indication of how enduring the work of the project has been.
Phil Lindsay is TEAR’s International Programs Coordinator, Dominique Emery is the editor of Target Magazine, and Greg Hewson is TEAR’s Education and Communications Manager.
This project has received support from the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).
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