New hope for the "outcasts" in Chitwan 

The "sustainable aid for self-help" program, which we are implementing in project villages in the south of Nepal, in the district of Chitwan, focuses on the individual initiative and participation of the villagers, so that they can create livelihoods and eventually become independent of outside help.

As in the case with our projects in Mugu, extensive research - carried out by our project managers - preceded the project launch. Evaluations were carried out in various communities regarding the number of families living there and their sizes, in addition further extensive data on the economic and health situation and the living conditions was gathered.

Using this information, we developed a project plan to create a children-friendly environment and to improve the socio-economic situation of the villagers. Since both the lowest castes and the casteless count as "outcasts" in Nepalese society, they invariably live under poor conditions and experience daily discrimination.

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The main objective of a long-term improvement of living conditions is to improve the educational situation, especially that of girls. If a child does attend school, it means that the family loses out on another worker, which brings about a loss of income and therefore we promote direct education of girls parallel with the (economic) development of families and communities. The activities are specifically aimed at families in the medium term to enable them to generate more of their own income to support themselves, in addition to helping their children attend school.

Therefore, our social workers work together with domestic ideas and solutions to improve the socio-economic situation, bring about regular workshops for income maintenance and initiate micro-credit programs. Furthermore, we are aiming to improve the hygienic conditions and health care. All activities take place under the active participation of the villagers, who are organizing themselves into groups for this purpose.

I. Improvement of living conditions in the villages

1. Saving groups

More saving groups are to be formed in individual communities, to which each family sends one member. The members themselves choose both the chairman as well as the treasurer and the secretary of their respective savings group. The whole thing is done under instruction and is accompanied by support through our social workers. The groups hold regular meetings and agree on a standardized amount of savings contributions to build up a little capital stock of their own. Hence the village community become "savers" for the first time in their lives after about a year, thus helping to shape their future lives in a positive manner.

Each group member can then apply for a small loan, the procurement will be decided democratically. The interest rate is not more than 2%. This way even the poorest of the poor are able to obtain a loan. They would never stand a chance at a bank with shady businessmen offering them poor credit at exorbitant prices that would absolutely drive them into the ground with lifelong debt and dependency. Through fair microcredit, families are able to build an independent existence, open a shop, purchase tools or a sewing machine or buy seeds for agriculture, thus improving their future income situation.

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Heeramaya's microcredit - a case study
Heeramaya Tamang is 50 years old and a mother of eight...
Read the full report about Heeramaya (GERMAN)


2. Socio-economic perspectives in the agricultural sector

Most villagers possess only small land areas whose size is often not enough to feed their families all year round. In addition, there is a lack of agricultural experience - one example is to do with the fact that families have settled in the area only a generation ago which means their experience in field ploughing is by no means vast. Therefore, our social workers lead group workshops on the topics of agriculture and livestock farming, so as to improve agricultural productivity and thus income opportunities.

It was found out during project preparation that the land areas of the region are particularly suitable for the cultivation of ginger. In addition, ginger can be sold in the surrounding markets at good prices. However the acquisition of tubers, which are required for the initial seeding, is rather expensive and far too expensive for the population of the villages. We support the households of our project villages here, including, through the distribution of ginger tubers to get seeding started. The ginger can be harvested once a year and a yield of up to five kilos is expected from one kilo of seeding, which can then be sold at the local markets.

In collaboration with the established savings groups, families are also supported in the acquisition of further seeds so that they can subsidize part of their livelihood in the future from the sale of the crop and furthermore have money available to buy other seeds for the next planting season. They can really take a big step towards independence by following this strategy.


At the same time we will inform the families about keeping and breeding goats and the marketing of animal products and educate them more about the detection and prevention of possible animal diseases and immunization services. The workshops are conducted by agricultural experts that are constantly in coordination with the Ministry of Agriculture.
Goats in pairs are then subsequently distributed among a certain number of villagers, their descendants in turn go to other families in the village, so that the entire village community is strengthened here sustainably. The distribution of goats is hereby again organized by the groups, i.e. the villagers, themselves. We hope to strengthen the cohesion and the "we-feeling" within the community through this distribution pattern.



Our project managers will distribute the first goats to the residents and train them with the assistance of experts in veterinary care and breeding.

 Families can produce dairy products for their own consumption through goat farming, thus improving their nutritional situation and even offer goats for sale in the market through increasing livestock in the following months and years. The male offspring, as long as they are not needed in the village for further breeding and depending on their weight and age, can fetch prices between five and eight thousand rupees (50-80 Euros) on the market and the females a little less. This can enable families to generate lucrative extra income.



3. Environmental protection - conservation of resources and changes in living conditions through solar energy, clay stoves and biogas plants

By gradually improving the current living conditions in our project villages, we are trying to sustainably improve both the economic as well as the health situation of the people.

The inhabitants of our project villages have spent their lives up to the present without electric light. An open fire serves as both the light and cooking sources.

On average, each family consumes about 250 kg of wood per month, which means the forests around the settlements have been dramatically decimated because there has been no other source of energy in the villages up to now and it can be very expensive to buy wood at the market.

The women, because wood collecting is "women's work", therefore always have to walk long distances in order to spend hours on end cutting wood to drag it back to the villages. The daughters are often required to support their mothers in obtaining wood so therefore cannot attend school.

We intend to counter this through various approaches.

a) Solar systems

Not only is a reduction in deforestation in the surroundings an advantage of installing solar systems in combination with LED lights, but because wood is now no longer needed to produce light, the solar systems also contribute directly to the improvement of the living conditions. The women are now spared a large working chunk of their week and thus the family can use this time gained for other activities, e.g. for alternative income generation, the children have more light to play or do homework in the evening.

The families are, however, trained in how to use and maintain these systems by our social workers in training groups, before they come into possession of them. Thus, the future residents can help each other with problems. Our workers are available for any larger problems because the project villages are frequently visited. Furthermore, each family pays a small deposit for their solar system, which is then placed in their relative savings group. The basic capital stock grows in the group as a consequence, which can then go towards possible repairs as well as further investment in the improvement of living conditions, such as medical treatments, the purchase of seeds, additional chickens or goats. As with the distributed goats, the group serves here as e.g. a supervisory authority to prevent, for example, the sale of solar systems resp. the goats for a quick, one-time source of income and thus to ensure and promote long-term development.

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b) Clay stoves

An open wood fire has always been the cooking method of choice for the inhabitants of our project villages as of today. This is mainly because other fuels such as gas or kerosene are simply unaffordable and the state has not provided them with any alternative means.

In order to support the residents equally in several respects and to improve their living conditions, we have begun to install clay stoves in homes specifically tailored to the needs of the region's climate. Wood consumption can be reduced by up to 50% with these stoves providing welcome relief not only to the surrounding forests but, as with the solar systems, the wives and daughters of the villages too.

Furthermore, the resulting smoke is not distributed as before in the huts, but is dissipated via a vent pipe. Eye, stomach and lung diseases caused by the regular and permanent inhalation of smoke can be avoided. Additionally, the risk of sparks flying from the fire is reduced by the use of the stoves (compared to open wood fires).



c) Biogas systems

We decided, in consultation with the local population and the local authorities, on another variant in some households of our project villages. For households in which cattle are plentiful, we have introduced biogas. Thus, the open wood fire can be completely replaced by biogas as a cooking place.

The technology is quite simple. The excrements of the cattle held as well as the members of the family are passed along with water into an underground air-tight six-cubic-meter pit. Methane gas in this environment is passed through the opening of a main valve via a narrow line to the cooking area where it can be used as needed for cooking.

 

The excrement seeps into a pit (left), the resulting gas is dissipated through a valve and used for cooking (centre), the slurry can be removed and used as fertilizer (right) (Image source: Wikipedia)

The cooking places operated by biogas are financed in the most part by the "Back to Life" initiative, but the government and the local forest administration also take a direct financial interest, as it is also in their interest to protect the forest of the adjacent Chitwan National Park.

Of course, the residents themselves are contributing to the new biogas systems by constructing them through their own labour under our guidance.

The cooking places operated by biogas have a variety of positive effects for the residents and the environment. The living area is no longer obscured by dense smoke during cooking, which will bring about a better state of health of the residents in the long term. So that families are able to transfer excrement more efficiently into the pits, households shall also receive toilets for the first time, which also contributes to an improvement of the hygienic situation.

The slurry generated in the pit can be removed at a certain point and serves as fertilizer for the surrounding fields, so we can expect a higher productivity of earnings here in the future in connection with the agricultural measures described above.

The women and children are also spared the daily gathering, searching, cutting and carrying of the wood, like with the solar systems described above resp. the clay stoves.

Children can spend more time with homework, learning and school attendance with the immense time savings because often the girls must stay away from schools in order to support their mothers. The mothers have more time to take care of the children and to use the new hours for other work, so as to increase the income of the family.



4. Medical help

Of course we support villagers in terms of medical help. The nearest hospital is in Bharatpur up to 50 kilometres away, depending on the village, but the families are so poor that it is impossible for them to bear the cost of transportation, doctor visits and the necessary medicines. In Nepal, medications are often unfortunately so expensive that they are even difficult for people of the middle class to afford. In addition to individual assistance in emergencies, we also organise "Health Camps" periodically, in which we also engage general practitioners and gynaecologists too. Residents often arrive there having never been before, to take a medical exam for the first time and obtain, if necessary, medications for further treatment.

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All activities that we carry out in the course of community development eventually have the objective of creating a child-friendly environment, and to enable families to send their children, in particular girls, to school. Of course, we are trying to improve the educational system in our project villages parallel with a number of other measures... as you can see on the following page...»