Laura’s Credible Future

I know, it’s been some time since I last posted anything to this blog.  My time has been spent settling back in after a year away … this takes effort!  But it is also not too interesting, at least not enough to write blog posts on.  I am back home in Canada, working, earning money, getting my house in order, catching up with friends, planning a catch up visit with family & friends in Ireland, and spending my so-called spare time volunteering locally.  Which is kinda fun actually!  I’ve been promoting an amateur production of The Importance of Being Earnest, as well as lots of work with the Bowen Island Arts Council.

Although back home, I am still in constant contact with all things Nepal and Sri Lanka, and am in regular touch with everyone that calls me friend there.  I constantly read up on anything to with supporting the Nepali people – healthcare, education, human rights, livelihood sustainability, organic farming … you name, I read it.  Thanks to a friend who lives in Nepal, I came across this request.

I’ve written about Laura Spero in the past, and follow religiously, her writings in the All The Pieces Of blog, all related to living with her Nepali family in Kashikot, daily life in rural Nepal and the rural dental program she has worked tirelessly to build over the last decade or so.

I’d encourage you to take a look at her blog to get a sense of the hard work and dedication it has taken her and her ever-expanding rural dental team.  To achieve so much without governmental or iNGO support is just astounding really.  It’s only recently that her Jevaia Foundation has had to work with Nepal’s Government, negotiating the use of her program as a template to establish rural dental clinics country-wide.  Pretty impressive.

This young lady is currently doing a Master’s on Social Work and is now a finalist in the My Credible Future scholarship competition for a cool US$10,000.  To win this scholarship, she needs the most votes of all finalists before December 1, 2017.  But before I ask you to vote, I’ll let Laura tell you herself  why you should give her your vote.  Reproduced with her kind permission.

“I was very lucky to grow up with a fantastic education. The summer after my junior year of college, I got to go to Nepal as part of a group studying medicinal plants. For me it was mostly an excuse to go to Nepal, a place I’d been inexplicably obsessed with for many years. It was August, and the monsoon had settled in a perpetual downy mist around the mountain peaks. One afternoon, I was walking through a rural village with the group of foreigners, and I locked eyes with a Nepali woman leaning in the door frame of her house. ‘What a beautiful photo she would make,” I thought. And suddenly it hit me as astonishing that I’d come all the way to Nepal, to this village, right to this woman’s house, and we were still in completely separate worlds. I didn’t dare pick up my camera. Instead I thought, “I’d like to know what it’s like to stand in that house and watch people pass in the road.” 

And somehow, that’s exactly what I ended up doing. After I graduated from college, I went to Nepal to volunteer in a different village called Kaskikot. It had a road running right through it where tourists would pass by. I ended up living with a widow and her two daughters my age, threw myself in to their daily routines and fieldwork, started picking up the language, and began to discover problems people were facing. At 23, I started working with teachers in Kaskikot to bring dental care to people in the village. Fifteen years later, our sustainable rural dentistry model serves an area of 50,000 people and targets the most widespread childhood disease in Nepal. We run on a very lean budget and I do all the fundraising. None of us knew a thing about dentistry when we began, but the people I was working with certainly new about their own lives. And what I knew was how to learn. That was all I needed.

About two years ago and eight rural dental clinics later – all run by rural Nepali people – we realized we were ready to try to get our model adopted in to the entire national health care system of Nepal. This put our scrappy project in meetings with government officials in charge of health policy, an arena dominated by huge international funders and public health research agendas. 

And that’s when I decided to go back to school. Access to higher education is an incredible gift, not because it leads to a piece of paper, but because it opens avenues and resources and connections in the world. I’ve spent many years stripping back my academic training to work from the perspective rural farmers in Nepal. But it is my education that allows me to and bring that experience back to the institutions and structures that influence their lives.

Starting a Master’s in Social Work has given me the language of human rights to describe a project I started with no formal theory behind it. It’s helped me understand the world of research and grants, and start presenting our work to new and important audiences. With opportunity comes responsibility, and I want to use my life to be a bridge and a communicator for people who are left out. When I am in Nepal I still live in the same little house by a road in Kaskikot, with my adopted Nepali “aamaa” who cannot read or write, and I still fetch water and work in the fields with her. Now, thanks to the power of my education, I’m introducing her to you. I want #mycrediblefuture to also be my credible present: knowing when to put down the camera, but also when to pick it up.”

Laura hard at work with her Aamaa. Photo credit Laura Spero

I can’t imagine the great heights with which Laura will attain once she has successfully completed her Masters in Social Work.  How much more she will do for the rural people of Nepal.  It’s on this basis I ask you to do just one thing, every day until December 1, 2017.

Click on this link once a day and Vote for Laura.  It’s really as simple as that.  Share this link with all your friends and family so that they can vote daily too.  The more votes Laura gets, the greater her chances are to win this scholarship.

People sometimes tell me they would love to help but can’t travel to places like Nepal due to family commitments.  Others say they are not financially stable enough to contribute.  So this one is an easy thing to do, just vote once a day until December 1, 2017.

It costs you just a minute of your time, and the benefit to the rural people of Nepal is significant.  Be a part of it why don’t you?

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Tihar – Nepal’s Festival of Lights

This is a short write- up on what Tihar means to a one of the 45 young women who have been a recipient of  higher education scholarships by the impressive Bo M. Karlsson Foundation .  This post is reproduced here with their kind permission.

Tihar is one of the most dazzling of all Hindu festivals. Also known as festival of lights, it is considered to be of great importance among Nepalese people. Tihar is celebrated for five days, with different traditional rituals performed each day. A beautiful aspect about this festival is that it not only marks a celebration of humans and gods, but also represents the attachment between human and animals.

The first day of Tihar is known as “Kag (Crow) Tihar”. On this day, people worship the crows by offering different food items in a plate made of saal leaves. The second day observed is “Kukur (Dog) Tihar” where dogs are worshipped to thank them for guarding our homes and for their loyalty. People offer a variety of delicious food to dogs. Even the street dogs are given respect on this particular day.

“Laxmi Puja” is the third day of Tihar. On this day people worship the cow and the goddess Laxmi. Goddess Laxmi, the symbolic deity of wealth and prosperity, is worshiped and entreated to provide a prosperous life. In the evening, all houses are decorated with colorful garlands, rangoli art, lights and diyas. Because this day is marked on the new moon, lights have particular significance. It is believed amidst the bleak darkness of the new moon, goddess Laxmi will visit the house which is decorated beautifully and brightly with lights. With all the shimmering and dazzling lights, the city looks very beautiful during Laxmi puja.

During this evening of Tihar, girls gather together and visit different houses wearing their cultural dresses. They play different musical instruments and perform dances to collect blessings and money from the home owners. This practice is called “Vailo”. The fourth day is “Gobardhan Puja” where people worship the ox. On this evening, it is the boys’ turn to perform dancing, singing, and collect blessings and money. This practice is called “Deusi”.

The fifth and last day of Tihar is “Bhaitika”. On this day, all the sisters honor their brothers and pray for their longevity and good health. They put seven different colors of tika on their brother’s forehead. They adrorn him with garlands and offer different delicious foods like apple, okhar, and chocolates. In return, they get different gifts from their brothers.

Tihar is my personal favorite festival among all because all of our family members get reunited on this occasion. We play Deusi Vailo every year together with our friends and I love the beautiful atmosphere of the city lights in the evening. My sister and I decorate our home, create rangoli art, experiment with new dishes in the kitchen and it is full of fun. I love this festival of lights!

Binita Devkota, BMKF Law Student

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A snapshot of my work in Sri Lanka

There was a feature done on me and my work in Sri Lanka recently, which I have been meaning to share but kept forgetting to do so!  Here you go, enjoy.

A Business Savvy Global Citizen Volunteers in Sri Lanka
Kate Coffey takes 25 years of business acumen to Sri Lanka

Growing up in a small town in southern Ireland, Kate Coffey dreamed of visiting far off places. These big dreams, along with Kate’s intellect, business acumen and passion for volunteering are what led Kate from Ireland to Canada to Nepal and to Sri Lanka, where she volunteered with USAID’s VEGA/BIZ+ program.

An impressive financial career used for good

Kate spent 25+ years working as a senior business strategist for large investment management firms. Kate credits her success to having common sense, being a quick learner and having an ability to work with all kinds of people. Though her career was demanding, she still found time to pursue other passions like supporting the arts and her local community, volunteering and traveling. In 2012, she was able to do both at the same time.

“After I got back from my first trip to Nepal, I knew I wanted to find a way back. I put in my one year notice,” says Kate.

In 2013, Kate resigned from her permanent corporate position for a new adventure. She matched with a volunteer opportunity at the Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Center (SIRC) in Nepal, where she helped coordinate fundraising efforts, coaching and mentoring staff as well as creating a staff response process to spinal cord injuries after the 2015 earthquakes.

Business development support in Sri Lanka
Kate’s most recent stint has been nine months spent volunteering in Sri Lanka with the VEGA/BIZ+ program. Funded by USAID and implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development, this program provides matching grants to small businesses looking to increase productivity and create job opportunities and incomes for people in their communities.

BIZ+ not only supports these businesses with financial support, but also with technical and business assistance to set them up for long-term success. This is where Kate comes in. With many years of experience analyzing and coaching businesses, Kate uses her expertise to support four BIZ+ businesses in Sri Lanka’s northern and eastern provinces: a rice flour mill, a polybag manufacturer, an heirloom rice producer and a garment factory.

A day in Kate’s Sri Lanka life
When Kate first arrives at the Agash Garment Factory for the day, she is all smiles. She points to neatly stacked and labeled boxes in the corner. “Look how organized they are!” Kate exclaims in her Irish Canadian accent. “It’s things like that that help me see that the trainings are being used.”

Agash is located in Jaffna, the main city in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, many business owners like Agash’s Muruganantham lost their jobs, businesses, home and more due to the 26-year Sri Lankan civil war. Getting reestablished wasn’t easy. Muruganantham, who designs and sews men’s clothing, got his garment factory back on its feet in 2010, but he struggled to grow his business. Shortly after opening, VEGA BIZ+ provided a matching grant to Agash to purchase sewing machines, solar panels, materials and labor to expand the factory.

During this time, Kate and BIZ+ staff regularly provided in person coaching, trainings and human resource guidance to Muruganantham. “He was a designer, an artist. He wasn’t a business owner by training. Equipping him with tools like this enables him to run his business more effectively,” says Kate.

While displaying some of his latest shirts, Muruganantham talks about his experience working with Kate, “She would spend a day with us, and then give us homework… like keeping records of sales… and she helped us understand inventory and how to get more profit from the raw materials,” he says. Trainings included sessions on how to manage employees, maximize inventory efficiency and keep track of financial records. “She also taught me to be more proactive and work together with my employees.”

Since BIZ+’s initial investment in 2013, Agash has expanded operations, created 32 new jobs and seen a 25 percent increase in profit for each shirt made.

“I am now able to do business in the proper manner and think about the future,” says Muruganantham.

So, what’s next for Kate?
As for Kate’s immediate future, she’s back in Vancouver returning to work as project manager for corporations and government institutions. She also plans to spend some time at home on Bowen Island, British Colombia. Though she’s not sure where or exactly when she’ll head back overseas for volunteering, she likes thinking about how many possibilities there are out there. Like majestic Mt. Everest, the sky is the limit for Kate.

Article courtesy of:

 

 

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School’s Back!

At least here in the Northern Hemisphere, kids and teachers returned to school in their droves this week.  It’s hot and sticky here in British Columbia and I feel for the little kids, donning clothes suitable for school and shoes.  Shoes stick in my mind as when I was a young ‘un, we Coffeypots would run around in our bare feet all Summer and hate, really hate having to don socks and shoes come September.  Dem were the days.

For most of us, going back to school is a given.  As kids we might have claimed to be devastated that the Summer was over and we had to go back to school.  But underneath it all, we relished the new clothes, perhaps a new lunch box, new books covered in brown-paper to protect them against grimy hands, new copybooks and pencils (maybe it’s an iPad these days!), reconnecting with friends and most importantly, the excitement over the learning the year ahead would bring.

Unfortunately not every kid in this world gets to experience that sense of buoyant anticipation for the new school year ahead.  Climate change and the resulting rising waters in Bangladesh have washed away many schools.  After the worst monsoon season in the recent months in nearly 30 years, it’s estimated 600,000 children in Bangladesh will not return to school.  In northern Bangladesh, home to some 20 million people, less than 1% finish high school.  That’s an awful lot of kids without education.

Trust BRAC to come up with a creative solution in spite of the environmental challenges – floating classrooms where kids can attend school no matter how high the water goes.

Photo credit: BRAC

This article in the BRAC Blog is an informative quick read around floating classrooms.

Nepal has greater numbers of children going to school, but man do they ever have to jump through hoops to make it to the closest school every day!  This short clip intrigues me.  It shows some very young children, ziplining across a rather fast-flowing river to get to the other side, before walking further to school.  Take note, there are no safety measures taken, there isn’t an adult in sight.  There’s no bickering among the kids, they are just getting on with the business of getting across the river to go to school.

Video credit KTM Nepal.

I am in constant awe of the resilience of the Nepali people, and the inventiveness with which they solve problems.  As many of you know, I have been supporting SIRC for many years now, and met Vocational Trainer Rishi Ram Dhakal there in 2013.

Since first meeting Rishi, he has been part of a group that set up Nepal’s SCI Sports Association in 2014, an organization that has gone on to organize basketball, table tennis, swimming and cricket at local, national and international levels, recently sending Nepali athletes to the Asian para-games.

Rishi (centre) with friends showcasing wheelchair basketball on SCI Day in Bhaktapur 2016. Photo credit SIRC

After the 2015 earthquakes, Rishi along with seven others created the SCI Network, whose first project is the set-up and operation of the SCI Hostel.  The hostel provides a home away from home for children and young adults who live with SCI, to complete their education in Kathmandu – something that would just be impossible if they were return home to their mountainous villages in rural Nepal.

Later this Fall and as part of an afternoon of stories about my recent work in Sri Lanka, I’ll introduce you to Rishi’s SCI Hostel in more detail, and ask for some donations in support of it’s future plans to expand the hostel … allowing some of those children on the waitlist, to get back to school.  You never know, I might even serve a little Sri Lankan food (I promise I won’t make it too spicy!).  I’ll let you know the date when I know it.

On this, the week when kids in many countries around the world go back to school, it’s good to acknowledge and applaud the organizations and people who make education possible for those who otherwise would not have access to it.

I’m in wonder at their dedication.

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Maeve Mulcahy: #swimfastnet

A detailed account of my sister Maeve Mulcahy record-making swim from The Fastnet Rock to Baltimore, Cork Ireland on September 1, 2017. Pure determination and the support of dedicated friends. Inspired I am.

Myrtleville Swimmers

This is my account of my Fastnet to Baltimore swim which I completed on 1st September 2017.

I had originally been training for the Galway Bay Swim which was to happen in July.  Unfortunately, this year it was very difficult to procure boats and, much to my disappointment, I was unable to do the swim.  I had been training solidly coming up to July and I didn’t want to waste my efforts.  So, my Myrtle Turtle mates, Eoin Lowry and Anne Sheehy, and I set about looking to organise a swim that I could do. 

Many years ago, a very wise young man, Owen O’Keefe, a.k.a. Fermoy Fish, said to me, always remember if you’re the first to do a swim, nobody can ever take that from you, no matter how long it takes you to do it – thank you Owen for that advice!  So, with that in…

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Kathmandu roads during monsoon

Take a look at the Nepali Times 2.30 mins clip of a bike’s journey from Jorpati to Chabahil in the city of Kathmandu, Nepal.  Grant it, it is monsoon season which makes things worse, but Jorpati is as bad as this clip shows … at least it was 6 weeks ago when I was there.

Many people with disabilities live in Jorpati due to its proximity to the Orthopedic Hospital, so you can imagine the challenges facing those on crutches or in a wheelchair, trying to make their way around!

I had not realized the schoolgirl who fell into the drain, actually died.

Besides the crowds, crazy traffic and pollution, this is one of the reasons why I spend as little time as possible in Kathmandu, especially during monsoon.

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Mankamana … finally

It all started in late 2014 when my sister Maeve and I bought a bunch of tickets to the Cork Film Festival.  Her hubbie does not like going to see films much and I had not seen a film for quite some time.  This was after all the time I returned to the western world after spending a year in Nepal, Bangladesh, India s well as visiting family and friends in Australia, New Zealand, Spain, UK and Ireland.  It was a mammoth travel year back then.  But I digress …..

Mankamana, before I ever knew it was a sacred temple, was a documentary film to me.  We chose to see this film from the huge selection offered by the Cork Film Fest, purely because it was Nepal-related.  If you like a slow, thought-provoking, visually stunning film featuring snippets of ordinary people’s lives, then you will enjoy this film.  You can check out the trailer here.

The filmmakers installed a camera in one of the cable cars that ferries people from the road, across the raging Trisuli River and up up up high to the Manakamana Temple in the clouds.  They did a lovely job of linking all the vignettes together.  I particularly adored the clip with the women eating the ice creams.  I so loved the film that I was determined to visit the real place.

There’s much evidence of massive landslides along the highway that connects it to Kathmandu some 140 km away.  It’s the threat of landslides particularly during monsoon season that has prevented me from making the journey there late in 2015, Summer and Fall 2016 and again in Spring 2017.  Luck was on my side in June 2017 when Prajwal and I made the 5-7 hour one-way journey by bus, there and back all in one day.  Man was it ever a long day!    But worth it, as I got to be reminded of the inherent beauty of rural Nepal in all it’s monsoon luscious glory.

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The Mankamana Temple is in the Gorkha district of Nepal at 1,302 meters in elevation and overlooks the raging Trisuli River. The Temple sits close to what was the epicentre of the 2015 earthquake and restoration work continues to rectify the structural damage from over 2 years ago.

Manakamana is the sacred place of the Hindu Goddess Bhagwati, an incarnation of Parvati.  Its name originates from two words: “mana” meaning heart and “kamana” meaning wish.  It is said any wish truly coming from your heart, is always granted by the Goddess Manakamana.  I don’t think this is a myth, the wish I put forward on my visit there has been granted not six weeks later! Not for me, for someone else.

The pilgrimage to Manakamana is known as Manakamana Darshan and many Hindus make it frequently, especially when a new wish is sought, or thanks needs to be given for a wish granted.  Popular times of year to go of course are during Dashain (September/October) and Nag Panchami (July/August).  Going in June meant less crowds, still crowded enough for me though!  Offerings are an important part of the pilgrimage and include a selection of rice, red cloth, nuts, flowers, coconuts, oil lamp, incense and betel nuts.  Everyone gets in line with their offering and waits while the long line snakes it’s way along,  On the day we were there it was at least a one-hour wait.

 

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Sacrifice of roosters and goats is common, as in all temples and there’s even a separate cable car to transport the goats to the temple, oblivious to what is about to happen to them.  That same cable car transports the bloody sacks of carcasses down where people bring the slain animal home to eat.

In the western world we are so far removed from where our meat comes from, it’s sometimes good to be reminded.  If you have the stomach for it, you can revisit a post I write in early 2014 where a goat was slain on the SIRC Staff Picnic to Dhakshinkali, another sacred temple.  But this goat was for lunch, and was never intended to be a sacrifice.

The cable car ride was a highlight for me.  Nepal’s first cable car system, it was manufactured in Austria and opened for business on Nov 24, 1998.  Before the cable car, pilgrims had to hike over 3 miles with an elevation gain of over 3,500 ft … thank goodness for the cable car!  It runs during daylight hours with a break for lunch and has had a consistent safety record, even after the earthquakes.  It can carry 600 people to the summit every hour, and with 3 cable cars for the goats, who knows how many goats at a time.  From what I could see, roosters travel up with their owners in burlap sacks.

The cable car is in part sponsored by NCell, one of Nepal’s mobile companies and boy do they take advantage of the opportunity to splash their corporate colours around!

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* Just under three years after the opening of the Mankamana Cable Car, the same HRH Crown Prince Dipendra Bir Bikram Shah massacred his parents, brother and sister over a disagreement on who he should marry.

My journey to Manakamana was a long time coming, and I was really thrilled to make it there.  Much thanks has to go to Prajwal for accompanying me and figuring out that there was a bus direct from Jorpati where he lives with Sanjita his wife.  So much easier to be picked up and dropped off close to ‘home’!

And do you think I have a photo of Prajwal and I on our pilgrimage that day – unfortunately not.  Mad at myself about that.

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