Moving with the times

When I was in Bangladesh checking out the nuts and bolts of microfinance, I was impressed with the face to face monthly meetings every Credit Officer ran in small villages, to collect loan payments and savings installments from BRAC’s clients.  What shocked me was the large hard-covered heavy ledger that was hauled around from village to village where the Credit Officer would diligently enter every transaction in the ledger, and the Branch Manager would compare the totals to the computer printout, and then update the client’s account book.

It took many hours to complete and this meant these clients had to break away from their work and families for an extended period … every month.  In addition to having a need for a Credit Officer out in the villages, there was also a need for teams of Account Officers who inputted the handwritten data into the centralized computer system.  This took another few hours to complete and was rife with errors … handwritten records are always tough!

At the time BRAC were considering a pilot project to investigate the possibility of introducing technology into the process.  Back at the regional office, I remember having a long discussion with the Regional Manager about the pros of using technology.  Being a process geek, I was happy to give some ideas on how the process could be digitized yet still have the appropriate controls to protect the client’s hard-earned money.  At the time the wireless network across Bangladesh was not very reliable or robust enough.

You can imagine my delight to read this article from the Centre for Financial Inclusion.  It tells the story of BRAC’s project to digitize the collection process.  Launched in late 2014, it took some years to pull together and a pilot was launched in 2017.  More recently, the process has seen a few tweaks before it is being fully rolled out across the country.

Another example of the smart use of technology! Way to go BRAC.  Enjoy the article from the Centre for Financial Inclusion.

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All’s well in Jorpati

Keshav is great for keeping me up to date on the goings on at the SCI Hostel.  Here are the latest stories.  Everyone is well and happy as you can see!

Hanging out at the Hostel

A day’s outing with Didi to the local temple

The students were also invited as special guests to the local Teej party put on by their neighbours in Jorpati.  Teej is an annual festival that especially celebrates women where the colour red is worn as a sign of love.  I’ve attended a few of these parties in the past and they are full of singing, dancing and general hilarity – it’s a blast!  These ladies not only partied, they also donated food and  Nr 2,000 to the Hostel – very generous!

Earlier in the month, the newly acquired ground-floor apartment closeby to the existing Hostel, was renovated to provide a ramp at the front door as well as accessible showering and toilet facilities.

The second hostel is finished and received it’s first two students!

Keshav, Rishi and the board members have also been busy raising the profile of the SCI Hostel.  Recently, they had a visit from the Deputy Mayor, the Inspector General of Nepal Police and the Senior Superintendent of Nepal Police, a retired Brigadier General of Nepal Army, the Secretary General of Disabled Human Rights Centre as well as a local government representative.

Phew!  That’s some visit from those in high places!  It enabled Keshav, Rishi and the board members to demonstrate the clear need for governmental support for their Hostel and all people with mobility issues.   Specifically, they asked for government land on which to custom-build a SCI Hostel, rather than continuing to rent two apartments.  We shall have to see how their request is taken.  But the visit was deemed to be a great success given the visit was reported on 20 local newspapers and national TV.  It helps to build awareness when distinguished guests visit!

Distinguished Guests at the SCI Hostel

Two weeks ago, they had a return visit from the Deputy Mayor and a member of Nepal ex-Police Family Forum who on behalf of a Nepali family in the UK, donated Nr. 250,000 (CAD$2,800 ) to the SCI Hostel.  This allows for more stability for the SCI Hostel, ensuring the students can receive funding, and therefore schooling for the coming year.  The visit was celebrated with  yummy plate of dal bhat – the national dish of Nepal consisting of rice, dhal, greens and a curry.  Yum yum.

I have to say, I am dead impressed with Keshav, Rishi and the Board for their continued work in raising awareness for the needs of those in wheelchairs, and the importance of their continued education.  It’s my honour to be associated with them.  आदर !

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The craziness of monsoon, Nepal

I’ve alluded in earlier posts about the challenges the people of Nepal (and many other counties in SE Asia) face during monsoon time.  This year’s monsoon has killed over 50 people in Nepal, and there is another two months to go before monsoon is expected to end.  Landslides are frequent and have hit the Narayangadh-Mugling road multiple times so far this monsoon, where at least 10,000 vehicles ply back and forth every day.

Landslides on the Narayangadh-Mugling road. Photo credit My Republica

This road connects the country’s southern, eastern and western parts with Pokhara and Kathmandu and creates unbelievable havoc when it has to shut down.
Another factor to add to the mayhem in Kathmandu is the ongoing road works that have been underway for years now, aimed to install proper drainage systems and resurface the roads.  Private contractors are doing the work … or I should say won the contracts but are not really doing any of the work, just lining their pockets really. So here we are in the middle of yet another monsoon and  nothing much as changed.  Take a look.

Streets in Patan, a suburb of Kathmandu, flooded after monsoon rains. Photo credit The Sun Daily

Muddy and flooded road in Jorpati, another suburb of Kathmandu where many wheelchair users live. Photo credit Kathmandu Post

Not only is it warm and muggy monsoon time, but the garbage has not been collected in Kathmandu for over a month due to two factors – no more room at the landfill and the access road has been washed out.  So now there are piles of garbage mounting up all over the city, and not only does it stink to high heaven, it also means a serious threat to water-borne diseases.

Photo credit Kathmandu Post

To top it off, the city of Bhaktapur has been trashed with the Hanumante River having swollen it’s banks, after a night of fierce rain last Wednesday.  The Araniko Highway heading east is completely submerged with over 4 feet of water.  Fortunately my friends the Kayastha Family are not affected.

Flooding of the Hanumante River in Bhaktapur

Banepa, the town where I live for much of my time in Nepal is completely flooded but thankfully Lok and family’s home is on a higher elevation and so has not been affected.  Mind you the people living in makeshift tents and under tarps after losing their homes in the 2015 earthquakes suffered the brunt of this year’s flooding – enough already.

Flooding in Banepa. Photo credit Sapkota Rajan

I came across this little story which made me snigger a little.  The Traffic Police along the Koteshwor-Suryabinayak section of the Araniko Highway are attempting to ensure drivers stick to lanes by vehicle type, where the heavy trucks are to stay right and cars & motorbikes must stick to the left, with no overtaking.  I snigger only because first of all, the lanes are not always evident and when they are evident, no one really keeps to lanes.   The chances of vehicles sticking to their ‘lane’ are slim to none!  There’s also an attempt at educating jaywalkers – ha!  Good luck with that.  Read it here.
And finally on a positive note, a cool thing happened at the recent Turkish Airlines ENGAGE Empowering League in Kathmandu.  The tournament is a wheelchair basketball competition now in it’s third year with 134 players and more than 600 spectators and is getting noticed by the general population. 
In the past anyone with a disability was shunned across Nepal and it was for this reason Ram Bahadur Tamang was determined to complete his Wheelchair Yaatra in 2014.  Ram’s aim was to raise awareness and give hope to those with disabilities.  It is clear Ram’s yaatra has done it’s job.  One of the young players at the tournament was asked for his autograph by some adoring spectators.  Unheard of!  Read all about it here. 
Keep up your advocacy work Ram!
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The latest from SCI Hostel, Jorpati

Thanks to Keshav who keeps me up to date on all the goings on at the SCI Hostel these days.  When I look at how busy the kids are, not only at school but also with sports and outings, I am thankful this little island off the west coast of Canada, can make such a difference to these young lives.

Take a look for yourselves ….

For any of you who have visited Nepal, you will know the roads are dreadful.  For the past few years the government have been laying water pipes throughout the city, causing havoc for pedestrians and traffic alike.  Just when that work finished, they dug up the road again to enhance the storm sewers, it’s a never ending sea of mud!

This is the road outside the SCI hostel – dreadful!!

With a large population of wheelchair users living in the Jorpati area, they organized a protest rally.   It seemed to work as the road crews were out a few days later trying to improve the small road outside the SCI Hostel.

After the rally, the group was invited to the Prime Minister’s residence for a meeting, who then referred the group to the Finance Minister.  The hope is in addition to the roads, a Npr 5,000 / CAD $60 monthly payment is paid to all those with disabilities to help cover food, shelter and medical expenses.  Future meetings with the Minister of Social Welfare and Minister of Health is also planned … this will be a very long process.  But it’s great to see such activism!!

New wheelchair donation for Sumit from National Disabled Fund and Bharat Bahadur Karki


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School’s back! In Nepal at least

It’s been two months since the Remarkable Year in Sri Lanka fundraiser raised C$5,000 to benefit children with spinal cord injuries (SCI) in Nepal.  A mix of countries I know but the story I had to tell was about my time in northern Sri Lanka working with small, family-run businesses in the Tamil community.  Nepal continues to be my soul-home though, I have a strong connection to the resilience of Nepalis and in particular with people living with SCI, hence raising funds for the kids with SCI in Nepal.

The hostel is run by the Spinal Cord Injured Network Nepal, an organization created in 2016 by Rishi Dhakal and friends, in response to the increasing need for kids with SCI, to have a safe place to stay while attending school.

I’ve been to visit the hostel in Jorpati  in the outskirts of Kathmandu a few times and wrote about it way back in 2016.   Check out that blog post here.  The hostel has basic accommodation, spotlessly clean and well cared for by a hired Didi – a local lady who cooks and cleans for the children, and gets them off to school in the morning.    Didi actually means Older Sister in the Nepali language.  I think it is fitting that the lady that cares for them is indeed like their older sister in their home away from home.

Didi preparing lunch

The Spinal Cord Injured Network Nepal board members are also very active at the hostel, helping the kids with homework and projects, enhancing their English language skills, public speaking skills (Nepal’s future advocates for SCI!) and bringing them along to a variety of sports activities:  swimming, table tennis, basketball, cricket and wheelchair road racing.  They lead very active and stimulating lives, don’t they?

It’s not hard to believe there is a wait list of about 11 kids who want to attend school.  The hostel needs to be expanded to accommodate more children … but that’s a whole other story!

Out of many deserving kids, Sumit (15), Sidhant (12), Subash (15) and Bandana (10) are the ones who are benefiting from the donations of Bowen Islanders (C$5,000) in combination with a contribution towards expenses (C$1,800) from their respective families.  Money sure stretches far in Nepal.

This is Sumit, Sidhant and Subash’s second year living at the hostel.  Easy to tell they are happy and healthy in this photo below, ready for the new school year.

Fresh uniforms and ready for school Sumit (l), Sidhant (m) and Subash (r)

And then there is Bandana from Mugu in Western Nepal who only arrived at the hostel this week.  She had a long way to travel and needed a hospital stay to manage a pressure sore before being healthy enough to attend school.  Look how happy she is upon arrival at the hostel!

Bandana upon arrival at the Hostel earlier this week.  Nicely painted nails too!

Keshav Thapa who is the Program Coordinator of Spinal Cord Injured Network Nepal, sent me some background on the children and how they have ended up at the hostel.   These are the children’s stories (unedited).

Thank you Bowen Island, for your continued support in all the volunteer work I do, and the support you provide me  time and time again.  In particular I would like to thank Ann Ramsey and a cadre of Anonymous donors (you know who you are!) for your generous donations.  Thank you too to those who contributed in many ways at the fundraiser.

Your generosity has given hope to the possibility of a bright future for Sumit, Sidhant, Subash and Bandana.


Budget detailing how the money is being spent is below:

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Happy Nepali New Year!

Bisket Jatra is the annual celebration of two of the most important deities of the town of Bhaktapur, the wrathful god Bhairab and the goddess Bhadrakali. The New Year of the Bikram Sambat calendar takes place at the same time as this ancient festival.

A few days before the New Year, the goddess and the god are enshrined in their raths, or immense chariots & pulled through the narrow streets of Bhaktapur by crowds of young men.

On the last day of the old year a towering wooden pole is erected at the edge of town. Long banners hang from the pole, symbolizing next and conquered in a mythological battle.

On new year’s day, contesting terms of men pull the pole to the ground, a moment of danger and excitement.

Happy New Year 2075 to all!

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This is a re-post from my good friends on Bhaktapur, the Kayastha Home Stay

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Thank You for a Remarkable Evening

Last night, just under 60 Bowen Islanders turned up at the Annex to hear the story of my year in Sri Lanka, devour some delicious food and donate generously to the SCI Practice Home in Kathmandu, Nepal, raising over $4,500, allowing THREE children with spinal cord injuries to continue their education.  Thank you to the generous souls of Bowen Island!

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As is always the case, these kinds of events do not happen on their own.  Heart-felt thanks to my team of volunteers:  Rob S, Rob G, Judi Robyn, Muriel, Gail, Shannon, Doris, Marcel, Jlonka, Jen, Phil, Marysia for a stellar job, to Claire Leverton for poster design, to the Bowen Island Undercurrent for their online promotion, to BIAC for promotion and ticket sales, and to BIPL for rental of the Annex.  Thanks too for discounts from Paul Rickett and Fresh St Market which helped reduce my costs.

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And to all those of you who donated generously and who bought tickets, raffle tickets, chutneys and spice mixes.  Thank you.  Know you have made a huge difference to these children in Nepal.

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