Gifts that keep on giving

There are two young girls who live on Bowen Island, who have very kind hearts.   Their names are Nalia and Florence and they felt rather privileged to live the life they do on our idyllic isle.  They came up with an idea to share their games and toys with those less fortunate, as well as work to earn enough money to purchase arts & crafts supplies – they are creative spirits themselves.

Their Mum, Eva reached out to me, wondering if there was any way her daughters could send toys and games to the kids at the SCI Hostel, operated by the Spinal Cord Injury Network Nepal in Jorpati.  I agreed, thinking there would be a small package to send.  I clearly underestimated these girls!

A rather large suitcase landed on my front deck in a matter of days.  It was my turn to get creative given the cost of shipping the gifts to Nepal.  Fortunately, Dr Prakash Paudel one of the SpiNepal alumni was visiting from Nepal, and spending a few days with Drs Peter Wing and Claire Weeks on the west coast before continuing on to present at the Global Spine Congress in Toronto.  What with one additional bag allowed for free, a little creative packing and a long trip to Kathmandu via Toronto, the suitcase of goodies arrived in Jorpati to the great delight of the few kids still there (school was finished for the year afterall).

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Nalia, Florence, Eva and Dr Prakash at Peter & Claire’s home. Photo credit Dr Claire Weeks

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As if this story is not good enough, it gets better.

Sumala Rai (age 14) is from eastern Nepal, a quadriplegic with minimal use of her hands.  She has spent the past five months  at SIRC receiving treatment and rehabilitation, and recently moved to the SCI Hostel.  It became clear pretty quickly that the level of care Sumala needs, is more than the SCI Hostel could provide.  Eager to find a good place for Sumala to live, a specialized home in Bhaktapur that can provide all she needs, has been located.  Sumala’s expenses will be fully covered there.

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Keshav with the very talented Sumala

Although Sumala does not have full use of her hands and arms, she still manages to draw and paint, something that she loves to do.  So you can imagine her excitement to see the drawing and painting supplies gifted by Nalia and Florence.  During her short stay at the SCI Hostel, Sumala has spent her time drawing and painting, taking advantage of the numerous art supplies generously donated by Nalia and Florence.   Take a look at her artwork!

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Sumala’s future gets even brighter.  Her work has been recognized by a national daily newspaper and a Nepali foundation Karuna is sponsoring coaching from an art teacher to help develop Sumala’s talent further.  In addition they are also funding her treatment costs.

This good news story, is in part thanks to the generosity and kindness of two young Bowen Island girls Nalia and Florence.

Dhanybhad!

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Land at last, tis true!

Today is the 4th Anniversary of the first of two large earthquakes that rocked Nepal in 2015, killing 9,000 people and injuring over 22,000.  It left emotional scars that can never be healed.  It left thousands homeless, living under tarps and in tents for years.  Reconstruction has been very slow and although improvements have been made, it’s just not enough.

So a on day like today, my friends in Jorpati needed some good news, and boy did they ever get it!

You’ll remember in a recent post, I reported the promise of land by the local government, but one never counts their chickens before they hatch.  We needed to see it in writing.

True to their word, Gokarneshwar Municipality officially granted a parcel of land for a custom-built hostel not far from where the current SCI Hostel is located in Jorpati.   The Board of Spinal Cord Injury Network Nepal excitedly accepted the letter, hand-delivered by the Gokarneshwar Municipality which included a map outlining the parcel of land that is being committed.

The land will be used to custom-build a hostel, providing a home for three times the number of children already resident in the current hostel – a rental multi-roomed apartment on the ground floor of a home in Jorpati.

Congratulations to Rishi Dhakal, Keshav Thapa, Gayatri Dahal, Jharana Rana and many others associated with Spinal Cord Injury Network Nepal who have worked so hard and given so freely of their time.  This just proves when it’s the right thing do, with a little perseverance and a whole lot of passion, you can succeed!

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The happy moment when the letter was officially presented.  Photo credit Keshav Thapa

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Ecstatic reaction from the kids! How sweet that view is.  Photo credit Keshav Thapa

Congratulations!  There is no one sleeping in Jorpati tonight with all this excitement!  So very proud of you all, keep doing what you are doing.

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Taking it into your own hands

Rishi, Keshav and the wheelchair community in Jorpati, have been pushing for their road to be repaired for over two years now (or maybe it is three years, I can’t remember).  Besides being exceedingly dusty during the dry winter months, it’s a mud-bath during monsoon, and a nightmare for the kids to get to school.

You will remember the blog post I wrote in June 2018 about the state of the roads in Jorpati.  These photos will remind you of how bad it gets as the kids from the hostel make their way to school.

After many many meetings, the group of activists finally persuaded the Minister to get the road sorted and pretty soon the road was resurfaced.

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The Honourable Minister is in the middle back row with Rishi (front row far left) and Keshav (front row far right).

But no sooner had the road been resurfaced, work then commenced on the footpath …. and that’s where the plan went belly up.  Unsure who thought it a good idea to install a footpath too narrow to take a wheelchair and two feet off the surface of the road where no wheelchair could mount such a high curb.

Well, that generated more advocating for the installation of a sensible footpath that would work for everyone in the community, but alas, to no effect.

So what do you do but … take a pick axe and dig up the footpath in protest whilst many able-bodied neighbours look on.

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It caused a bit of a spectacle and the media came out to take a look for themselves.  Their protest made headline news in both the Nepali and English National newspapers!

In addition, the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal wrote a letter to the Ministry in support of the protest, outlining  the Ministry’s contravention of Article 9 – Accessibility, Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

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In Canada you’d be thrown in jail for such actions but there seems to be a groundswell of support for this feisty group of activists.  Let’s wait and see what the Ministry’s response will be!

All Photo Credits to Keshav Thapa.

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Response to Bara District storm

As SIRC celebrates its 17th Anniversary, one of their more experienced nurses – Bishnu Ghimire – has travelled to the Bara District in southern Nepal. He is there to assist with the government’s disaster response to a devastating storm that has resulted in 28 people dying, and many many injured.

As the Government’s response took shape, they realized there were more collapsed buildings than initially thought which has resulted in over 10 spinal cord injuries.    They knew they needed the expertise of SIRC to help identify patients with potential spinal cord injuries  and provide them with the initial care before before transferred carefully to Kathmandu for surgery and/or rehabilitation.

April 5 Bara Bishnu

Nurse Bishnu Ghimire (second left). Photo credit SIRC.

Long-time supporters of  the education of spinal cord rehabilitation and spine/spinal cord surgery in Nepal, Drs Peter Wing and Claire Weeks of SpiNepal have provided more detailed information in their blog – please read it here and help in whatever way you can.

Dhanybhad

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School year is coming to an end

Many thanks to Keshav Thapa for providing me with the latest news of the SCI Hostel in Jorpati.

As Program Coordinator of the SCI Hostel, Keshav is kept busy ensuring there is enough funding to not only house, clothe and feed 15 young people, but also ensure they continue to attend school and college. This is something they could not do had they stayed with their families in the mountainous villages they call home. 

I think we can all agree education is a precious experience!

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Celebrating Holi. Photo credit Keshav Thapa

Don’t know about the Festival of Holi?  Check it out here.  Tis mighty craic!

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Taking part in a wheelchair road race in Kathmandu. Photo credit Keshav Thapa

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It’s not all fun at the SCI Hostel.  Extra tuition in English, Math and Science for some of the older scholars, thanks to SpiNepal Canada.  Photo credit Keshav Thapa

The school year is coming to an end and final exams are looming.  There’s a feverish amount of studying underway at the moment.  Some things are the same the world over.

For more information on the good work of Drs Peter Wing and Claire Weeks at SpiNepal, please visit their website:  https://spinepal.orthopaedics.med.ubc.ca/

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Warming themselves in the winter sun. Photo credit Keshav Thapa

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A group photo of everyone living or working at the SCI Hostel. Photo credit Keshav Thapa

A total of 15 young people with spinal cord injuries call the SCI Hostel their “home away from home” during the school year.  But the hostel goes beyond being just a place to live during the school year.

It is a place they learn to independently live, to take part in a myriad of activities such as swimming, table tennis, road races etc.

Living in Jorpati where there is a vibrant population of wheelchair users (it’s flat and in close proximity to the Orthopedic Hospital you see), the scholars get to see people just like them have full and active lives, get married, have children and live lives that contribute greatly to society.

They learn what it is to advocate for their rights and not to be afraid to take action.  A new generation of patriotic, feisty Nepalis who think anything is possible.

I end with some good news!  Rishi and Keshav along with the Board, have been negotiating with local government to donate a small piece of land in Jorpati to the group.   The land will be used to build a purpose-built SCI hostel thus allowing more young people to take advantage of the hostel and continue their education.

The exciting news is ….. drum roll please ….. the local government made the decision to give the land to the group!! As we speak, the land certificate is being prepared and should be finalized in a few weeks.

This is an amazing result!  Governments in Nepal are not really known for their support of the differently-abled, nor are they known for handing out parcels of land at will.  This is a serious achievement for Rishi, Keshav and team.

Congratulations!  So very proud of you.

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Birthdays, New Wheels and Snow

It’s all happening right now  across the Kathmandu Valley.

First up is Barun and Bandana’s recent birthday. Photo credit Rishi Dhakal.

And then there was a new wheelchair for Bandana generously donated by neighbours SOS Children’s Village in Jorpati.  Photo credits Keshav Thapa.

And measurements being taken for a new wheelchair, kindly donated by the National Rehabilitation Society for the Disabled.  Photo credit Keshav Thapa.

Meausring for a new wheelchair NRSD

And while these young ladies were sunning themselves in Jorpati ….     Photo credit Keshav Thapa.

Soniya and Bandana enjoying sunshine

There was snow in the district of Kavre,, just on the other side of the Kathmandu Valley!

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Snowfall in winter is highly unusual in the foothills of the Himalayas, contrary to what most people thing.  That’s not to say it is cold (it’s freezing!) but never snow.  Not this week!  Snow fell two nights in a row, just not in Jorpati, Kathmandu.

Besides the pure joy of seeing snow, the really excellent news was the fast improvement in Air Quality across the Kathmandu Valley over the two days the snow fell.  Today air quality was at an acceptable level.  A welcome break to the dust and smoke laden air that sullies your nasal passage day after day … Lord only knows what it is doing to your lungs.

KTM Air Quality Indix

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2019 here I come

It’s been a busy two months in Sri Lanka, travelling the length and breadth of the country, working with young entrepreneurs who show a heartfelt passion for their country and belief in building a future for themselves and their children.  How fortunate am I to play a tiny part in realising their dreams.

Today I am content to be home on Bowen and find myself gently slipping back into my life here.  Taking time to reflect on the highs and lows of the year that was, and buoyed by the promise of what is yet to come in 2019.

I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.” 
― John O’Donohue

Love and blessings for 2019

Bowen Life Sandy Beach winter

Photo credit: Bowen Life

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Not all play, there’s been work too!

I had a pretty busy start to my time here in Sri Lanka, thrown in at the deep-end, that’s for sure.  Within a day’s arrival, I had a 5am start to attend a training session for BIZ+ partners, on productivity principles.  The session was in Matara which is what allowed us to scout around and find my home away from home over the next month or so.

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As you can see the session was well attended and included a partnership with the Sri Lankan Government’s Dept of Productivity – making it easy for the businesses to establish and maintain important connections long after the BIZ+ project finishes.

As part of my Great Place To Work Certification preparation (GPTW), I visited a few businesses in the north and east of country – a whirlwind two-day tour with about 20 hours of traveling for 4 hours of meetings – phew!  There is no other way to get there other than by car or bus ….

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We visited a soya meat producer and a polysack manufacturer among others during this trip and of course I took some photos.  I’ll be returning to a few of the businesses again this week to commence preparation for GPTW certification.

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On Friday, I was asked to do an assessment of HR practices along with any obvious health & safety concerns at a few of the local businesses in Matara.  Ajantha  and I traveled with Dishan a digital marketer who will assist these businesses  secure an online presence for their products.  Very interesting to visit these small family run businesses, to learn how they started their businesses and the challenges they face:  from cashflow to hiring skilled staff to connecting to markets.  It;s the same issues all over the world.

Although I do not claim to be a health & safety expert, I posses oodles of common sense and this was put to good use, identifying areas for immediate fix at these factories!!

My visit to the shoe factory is up first.

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Natural cosmetic business is next.

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And finally the family run batik operation …. a tad primitive but really, just gorgeous work!

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Long hot days is the trend, thank goodness for the opportunity for a cooling swim at the end of the day.  And the business owners make my heart melt – they are passionate in what they do, are keen to learn and do better and treat their staff so well.

Sri Lankans really have hearts of gold, there is no doubt about it.

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Home, very Sweet Home

I live on a small island in the Salish Sea off the west coast of Canada.  It’s small, it’s semi-rural, you pretty much know everyone.  Or at least know of them.  I’m surrounded by ocean and forests galore. I’ve lived there for close to 20 years, choosing nature over the cement of the city.

Working in Sri Lanka in 2016/2017, I ended up being based in Colombo the capital of Sri Lanka.  A cosmopolitan city where coffee is $5 and yoga classes are $20.  There’s traffic to beat the band – a heck of a lot of it!  And the usual stinky smells of a large metropolitan city in tropical climes.  It was not my favourite place and I much preferred heading north and east to the businesses I would work with, surrounded by the sea or by paddy fields and the jungle.

This time round I had a little more sense.  I asked (begged!) to be based outside of Colombo and to have a little place with a kitchen where I could cook my own food and be self-sufficient.  Voila …. I’m living in Matara with the Indian Ocean right on my doorstep.

This is no trial let me tell ya!  Yes it has no A/C which is a tad challenging when the humidity hits 85%+, but with those sea breezes and a little fan going, all is good.

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It’s even better when the local fisherman offers you a massive lobster and you have to turn it down as you don’t have a pot large enough to cook it in.  Instead you grab some local prawns and toss them in a little oil with a thai slaw salad for dinner.

And for dessert some fresh papaya from the back yard of one of the business owners I met yesterday.

Two out of the three businesses I worked with yesterday all offered coconut water direct from the king coconut itself … such a thirst quencher.

I’m in foodie heaven here.

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A week already gone by

As I write this, a deep clap of thunder reverberates through my very being and for a brief moment I savour the vibrations within my body, before a bright quick flash of lightening is let loose.  There is a momentary stillness before the next quick thwack of thunder … a warning that soon the deluge will be unleashed to pound into the now sodden ground, and overflowing drains.

It’s not monsoon don’t you know.  The whole island has had a week of hammering rain, the worst in over 3 years I am told.  Along the East coast where I was just a day ago, I was grateful to be travelling in a truck tall enough to wade through some 2.5 feet of flooded water over roads that are low-lying in the first place.  The road side was only visible by the scattering of small wooden fishing boats tethered to the road signs.

The local fresh-water prawn farms were frantically pumping out water to prevent a slew of Jacques the French-accented prawns of Finding Nemo fame, from making a life-changing break for freedom.  I suspect they would not last very long in the searing sun, once the water recedes!  Would make for some tasty fish paste though.

There’s not one that is complaining about the torrential rain though.  That’s because of the drought in the last couple of years, a drought that has severely impacted the bi-annual paddy harvests.  So this rain is seen as a lifesaver, giving hope to farmers of two decent harvests that they can count on over the coming year.

But enough of the rain!

It’s heartening to feel some things haven’t changed, but there are more things that have changed.  It was good to take in the moistened heat and night-time smells of a sleepy city as I stepped out from the air-conditioned airport en route to my first home away from home – the downtown hotel. The city skyline is filled with cranes and construction sites, much of which is funded by China.  The land being reclaimed from the sea at Galle Face Green as part of the controversial City Port (now known as the Colombo International Financial City), is near completion … a few years behind schedule but getting there I guess.

Traffic is still crazy and three-wheeler rides are as manic as ever, especially when your face is at the same height of the exhaust of a neighbouring bus!

It was great to catch up with the ladies and gents of the BIZ+ office and reconnect with old friends. It was lovely actually, and they make my return back to Sri Lanka all the more worthwhile.  But it wasn’t all about chillin’.  The BIZ+ project ends June 2019 so there is much work to do with the investment partners before then:  business coaching in human resources matters, process improvements and general management themes.  It is the same the world over! In just a week, I have already traveled the length and breadth of the country, with business meetings in Matara, Anuradhapura, Trincomalee, a small island near Batticaloa and Polonnaruwa.  Definitely thrown into the deep end alright.

Personally, I will be working with a slew of the more mature businesses, helping them prepare for Great Place to Work certification (GPTW).  This is a worldwide certification with it’s genesis in the US, where a measure of the employees contentment level and the organization’s culture is taken.  An international independent committee reviews each application and awards certification, or not.  There’s high hopes for some of these business to receive certification once I am done with this – let’s hope I do not let anyone down!

So sin an sceil for my first week.  Access to wifi has been intermittent hence no photos but I move to my ‘permanent’ home in Matara at the weekend.  This should see me with a kitchen from which to cook, a place to hang up my clothes and what is hopefully, consistent wifi connection!  Tis the simple things, isn’t it.

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The good thing about being on the road in Sri Lanka, is how many elephants you see along the roadside!

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