Mustang or Bust!

On a previous post, I introduced you to the good work of the Bo M. Karlsson Foundation. BMKF awards scholarships to underprivileged women in Nepal but also gets involved with other projects that leverage the skills of their alumni as well as the provision of focused-assistance to those who need it most in Nepal.

Today I received their latest newsletter, detailing a rather exciting project that’s underway.  It’s a partnership between BMKF and Living Earth Institute (LEI) where BMKF scholars were asked to complete a field survey on the current practices and conditions of water and sanitation in the village of Lo-Manthang in Upper Mustang. 

The account of this journey and the work of the young professions interested me, I thought you might enjoy it too.

Newsletter reproduced with kind permission from BMKF.  Photo credits BMKF.


Exploring culture, geography, and water sanitation in the Himalayas

In late April, three BMKF scholars traveled to Mustang on a mission: to conduct a field survey for the Living Earth Institute (LEI), a Seattle-based nonprofit that helps international communities develop sustainable water and sanitation solutions.

Neema Sherpa ’14, Pema Sherpa ’15, and Babita Sharma ’16 were selected to carry out the project. Their goal was to assess the current practices and conditions of water and sanitation in the village of Lo-Manthang in Upper Mustang. They needed to see if the villagers would be interested in household toilets and gather enough information for LEI to evaluate if a toilet construction project would be feasible. Over the course of five days, the young women met with Lo-Manthang’s community leaders, surveyed 76 households, and facilitated a community focus group to gather feedback.


A culturally rich, but hard to reach destination

Travel from Kathmandu to Upper Mustang took the field survey team three whole days by bus and jeep.

“The ride was adventurous, given the bump-shaking journey on a single lane, off roads (no black top) across steep barren hills,” said Neema, who led the project and says the chance to visit the region fulfilled a cherished goal.

“Upper Mustang was always one of of my to-go destinations. The arid and monumental landscapes fascinated me. But it’s also a plush destination given its cultural uniqueness and location, that a layman can hardly afford, so being there was very special,” she said. “The people up there were very warm in contrast to the cold, chilly weather. We stayed with local villagers and our hosts made us feel at home in every sense.”


Relevant water sanitation research, led by women

Leading the survey project, Neema says, provided a great sense of achievement. “Locals, foreigners, and domestic tourists were surprised and glad to see our team of young ladies led by a lady (myself!) come so far to conduct relevant research given the scenario that the villagers still have primitive toilets,” she said.

“If the LEI board decides it’s feasible to implement the project, that is, toilet construction, it will have a lasting positive effect on the sanitation status of local villagers. It may also help their home-stay businesses flourish, bringing the commoners of Lo-Manthang into the mainstream of economic development through more tourism business.”

To read more about the BMKF/LEI water sanitation survey project and see photos from Mustang, visit our website


Coincidentally, our program manager Sabita Ghising ’14 also traveled to Upper Mustang in April, with a group of students, faculty and staff from her university. Here she is trying not to get blow away in Kagbeni!

“I was surprised by the astonishing altitude variations and ecological diversity. All trek routes are surrounded by enormous peaks. Most of all, I wondered at the un-stoppable wind blowing in Kagbeni. I haven’t felt such a wind in any other place. My friends and I had to walk by catching one another’s hands to control us from that air.”


Copyright © 2016 Bo M. Karlsson Foundation, All rights reserved.


About Kate Coffey

After 30 or so years in the investment management industry, 2013 saw me turn my life up-side-down, making my way first to Nepal, then Bangladesh during that first ‘year away’. The year took me on a journey I did not expect, had me fall in love with Nepal and its people, and become inspired at the work of Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre (SIRC) located in Bhainsepati - 2 hours east of Kathmandu in the Saanga foothills. Since 2014, I have returned to SIRC numerous times, working closely with the folks there in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquakes. In Bangladesh I marvelled at the strength and resilience of marginalized women who have the courage and audacity to break the rules and make a better life for themselves and their children through microfinance programs with BRAC. 2016-2017 saw me embark on a totally new experience in Sri Lanka, a place I never would have chosen to end up in. It’s the 40C+ heat, big humidity and tropical snakes & animals that scared me! But I ended up love love loving! my time there, working with predominantly Tamil small business owners in remote villages in north and east of the country, trying their best to recover their businesses and the lives of their employees, after decades of a civil war. My time in Sri Lanka made me realize my hard-earned business skills and experience can really be put to good use! The work the BIZ+ team and I did there ended up earning me International Volunteer of the Year Award in December 2017, presented on Capitol Hill, Washington DC no less. I am currently home on Bowen Island, in the west coast of Canada, shoring up my finances before I head off to who knows where, for my next expert volunteer assignment. This blog initially started out as a travelogue of sorts to keep friends and family worldwide updated while I was off on my travels in 2013-2014. Since then it has morphed into a life story of the many places I have lived and worked and of the wonderful people I have met along the way. I hope you enjoy.
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