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Hannah Westcott

 

For the first time in probably a long time, the Oxford dictionary has this year declared that there are too many words to declare an outright ‘word of the year’, saying it is “a year that has left us speechless”.

A long list of frequently muttered and written words from this year includes: quarantine, lockdown, bubble, isolation and WFH (work from home). Interestingly though there are some other words, words which reflect the positive shifts and focuses which have happened throughout the year. These included: essential workers, black lives matter, and stay-cation; all important reflections on how collectively around the globe, communities and individuals have consciously chosen positive ideas, strategies and approaches to navigate uncertain times.

For our part, and our projects in Nepal, we have been striving to put the focus on the latter as well. In a year that has given everyone large amounts of time to reflect, whether it is wanted or not, in our reflections we are humbly reminded of the small impacts which add up to big change In community. So what have we been doing?

 

Working alongside local partners in fundraising and relief drives

With many people within the communities we support directly and indirectly, reliant on a daily wage to earn and support their families, lockdowns nationally within Nepal meant no income and no access to essential supplies. We worked hard alongside our local partners at Skylark Himalayan Travel to raise critical funds to buy lentils, rice, oil, gas and other basic items. This ensured that the pressure was off families for a few months and they were able to put food on their table each night. One of our staff members, Rhythm, did a virtual trek to Annapurna Base Camp, trekking for over 6 hours most days over a period of a week, raising awareness and money directly for guides and porters who have been out of work since early March. His commitment and motivation meant that his fundraising goal was exceeded.

Education packs for students out of school

Understanding that schools would remain closed for many months, we began to feel concerned about the impact and isolation students would feel. Unable to see peers and with no time to be given homework, many students have been on pause for the majority of the year. This psychological impact is significant. By creating fun and enjoyable learning packs for children we know that their skills are staying fresh and they have something to chat about across the rooftops at a safe distance with their friends. We dropped these off to local corner stores so that any curious young mind that was popping in to grab the morning milk would have a fun surprise.

Chats and check in calls

One of the best things about many of our projects is that we saw most people every day. The face to face contact is so valuable and it’s been what we miss most. Many of our community members, especially those in our women’s empowerment program, have been receiving regular phone calls from our coordinator Sita, checking in. Most of the conversation centred on general concerns and chats, but would always end in questions about our previous volunteers and their concern for everyone in other countries. They always said they weren’t worried for themselves but kept hearing such awful news online and were anxious to hear any updates of people that had worked with them. To hear this consistently over the past 7 months has been humbling and it isn’t said enough, but the women we work with are so damn incredible.

Got time to clean and sort a lot of resources and materials – a thankless task

While it may not be the most exciting or interesting task, being able to do a stock take and reorder a lot of our resources is a good chance to make sense and order of our minds as we organise and order our environments. Focusing on something so practical gave us focus and achievement. Our construction cupboards benefited most from this process. Bibek spent a long day meticulously organising all his wood, nails, glues and paints, with many of the power tools receiving a service and polish, now sitting neatly on their shelves waiting to put to use.

So while it mightn’t have been the year we had planned, we have been fortunate to be looking back and recognising that it still has been reasonably ok, all things considered. Our communities have remained safe, our staff have supported and encouraged one another, and many former volunteers have reached out and supported morally and financially to our fundraising drives. For these things, and many more, we are grateful.

 

Big thankyou to our local staff team Sita, Rhythm and Bibek for being able to safely respond to and deliver these tasks. It has been difficult being separated as a team and a strong sense of guilt creeps in the longer this goes. However they are so capable and resilient it has been special to watch them respond in their own ways and step up to the challenges.