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We’ve Been Given a Home Where the Buffalo Roam…

It is 4:20 in the morning. A gentle rain has been holding steady since 3, and I have reason to believe that one of the many pigeons outside the window is snoring… as I should be….

… On the last leg of our flight to Nepal, we reviewed our extraordinarily limited Nepalese, visited with tourists from Indonesia, and slowly woke from our jet-lagged stupor. Twenty-two hours in the air with in-between…

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We’ve Loaded 16 Tons

We’ve Loaded 16 Tons

We’re currently 20,000 feet above Montana. I can smell the deer and antelope from here, despite the altitude difference. Coffee has just been served….which we hope does a better job of keeping us up than the last cups consumed with this morning’s rush through one of the Seatac airport’s popular breakfast spots. We’ve both been dozing throughout the flight after running on last night’s 3 hours of…

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Staring at things seems to help. Kinda… during this last week in country.

We stare at people and cars and planes. We stare at cats. We stare at kids. We stare a lot at kids (they offer entertainment and expect little). In between staring, we are attentive to items that are on “The List”. It gets shorter and shorter, which makes us feel accomplished. Then it suddenly gets longer and a panic attack…

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What’cha doin’?

Julius teaching a class on irrigation scheduling.

Julius teaching a class on irrigation scheduling.

When people hear we volunteered for the Peace Corps, we are often asked what we’re going to do in Nepal. Our answer, “We aren’t exactly sure,” is usually met with a blank or puzzled look, followed by something like ‘Wow…what an adventure!’, or ‘That is a long way to go… especially when you don’t even know what you are doing.” Some people even go so far to comment, “So… if they are sending unprepared people over, who don’t even know what they’re doing, do you really think Peace Corps makes a difference?” Our response varies from person to person, but the definitive answer follows:

The Peace Corps Nepal Volunteers all work under the umbrella of “Food Security”, putting most of their energy into projects that focus on improving agriculture, nutrition and hygiene in rural areas of Nepal. Malnutrition in Nepal is among the highest in the world. According to World Bank, over 40 percent of Nepali children under five are stunted (in some far western areas of Nepal, the percentage is over 60). Nutrient deficiencies are severe. In particular, 46 percent of children 6 months to 12 years, 35 percent of women of reproductive age and 48 percent of pregnant women are anemic. Malnutrition affects everyone there. It slows economic growth and perpetuates poverty through direct losses in productivity from poor physical status, and indirect losses from poor cognitive function, and increased health costs.

“But won’t Peace Corps put you into a specific job with an actual ‘job description’ geared toward increasing food security?” Some volunteers do land in positions that have *some* predetermined parameters and tasks. But most Peace Corps Volunteers only receive general training for the sector they are assigned. (in our case, Stew: Agriculture, Vee: Health). In developing a plan (a job) for an individual volunteer, the mix of the background/skills of the volunteer, the needs of the community they are assigned to, and the capacity of the host population must be taken into account. Each community has unique needs that the volunteer has no way of comprehending without interacting and integrating within the culture and community. During the first year on-site, the volunteer looks for a project that they can successfully implement, that fulfills the needs of the community, and that is supported by local leaders and motivators willing to implement/take over/maintain after the Peace Corps Volunteer has finished service.

Nepali farmers creating a vegetable seedling nursery

Peace Corps Volunteers serve in their community for only two short years. The volunteer may be able to keep a project afloat with their own enthusiasm during the time they are on-site, but for the project to be sustainable after the volunteer leaves, the community must be committed to the project… must be THEIR project… invested in and owned by them. They must see the worth and be willing to push forward with the project far into the future.

Peace Corps Volunteers can provide project research, train participants, assist in obtaining financing, and work alongside the host towns. But, the project must belong to the community. We as Peace Corps Volunteers have ideas, hopes, and confidence in our applicable skills before we are assigned to a post, but there is no way that we can know what the community members truly want and need to happen until we are integrated with our community.

A Peace Corps project example: Julius, a current Nepal Peace Corps Volunteer, is working on an irrigation project for his host community. He came to Peace Corps with a Master’s Degree in Agricultural Engineering almost a year ago, but only recently started a project in his village to build an irrigation system for increased water access for higher vegetable production. By developing access to water during Nepal’s dry season, farmers in Julius’ host town will have the ability to use alternative farming methods and grow more vegetables year round, which will potentially improve the nutrient intake of the citizens. Also, with more varieties of crops, farmers will be able to sell more products and generate a higher income for their households. Julius didn’t just jump into this project when he first arrived at his post. The first few months he spent getting to know the town’s citizens, finding out how they farmed, and what would increase their crop production. Then he spent some time training the farmers in making seedling nurseries. He worked to become a part of the community. His work slowly resulted in being able to create a committed farmers project group. (who happen to be all female farmers)

Once the project was in motion, Julius needed to determine what actions, trainings and materials were needed to accomplish the project, as well as the time, energy, and money required. In addition… where would the materials come from? (No Home Depot down the street)…..where would the money come from? (a big portion of the money and labor is required to come from the community, but assistance must be gained from others also)…..and were there other volunteers or groups working on similar projects? (the more the merrier, so networking is required)

Now details are in place, time line has been created, and project grant proposal has been approved by Peace Corps. Next up: obtain the money and materials, coordinate the work plan with those willing to contribute, research the trainings and prepare lesson and direction plans(which must be translated and taught in Nepali).

Interesting project process, yes? For those of you who would like to give Julius and this committed group of female farmers a hand with this project in order to improve lives in their Nepal community and create a ripple effect of more positive changes, consider donating a little cash to this worthy cause…

Peace Corps Volunteer projects are a great place to donate. Especially if you want to ask questions of or have interactions with the people actually using your donation money. If you connect to a specific Peace Corps project through a volunteer’s blog or facebook page, you can usually see who is coordinating the project, plans for how the money will be used and often, how much money is needed for the project. Because of the information shared by most of the volunteers, you may even be able to watch the project in process on-line and see the results of your donation. Skip a couple mornings of Starbucks and send your money to Nepal……watch the results. Seriously…….a little bit here in the U.S. goes much further in Nepal. And they do need it. Let’s get it done. Please…

Reblogged from cloudyskiesandcatharsis






On the morning of September 4, 1957, fifteen-year-old Dorothy Counts set out on a harrowing path toward Harding High, where-as the first African American to attend the all-white school – she was greeted by a jeering swarm of boys who spat, threw trash, and yelled epithets at her as she entered the building.

Charlotte Observer photographer Don Sturkey captured the ugly incident on film, and in the days that followed, the searing image appeared not just in the local paper but in newspapers around the world.

People everywhere were transfixed by the girl in the photograph who stood tall, her five-foot-ten-inch frame towering nobly above the mob that trailed her. There, in black and white, was evidence of the brutality of racism, a sinister force that had led children to torment another child while adults stood by. While the images display a lot of evils: prejudice, ignorance, racism, sexism, inequality, it also captures true strength, determination, courage and inspiration.

Here she is, age 70, still absolutely elegant and poised.

she deserves to be re-blogged. 

this makes me want to cry

(Source: cloudyskiesandcatharsis, via rainestaylor)


Trending Upwaard

When I was struggling last fall with ‘less than stellar’…to say the least….grades in ‘Economics for Policy Analysis’, one of my professors put things in perspective for me by saying, “If you are achieving constant perfection throughout a process of any sort, that process is not a true challenge for you. Life is so much more rewarding, if there are true challenges. You’ve hit a true challenge at this time. During a true challenge, perfection along the way is the not goal. The goal is steady improvement with each step of the process. You are ‘trending upward’. Don’t waste time and emotion in worrying about the lack of perfection you are seeing. You need that energy to methodically trend upward through the process.”

I’m amazed by how many times this comment has popped into my head since I first heard it. I believe those few sentences are doing more to ‘rewire’ my brain than all of the time and effort I’ve expended in struggling with my ‘perfectionism’ throughout the years. What a major impact…and the professor probably doesn’t even remember the incident. You never know how deep a footprint you leave as you walk along your path.

Reblogged from pulitzercenter


With support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, photographer Amy Toensing and writer Jessica Benko spent several weeks living among the thousands of widows who populate the holy Braj region of rural Uttar Pradesh in northern India. There they investigated the taboos and social structures that leave many widows and their children struggling to survive.

The sandstone steps of the Keshi Ghat lead into the swift current of the Yamuna, the second most sacred river in Hinduism, an important stop for hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who visit the holy town of Vrindavan each year. At the foot of the ghat is a line of wooden barges strung with colorful flags, captained by teenage boys who use poles to guide the boats to sand bars in the river where those willing to pay can bathe away from the trash strewn banks.

Two young boys stand knee deep, tossing stacks of magnets tied with string into deeper water and dragging them across the river bottom, hoping to capture coins tossed in by the bathers. A small girl in a threadbare pink tunic patrols near the beached boats, steadying a tray of red, orange, and yellow marigolds balanced on her head. As a family climbs into one of the boats, she clambers onto the one next to it, leaning across the wooden rail to accept 5 rupees (about 8 cents) for a small cup of the flowers, which will be offered to the river in prayer.

The flower girl is 8 years old and her name is Gunjan, a Sanskrit word that describes the pleasant humming sound of a bumblebee. She spends her days—all the daylight hours, every day of the week—hovering at the river’s edge, collecting a few rupees at a time from as many bathers as she can. She’s a beautiful child, quiet, not aggressive but vigilant for new arrivals to the banks, and many of the visitors choose her flowers. She buys marigolds every few days—200 rupees for a bag as wide as her arms can reach, 100 rupees for sack as wide as her tiny shoulders—and arranges them in small bowls made of pressed leaves, each topped with a wick soaked in ghee that she can light expertly with a match, even on the windiest of days.

When school is out, a gaggle of other children come down to the river banks to play. They draw a sort of hopscotch court in the sand with a stick for a game they call titi, tossing a rock to a farther box with each turn, hopping in every square that hasn’t already been captured. When they’ve gotten through the whole board, they make it harder for themselves, tilting back their heads and fixing their gaze up at the sky as they jump.

Gunjan directs her friends in her small, hoarse voice, moving the game along briskly. Her attention to her work never wavers, though, and each time a new group shows up at the foot of the ghat, she sweeps her flowers back onto her head, and strides away to greet them. On a quiet day like this one when no one else bothers to compete with her, she might still bring home 100 or 150 rupees (about $1.60-$2.40) after the cost of flowers—more than many adult unskilled day laborers make—and on a busy, auspicious holiday, she can make quite a bit more. And that’s the source of one of the biggest dangers to Gunjan’s future.

She lives with her mother Meena, and three siblings—sisters Tanuja, 13, and Hema, 5, and brother Shiva, 3—in a 6ft x 10ft room tucked into a maze of buildings up the hill from the river. Her father died three years ago from a septic infection after being stabbed by his brother over a property dispute. Meena is illiterate and can only get occasional work as a day laborer, so 8-year-old Gunjan has assumed responsibility for supporting the family of five. She hasn’t been to school in a year or maybe two.

The flower-selling work falls to Gunjan because although her older sister Tanuja looks much younger than 13, she is on the cusp of puberty and in their conservative neighborhood, where women must veil their faces in the presence of male relatives, it is considered dangerous for her to be out of the house. If her mother is able to get a day of work, Tanuja strings prayer beads at home while watching after Hema and Shiva. When her mother doesn’t find work, Tanuja has the chance to go to school, the only acceptable destination for her outside the home. She loves school, but she knows she will be married before long and she worries what her mother will do without her help once she is taken away from home to her new husband’s village.

“If you give me money, I can get her married,” Meena pleads with us another day, apparently unaware that our instinct would be to give her money to delay Tanuja’s marriage, rather than encourage it. But her rationale, in these circumstances, is understandable. If a girl is past puberty and unmarried, it is considered a mark of a family’s bad morals, which can be perversely interpreted as justification for sexual assault. From Meena’s perspective, the only way to protect Tanuja is to get her married as soon as possible, though without any money from her family, the only suitors will be men so undesirable that they have no chance of attracting a bride with a dowry.

Gunjan’s future looks no brighter. Unlike Tanuja, she wasn’t in school long enough to learn to read and write before their father died, and now there is little chance for Gunjan to get back into school, not while her income is so vital for the family. She’ll continue selling flowers until she, too, is approaching puberty. When that happens, it will be Hema’s turn as flower girl.

There’s no indication that the cycle is about to break. Meena, too, was married as a young teenager, kept strictly in the house by her husband, dependent on him, and then rejected by his family after he was killed. Her own family, in a village hours away, has six brothers without enough resources to split among themselves, much less with her. Her girls are headed down the same path, and because of their poverty, they are likely to be married to much older men, who may leave them as unskilled, illiterate widows with young children, as their mother is now.

But tomorrow, dawn will break over the river and over little Gunjan, standing at the water’s edge with a tattered pink sweater against the winter chill, one arm wrapped around her waist, elbow propped on her hip, another day’s bright flowers resting in the palm of her hand.

There are 35 million widows in India, where the marriage of girls to much older men makes widowhood a common outcome, and many are shunned as bad luck and can lose their status and ability to support themselves. Find out more about Benko and Toensing’s project here.

(via pulitzercenter)

Reblogged from rainestaylor

Follow the link below for a fantastic summary of our short-n-sweet winter farming experience, written by the ever-amiable Jack G-M. Take a look, pals.


Follow the link below for a fantastic summary of our short-n-sweet winter farming experience, written by the ever-amiable Jack G-M. Take a look, pals.

Reblogged from awkwardsituationist


daily life in the streets of kathmandu. photos by (click pic) niranjan shrestha, navesh chitrakar and parakash mathema

Such wonderous pictures of a different culture

(via nepal)