As a responsible and ethical charity, Umbrella works to spread awareness and implement programmes which prevent further child-trafficking and improve quality of life in vulnerable rural communities. Our projects to promote education, integrity of the family unit and community awareness are situated in villages across 4 districts (including Kathmandu), the origin of many children in our care and high-risk areas for trafficking.
“… locals were directly involved in the decision-making process from the beginning and took ownership to ensure the success of these projects.”
Once intended for Umbrella’s relocation, Gurje village in Nuwakot just outside the Kathmandu Valley, had a poor economic status and educational system. Wanting to base development projects on the local community’s actual needs, we conducted meetings to collaboratively discuss village problems, come up with sustainable solutions and ensure follow-up of programmes. Locals were directly involved in the decision-making process from the beginning, taking ownership of these projects to ensure their success. Projects set up to to enriching the community as a whole included:
Absenteeism was a major challenge for Gurje’s schools, with children’s work in the fields given higher priority by families relying on crops to generate income and food. Subsistence farming had these rural communities struggling to keep above the poverty line for generations. However, many parents were persuaded of the value of education and the opportunities it would afford them in the future. For children who did attend school, many found it impossible to concentrate on an empty stomach. In 2007, a ‘Food For Education’ programme was developed to combat this cycle where a nutritious meal was provided every morning to children attending school. This not only set them up for the day, but was an added incentive to be sent to school – and it also created a market for local vegetables! Before implementation, 10 children had been regularly attending in each school: at its peak, 250 children were fed dal bhat daily at the 4 local schools.
In 2008 and 2009, Umbrella also provided infrastructural support to renovate these schools – providing water supplies, completing construction on unfinished buildings, as well as painting, decorating and furnishing classrooms and setting up kitchens to facilitate the Food For Education programme. This included fitting solar panels for electricity, windows, doors and shelving units, fixing leaking roofs and plastering level floors and walls. We also provided salaries for two additional teachers in an understaffed school as well as and regular teaching volunteers to support English language learning.
Thanks to a private donation through French INGO, SolHimal, a primary healthcare post went under construction in November 2008 and was completed in Gurje village in April 2011 and serviced by two qualified nurses dealing with the majority of cases presented, with others referred to a partner hospital in Kathmandu. Umbrella consulted with the District Health Office during planning and partnered with the highly experienced INGO Community Action Nepal (CAN) to manage the health post. It also included a training hall used to educate the community on health care issues such as first aid, hygiene, nutrition, sexual health and family planning.
While agriculture was the main source of income for many, farming methods yielded crops sufficient for 6-8 months (exacerbated by the use of grain to make alcohol) and resulted in malnourished villagers. It was our goal to raise the general standard of living for the entire community and the consensus was that they wanted to become self-sustaining. In 2008, local agricultural experts were hired to survey the land and consider the climate, altitude and general farming conditions. A report was developed with recommendations on the most suitable crops to grow, taking into account the demands of the Nepali market. SolHimal distributed seeds and plants to 400 farmers in 13 surrounding villages to vary their produce and relieve their dependence on millet. Training was given to improve farming techniques and to educate farmers about the dangers of harmful pesticides and other practices that could hinder their yield.
As in most developing countries, women do not enjoy the same opportunities and rights as men. Literacy for men in Nepal is 68.51% while for women it is 42.49%. It is typically boys who are encouraged to attend school, whereas girls are taught domestic skills and marry young. To empower women and ensure their voices were being heard, we re-launched 13 women’s groups and built a women’s training centre in one village in 2008. This was used to host the monthly meetings where they discuss coming events and challenges faced, as well as pooling their skills and resources to offer peer support.
In April of 2009, Kumari Girls’ House agreed to help the women’s groups adult literacy classes and also offered vocational training to them. Training camps in various income-generating activities included incense- and candle-making. Apart from the tangible results of working with the women’s groups, the vocational training camps and the literacy classes, there have also been significant changes in the women’s attitudes and confidence.
Long-term positive effects in the community were a key consideration for Umbrella, and all our projects in Gurje use local resources and sustainable energy. Beginning in 2008, biogas units were built in the 4 schools and solar panels were installed in the schools, 2 women’s groups training centres and the health post, providing light for the classrooms in winter and the evening adult literacy classes. A hydro-electricity plant was also built to provide electricity for the health post and local communities.
In 2013, Umbrella’s projects in Gurje village came to an end. After 7 years of involvement and community support, they have come a long way and Umbrella is proud of what has been achieved with regard to education, healthcare, agriculture, women’s empowerment and sustainable energy. Nowadays, the health post is being run and funded by Community Action Nepal (CAN). Sunrise, an Australian NGO, have also begun working in Gurje with a view to further improving local schools and the quality of education in the area.