Thursday, May 15, 2014

Pheri Bhetaunla

May 10, 2014

Today we said goodbye to the lovely people of Khanalthok. Fortunately we aren't really saying goodbye. We get to say "Pheri bhetaunla" which is Nepali for "I hope we meet again".

After breakfast and a final round of bacteria counting and cleaning we had a closing ceremony of sorts to say goodbye. Harrison gave a speech to tell everyone in attendance how excited we were to be working in Khanalthok and how thankful we were for the incredible hospitality. He assured them that we would be back next year for an implementation trip. We will be bringing back a solution to one of the problems we have identified in the village next summer. We also got to hand out gifts to our homestays, the schools, and the health outpost.

After a quick morning of photos and hugs, we finally packed up and drove back down the mountain foothill we had grown to love. We dropped Santosh and Nukesh off at Kathmandu University in Dhulikhel and drove back to Kathmandu.  

Next year, we will be back to make a real difference in the community. This trip has been incredible and I can't wait for the rest of the team to come and experience Khanalthok.

Safely back in Kathmandu,

Focus Groups

May 9, 2014

I promised an explanation of focus groups yesterday. So, here you go!

A focus group is similar in nature to the household surveys, but a little more open and broad. In the household surveys we had specific questions to guide the conversation. But, with the focus groups we mostly have topics we want to cover. In focus groups we can ask more pointed questions. For example, we ask different questions in a women's focus group than we ask in a men's focus group.

We conducted focus groups with five specifically targeted parts of the population.
Primary School Teachers
Secondary School Teachers

The men's focus group gave us a lot of information about farming, water, and the community's economic standing as a generalization.

The women's focus group told us more about women's treatment in the community, health concerns, and children.

Both of the teachers' focus groups related mostly to education and students' health.

The youth focus group was unique. In my mind, youth are middle and high school age.  In the community, the youngest "youth" was 14 and the others thought he was too young to be there. The rest of the youth were between the ages of 17 and 30. The youth discussed education, water, migration, and the future of the village. For the most part, the youth were positive about how they could impact the village in the future and make it a better place to live for their families.

Overall, the focus groups seem to be successful. We got information that is different from the household surveys. By combining the information collected by these two methods, we can more fully understand the workings of the village and how it interacts.

This fall, we will gather back in Gainesville with the rest of the team and use all of the information we collected to piece together the best way we can help the residents of Khanalthok. 

In Khanalthok,

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Technical Data

May 8, 2014

International projects with Engineers Without Borders are made up of three phases: Assessment, Implementation, and Monitoring. Each international project is a five year commitment, however. The three phases are split up over those five years in whatever manner the project is progressing. If the assessment takes longer that's ok. If the implementation takes longer that's ok too.

The assessment phase is what we are doing right now!

I told you yesterday about the household surveys and tomorrow I'll tell you about focus groups. But, a main chunk of the information we want to collect when we are here revolves around technical data.

We have discussed in depth over the past few months the types of projects we want to assess for. In order to be prepared for any type of project we are going to collect data for possible water, agriculture, and sanitation projects. We have been collecting water samples throughout each day, today we collected soil samples, and we are collecting GPS data everywhere we go.

When we split up groups in the morning, each group gets a GPS unit so that we can keep track of important waypoints that we encounter. Each house that we take a survey at gets a waypoint. On our hike down to the Roshi Khola, we took waypoints at each of the pump stations and occasionally to mark our route. The primary and secondary schools will have waypoints too.

Nathan teaching kids how to use the GPS units.

Today a group went and collected soil samples that we are going to have tested at Kathmandu University. They collected from the most productive fields, the least productive fields, and some randomly chosen fields. Since corn is the main crop, we expect to find a lack of nitrogen that is causing productivity levels to be low.

 We are running two types of tests on the water samples we collect. At the end of every day we run bacterial tests on the water samples we collected that day. We also are taking some of the water samples to Kathmandu University for heavy metals testing.

Collecting Water Samples
Testing Water Samples
Water sample that tested positive for E. coli.

When we get back to Gainesville after the trip we will analyze all of this technical information. I'll post a map of Khanalthok and our GPS data in the fall!

In Khanalthok,

Anatomy of a Household Survey

May 7, 2014

You might be wondering what it is exactly that we are doing all the way around the world. If you read yesterday's post, you know we are doing water testing, which is an important part of the assessment process. But, just as important as the technical information we are collecting is getting to know the community. How are we going to know what is best for the community if we don't talk to them?

Enter the Household Survey.
The University of Florida chapter of Engineers Without Borders currently has two international projects. Our counterparts on the Bolivia team are currently in the implementation phase of their project, meaning they have done an assessment trip already. We based our household survey process on the Bolivia team's successful "Sondeo" concept.  A sondeo is an informal interview with members of the community. Minimal notes are taken and the interview takes on the tone of a friendly conversation. This approach is intended to produce more honest answers than a question-by-question interview with written notes and an uncomfortable formality.

For our purposes we adjusted the idea to fit the Khanalthok community. Since a group of students were in the village learning about international development last summer, the community members are more comfortable with us taking notes. Our household surveys are friendly and conversational, but we have someone writing down notes so we can more easily recall the conversation and not miss important details. Also, just to make sure we get the right information, we have a list of questions we are using to steer the conversations toward obtaining pertinent information.

We are in the village during planting season so we go out and talk to people in the mornings before work starts or at the end of the day when their work is done. We go out in pairs; a UF student and a Nepali team up and conduct the surveys. During our conversations we talk about family, health, education, water and whatever else comes up. Sometimes the translators have the conversation and the UF student takes notes, other times the translators translate the conversation between the UF student taking notes and the community member.

We are learning all sorts of crazy things about the community this way.

Most people we have talked to don't consider diarrhea to be a big deal. In the US, if somebody gets diarrhea the reaction is "Oh no, my child is sick." In Khanalthok the reaction is more along the lines of "Oh look, it's Tuesday."  

On a positive note, we have discovered that many of the children have had vaccinations.

Once we get the data analyzed I'll let you know some details! Stay tuned!

In Khanalthok,

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Roshi Khola

May 6, 2014

"It should take about three hours," he said, "we'll be back before it rains." 

Five hours later we found ourselves sitting under a random family's porch drenched from head to toe.

Today was the day we discovered the distorted nature of Nepali's estimating travel times.  We planned to hike down to the river that runs through the valley just below Khanalthok. One of the village leaders named Shambhu is a retired farmer.  Somehow he was designated to be our official tour guide for the week. After a morning focus group with some of the men in the community, we asked him if he could take us down to the river. He agreed to take us to the river at 11:00 and assured us that Matina would be back in time to help with the Women's Focus Group.  Maurice and Raina's vehicle broke down on their way to the village so we had to leave without them. Lucky us, because that left Kiran and Raina to lead the Women's Focus Group at 3:00 because, if you can't tell by now, we didn't make it back in time.

Here is a mental time lapse of our adventure:

11:00 - We assemble the necessities for a three hour hike.

11:10 - The group starts down the mountain foothill (they keep telling me these aren't mountains).
11:15 - Harry Potter (our quasi-adopted dog) stands majestically against the backdrop of our hiking path.
11:20 - Arrive at Pump Station 1
11:50 - Find and take water samples at Pump Station 2.
12:35 - Visit the workers installing the new pump at Pump Station 3.
1:15 - We finally reach the river called Roshi Khola.
1:30 - Our engineering assessment skills are put to use. We measure the river and use oranges to find its velocity so we can calculate flow rates and make a river profile later.
2:20 -Time to hike back up the monster they call a foothill and collect water samples along the way.
3:15 - Our Floridian lungs and legs are exhausted by the Nepali landscape.

4:00 - The downpour begins. We follow Shambhu to the nearest home, but, nobody is there. We are forced to venture on through the rain and find a house with a family that lets us take shelter on their porch while the sky continues to dump out buckets on Khanalthok. I was told that we got caught in the hardest rain Khanalthok has had in years. 

4:30 - We are graciously invited into their home for tea and bread.
4:50 - The rain has ceased pouring from the clouds and we are permitted to leave our gracious hosts.

5:00 - Shambhu insists that we stop for tea and cookies at his house even though we had just eaten.
5:30 - We leave Shambhu's home and start our final ascent.

6:00 - After our long and grueling day, we finally make it back to the Health Outpost.

We got to eat dinner and catch up with Raina and Maurice who had arrived soon after we left. But, the work wasn't done. We met to go over the focus groups and bring Raina and Maurice up to speed on what had happened since we arrived. Then some of us ran the bacterial tests on the water samples we collected on the way back up from the Roshi Khola.

It was an exhausting day, but it was productive and gave us a good idea of where things would be on a map. We ended the day with a beautiful sunset over Khanalthok.

From Khanalthok,

Monday, May 12, 2014

Welcome to Khanalthok

May 5, 2014

Today we arrived in the village and were greeted with open hearts.

The ride up was insane! The roads up the mountain to the village leave something to be desired. They are crazy bumpy and the jeeps get rather close to the edge. I am thoroughly impressed by the vehicles and the drivers that got us up the mountain.

Our view of the village from the Health Outpost
Harrison was in the village last year, and everyone was very excited that he had returned with new friends. We were a little late to the village and didn’t have a full welcoming ceremony, but the graciousness and hospitality of the people here is amazing. We are going to be staying in the homes of three families in the village. Harrison's family remembered him and specifically requested he stay with them again. I'm really excited to meet my family and build a relationship with them for future years.

We added three new members to our team today! Matina, Nukesh, and Santosh are all students from Kathmandu University. They are going to be helping translate for us in the village. Nepali is a crazy hard language to pick up. There are so many different sounds that my mouth doesn't really make that are needed to say basic things. We are all trying our hardest! I am so thankful for all the hard work that the translators are going to put in to this. Also, a shout out to Sagar for joining us in the village for a few days. Sagar is an electrical engineer originally from Khanalthok who is going to help us with the project.

Left to Right: Nukesh, Taylor, Matina, Nathan
Left to Right: Santosh, Matina, Taylor, Harrison, Nathan, Sagar

We got to take a tour of the village and played with a bunch of the kids. It was cool to interact with them, but they keep laughing at me when I try speaking Nepali. Oh well…. My camera battery actually died during this adventure so other people have the pictures. As soon as we compile them, I will add them in.

Sneak peek of pictures to come!

We just finished dinner and the food is SUPER spicy. I think I was crying, or that might have been sweat. I don’t handle super spicy foods very well. Tomorrow we will get down to business. Keep coming back!

In Khanalthok,

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Perceiving Poverty

May 4, 2014

It takes about 45 minutes to get from Kathmandu to Dhulikhel. Watching life happening out the window of our van was surreal. Most people have seen photos or videos of life in a developing country.  To most people who have never experienced the environment, myself included, the only thing to take note of in the pictures is poverty. The gut reaction to pictures of overwhelming poverty is pity. I have heard so many people talk about how heartbreaking the situation seen in the pictures is. The dirt and dust is everywhere. There are people and animals packed into small, unsanitary houses. From an outsider's perspective, it seems sad and unbearable.

Seeing pictures and actually experiencing the culture are two entirely different things. 

Riding through the towns and mountains of Nepal witnessing, firsthand, the culture and people in those pictures has taught me two main things. First, pity is useless. Second, beauty is everywhere.

For me, pity towards poverty is the mind's response to a lack of understanding. If a society is radically different than our own, that doesn't make it wrong or insufficient, just different. The people here have lived in this culture for centuries; their way of life has not changed all that dramatically. The thing is, they are people just like us. They have lives and stories, families and pride. Just because they live in the other side of the world in a crowded and noisy city doesn’t change the fact that they are people. When westerners look at a picture, think "Oh, that's sad," and proceed to open a can of Pringles while sitting on the couch, the only thing that is produced is pity. This kind of pity is not productive for the person in the picture or on the couch.

I've noticed people comment on two distinctive types of beauty, beauty found in nature and beauty that stems from something being considered clean, flawless, and pretty by western standards. I've discovered that beauty doesn’t have to be clean or natural. If you look at the world the right way, you can find beauty in anything. There is beauty in the vibrant colors of a dusty city. There is beauty in the simplicity of a muddy child's smile. There is beauty in the effort put in to surviving harsh poverty. There is beauty in the insanity of a busy street. The culture here is beautiful. The streets may not be clean; the buildings might stand in place of a once natural area, but I see beauty in the people and the culture.

Now, I know I just said that photos don’t do any of this trip justice.  I know you are going to see them with a disconnect from the culture. Just promise me this, don’t jump directly to thinking about how sad and dirty situations are, try to get past the gut pity reaction. Think about the people's stories and families. Think about the children chasing chickens down the street laughing, or a mother smiling with pride at her child's first words. People are pretty much the same everywhere, they might just live a little differently.

In Dhulikhel,

The view from our hotel in Dhulikhel.

Thanks for keeping up with the blog. More is coming soon, I promise!
(These next few will have been posted from Kathmandu but written in other places along the way. Just so you don't get confused.)

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Back from the Village

After five days in the village, we have returned to Kathmandu. There was no internet in the village, so the blogging was brought to a halt. I will be sifting through hundreds of photos and completing a couple of almost-finished posts in the next couple of days.

Half of the team left the village on Friday morning to run errands, but the rest of us left this morning. The whole team has settled into the hotel and we will start working tomorrow. We will start working on analyzing the data we collected during our stay in the village, writing reports, and doing paperwork.

In the meantime, here is a sneak peek of pictures to come.

Be looking for new posts soon!

Back in the Thamel,

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Culture Shock

Let me tell you something about culture shock. It is real, and rather overwhelming. Adjusting is an interesting mix between no longer caring that everything is so different and just dealing with it. Today we spent the day exploring Kathmandu, gathering supplies, and meeting with contacts who will be important for our project in the village.

Kathmandu is a bustling urban center with innumerable amounts of people, shops, cars, motorbikes, and animals. Oh, and power lines that shouldn’t be considered safe.

There are tons of interesting people and a huge variety of shops. We spent time in both the Thamel (the main tourist area of Kathmandu) and the Nepali wholesale district called Ashan where the number of westerners was significantly lower than in the Thamel.

The vehicles don’t have laws, lanes, or limits. It is incredible to see how skilled the drivers are in such tight and crowded streets. A motorbike will weave in and out of cars without worries and the cars will pass pedestrians with less than six inches clearance. Yet, somehow, accidents are rare.

Being engineers, we couldn’t help but notice the infrastructure. I'm not an electrical engineer, but I'm pretty sure that the power lines in the pictures aren't really safe.

Seeing how all the different members of the team interact with the city is fun. Six of the eight travel team members have arrived in country so far, Maurice and Raina are getting here on May 5th. Here are some observations of everyone's adjustment.
  • Dr. Ullman- There was no culture shock. He does this kind of thing all the time and just jumps in to explore. He arrived a day before us and went out to explore the non-touristy parts of the city on his own. Although I did hear him say something about being surprised by the lack of decent infrastructure.
  • Harrison- He was here last year and is excited to be back. He knows what he wants to do and how he wants to do it. Somehow he keeps getting separated from the group; he is on a mission and the rest of us are just meandering.
  • Cody- A little more quiet than normal, but I can tell he is absorbing everything he sees.
  • Nathan "The Wanderer" DeKrey- Doesn't have a care in the world. He just explores without reservations and isn't fazed by anything, he is just soaking it in.
  • Kiran- She lived in Kathmandu at one point, but, this time she is our translator and tour guide too. She is a great sport and is doing a great job. One interesting thing is that by being with a bunch of westerners, she has to keep telling people that she is Nepali.
  • Taylor- I'm a little overwhelmed (or maybe a lot), but I'm absolutely intrigued by the everyday life of the city. Also, I'm still trying not to yelp every time a car whizzes within six inches of my person honking their horn.

Fun Fact: Nathan has never been out of the US before this trip and the farthest I had ever been was the Canada side of Niagara Falls before it required a passport. This is also Dr. Ullman's and Cody's first time to Nepal, but both have traveled  a lot in other areas of the world.

Story of the Day:
We went to dinner with Sagar, an electrical engineer working in Kathmandu who is originally from Khanalthok (he is awesome and going to help us on the project in the future). We found a quiet little restaurant off of the main streets of the Thamel. We all got Momo, a traditional Nepali chicken dumpling served with chutney, it was spicy (for me, everyone else was fine) but delicious. We heard a scary, loud screeching/growling noise. The roof, which was covered in plants, started to shake and the screeching got worse. The plants were shaken off of the roof and onto some of our food. Half of our Momo was ruined and we had to wait for the restaurant to bring out a new set of food. What was the disturbance? Monkeys. Our dinner was disturbed by monkeys. I definitely thought it was cats, but we are on the other side of the world and it is totally normal for monkeys to fight on roofs (I think). Monkeys, talk about culture shock.

From Kathmandu,