A small village a world away from here

cornfields

It seems like a lifetime ago that I was in Nepal, bouncing around in the back of a beaten-up landrover, or clinging tightly to my seat in a tiny tin plane being buffeted in a mountain storm. In fact it’s only been two weeks. The reality of day-to-day life swings back round as quickly as I was just getting used to rice for breakfast. Thankfully the memories of that trip are as vivid as ever. I know I’ve gushed on a previous post about how privileged I feel to have seen and done the things I’ve done and seen, but I stand by that. Maybe if I keep on about I might convince someone else to go and try something similar.

First a bit of history. In November 2008 I went to Nepal as one of 25 volunteers with the international NGO ActionAid. The purpose of our visit was to help to build houses for a group of the Kamiaya people, a tribe of former bonded laborers (in a simpler word, slaves), who once released form servitude were left without land or homes. After several years of campaigning with the help of ActionAid and other local organisations, including the Free Kamaiya Society, convinced the Nepalese (Maoist) Government to allocate land to the Kamiaya. Our task was to help one group build proper brick houses to replace the stick and muds they shared with their animals. We would be working in a place called Belarpur in Western Nepal, in the volatile Terai region. Each volunteer had individually raised £3100 to take part, a huge achievement, but a much more daunting prospect faced each of us; meeting 20 or so total strangers at Heathrow airport.

We were an eclectic bunch to say the least, coming from all walks of life and all age groups (ranging from 23 – 68!) and from as far away as Sweden and even Shanghai. Some were old veterans of travels and even of ActionAId projects, whilst some, like myself, were experiencing our first taste of the developing world. But somehow, under the generator powered electric lights, in a well used canvas dining tent, we all bonded, the process ably assisted by a mix of lager, Pims and banana brandy. The week we spent working in the village was an incredible, demanding and utterly rewarding experience. We mixed freely with the villagers, who, though a bit wary of these soft, pale, Westerners to begin with, soon warmed to us, sharing triumphs and minor disasters that are everyday occurrences on a building site.

I can only speak for myself, but I think everyone who took part came home profoundly changed by what we had seen. As well as making some great new friends, we had achieved something real and tangible; we had helped someone we barely knew to build a home that would radically change their lives for the better.

4 months later, I was given the chance to return to the village and see the houses we had started complete. Obviously there was no way I was turning that down and so I travelled with Andrew Martin, who is making a film about ActionAid’s work in Belarpur, on the pretty epic journey that led at last through a forest/jungle to the single track that served as the village’s main street. Words are pretty insufficient in conveying the emotions that whirled inside me as we walked through the houses. If you can recall some wonderful place that you visited just once in your life, had an unforgettable time and thought would never see again, and then imagine being able to go back and see it grown to something even more wonderful, you might be along the right lines.
filminginbelar
welcomebackFor the three days we spent in the village (staying in a hotel in the nearby town of Lamki), we welcomed as old friends in the village and even though we had a tight filming schedule, there was still time for much mucking about with the kids and introspective moments sitting in the waist-high wheat fields. I don’t know what they made of me, though I reckon we all got on very well, but meeting the people of Belarpur left me deeply grateful, and once I returned to England, deeply thought.

I had plenty to think about, not least how different rural Nepal is from my own home in the East of England. Theirs is a life of hardships endured and overcome and always, always, with a broad smile on their faces. The Nepalese are almost without exception a wonderfully friendly and approachable people, always ready to greet you with a “namaste!” and wide grin. How can people be so happy with so little, I remembering asking myself when we first arrived back in November. By the time we got on a plane back to Delhi, at the end of my second visit, I felt knew the answer.

I am, and forever will be, deeply grateful to ActionAid, especially Andrew, for introducing me to a beautiful corner of the world.

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