Field trip 4 – Langtang area: steps, loos and millet wine.

Village life in the Himalayan foothills is hard. I have yet to venture further than 3 hours walk from a bus or jeep-accessible road. Some communities are many days walk, as are journeys to a health centre. This of course is not particularly due to distance, but to terrain. Every step is either up, or down.

We turned off the Pasang Laahmu Highway in the direction of Tibet at Kalikastan already in the protected conservation zone but not deep enough into Langtang to require permit to travel. Our jeep was able to make it to the end of the road today but would not for our return due to overnight rain. Suddenly there was an army of volunteer porters, mainly schoolgirls, ready to help us descend 1.5 hours into the valley laden with blankets, bedding and provisions for our overnight stay. One of the porters turned out to be our generous host, who had received some help from the Leprosy Mission in setting up his post-earthquake home. Our guide was from a nearby village. TLM Director Shovakar who is well known in Bas Banjang (Bamboo meeting point) and project coordinator Saroj accompanied me.

Whilst here we visited a government ‘high school’ at the top of the next hill (1 hour up) in temporary shelters. The most noteworthy statistic from this school is the linear decline in attendance after the peak year 5 (age 10/11?): from 46 pupils to just 8 pupils in year 10. Likely factors: the pressure to work, richer parents sending children to board in Kathmandu, inability of teachers/ lack of resources to inspire the older children to continue to study.

We visited the regional health post in Parchang village (another hour) which focuses mainly on maternity needs and increasing complaints of diarrhoea. The two nurses here (no doctor) have a campaign to encourage people to build loos rather than use ‘outdoor toilet’.  Koruna Foundation were working on the foundations of one of two new buildings to replace the ones lost in the earthquake. The sum total of visible equipment was a birthing bed, a tape measure and a foetus trumpet… no xray, etc etc – all equipment that was previously donated to the health post still lies crushed under the rubble.

We passed by the ‘primary school’ for Nursery and Reception (a wooden post and zinc rain shelter) with a volleyball court (!) but didn’t meet the lady who teaches here as it was a school day off.

Next morning we trekked 3 hours to our jeep and took the road north to Grang. As TLM has former leprosy affected clients in this area the primary reason for these visits are for Shovakar to make follow up visits and to consider if further aid is necessary to support those families disadvantaged by their disability – needless to say there are no government grants. Occasionally support for schooling, or housing, or to set up a sustainable business are the appropriate kinds of help given. As well as leaving blankets with our hosts some tarpaulin was donated to create emergency shelter for a couple of families as the monsoon approaches.

On his trips it is inevitable that other people come out of the woodwork seeking help or to share their ailments. We couldn’t bandage up a boy’s foot, or do anything for the 23 year old woman with stunted growth (looking like a 6year old), or the man with a bad heel, but there was someone with some leprosy symptoms who would be followed up.

On our side of the valley was a story of tragedy as 30 people were lost in an earthquake incident and across the valley was the alarming sight of near tragedy as a village remains perched with landslide damage either side – all but failing to take it and its farms away completely.

What is village life like then? It is a hard slog to make the land produce enough food for your family let alone make any profit for purchases. It is difficult to stay healthy and a problem if you are not due to under-resourced and inaccessible health posts. It is a drinking culture: I’ve not seen as much local wine produced or consumed as on these 2 days, indeed this was the main industry I could observe – not for sale but for personal consumption, from local Millet.  And while a majority of children attend school for some of their childhood, until schools are better resourced few will aspire to anything other than sustenance survival.


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