A Visit to Laha
A Visit to Laha

By:  Carrie Mitchell and Yayga Raj Panta
There was no chimney so the small room was filled with dense smoke. Grandmother sat on one side of the fire coughing her lungs up and listlessly stirring a pot of lentils. She wiped at a few battered tin plates with a fold of her clothing that was shiny black with a lifetime of grime. Despite the low temperatures her baby grandson wore no clothing. Grandfather, who was deaf, smiled as he kept the baby away from the flames. However, when he saw the diarrhea on the floor, he thrust the baby away with a frown. Father grabbed the wriggling child and called “chyoe, chyoe” loudly. When there was no response a young niece went outside and persistently called “chyoe, chyoe” until a dog slunk in and lapped up the feaces.

The father then held the baby out for the dog to lick it clean. Meanwhile grandmother ladled out rice and lentils which we ate in the usual way with our hands. A little portion of rice was put on the floor and the baby picked contentedly at it. Father was having stomach problems and would not eat until later. He explained that he didn’t believe in tablets, so he had bought injections, Vitamin B Complex (for arthritis) and Ranitadine (for peptic ulcer). His teenage son, who had no experience at all, was administering them. As we watched the dog lick our empty plates clean, I thought about the statistics for Mugu district and no longer questioned why the average life expectancy was only 36 years.

Later that night everyone settled down on the floor, around the fire, to sleep. As we listened to the coughing, spluttering and groaning we thought about how only five students had turned up for school that day and how one old school master had relaxed at a distance in the sun. We thought about the adult non-formal education class in the evening, where the wood splinters burnt for light had created such black smoke that we couldn’t see the participants on either side of us, never mind the blackboard. We too settled down to sleep.
Everyone prefers to read a success story – but that day in Laha village there seemed to be no obvious successes to report.
That day, we were left pondering – How and Where should we focus our capacity building efforts? How can we better support our partners working in both formal and non-formal education in such poor communities?
We concluded that while there were no obvious successes there were lessons to be learnt. In such communities education needs to be strongly functional and integrated with other interventions. Literacy is not enough.
We also realised the need to be realistic about how long it will take before the impact we are looking for is visible. Sometimes the success stories are for the next generation to write! Capacity building is for the long term.
The final lesson we learnt was that if you feel lazy about washing the dishes / cleaning the house or even personal hygiene – just call “CHYOE, CHYOE” loudly and the job is done!!!
Carrie Mitchell and Yayga Raj Panta are United Mission to Nepal’s education personnel working in Mugu district, also ranked as the least developed of 75 districts in Nepal. UMN is working in partnership with several local organizations in the areas of education, advocacy, food security, women and children, peace and conflict transformation as well as disaster management.

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