Tuesday, 22 July 2014

From Mountains to Lakes: Learning Development in Nepal

By Naomi Happychuk, 2nd year MDP student

After an eventful and enriching three months, I am now in my final week of my MDP practicum placement in Nepal. In Jumla I conducted a study on changes in food habits and the value of dietary diversity, with the help of my LIBIRD companions, Epsha and Laxmi. It was an incredible and enlightening experience, conducting eight FGDs (Focus Groups Discussions) in four communities of the district, and learning about the lives, and particularly the food habits, of people in this mountainous region of Nepal.
Naomi in FGD with farmers in Depalgaun, Jumla

We often walked for hours to meet with community members and once we were up at 5am, making roti out of local millet flour to bring for a kaaja. I learned much about the complexity of the food system and the challenges of access and availability of both local and imported foods in Jumla, as well as the persistent habits which influence people’s diets.

I also got the opportunity to take a six day hike to Rara Lake, the largest lake in Nepal, and get a greater understanding of how people live far from the main bazaar area. I came back limping in agony from the steep climbs, but with a new appreciation for the people of Jumla.
Hiking to Rara Lake with another student and her research assistant

Just last week, after a 30 minute walk in the heat with my ginormous bag, a confusing and hectic departure from the Jumla airport, a 15 hour local night bus, and an early morning taxi ride, I was back at the hotel in Pokhara. It was heavenly to have cold drinks, hot showers, and so many tasty foods! I was also shocked by the number of people who could speak English, and by the intense heat and humidity that developed since I had left. 

Not long after arriving I left to conduct another study around Rupa Lake, just 45 minutes outside of the city. This time I was conducting FGDs with locals involved in community-based management of the watershed, particularly looking at how it was including and impacting women. It was very interesting learning about the support and benefits that women have acquired from being in cooperatives and women’s groups involved in management of the watershed, but also the challenges and barriers they continue to face regarding gender equality. The area is very beautiful and I was lucky to enjoy a good share of fresh fish from the lake!

Rupa Lake
This week I will be presenting my findings from both studies to the staff and executive directors of LIBIRD and then saying my goodbyes to Nepal. Despite the many mental and physical struggles I had with adjusting to living in a remote area, in very basic living conditions where few people spoke English, I am grateful to have had that experience. I already miss cooking and chatting over dinner with the LIBIRD girls, staring out the balcony and watching the peaceful town in the evenings or gazing at the stars at night, and of course all of the kind and generous people I came to know. I have learned so much this summer, about the challenges and complexity of development, about learning from and connecting with people, and about myself. It was truly the perfect way to apply and reflect on all the knowledge gained from my years in the MDP program.

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