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Nepal Newsletter

September 8, 2008

September 8, 2008

c/o NSI, PO Box 8975,
EPC 1813, Kathmandu, Nepal.

Dear friends,

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…[God] has made everything beautiful in its time.” Eccl.3.1, 11.
We are now in the final month of monsoon here in Nepal.  The Himalayas have been hidden in clouds for the last 4 months, the abundantly green hills are drenched with regular downpours, and in the southern plains a hectic relief operation has started to help the more than 60,000 people displaced by severe flooding.

As the rainy season lingers on, our minds are already moving forward to the wonderful harvest season that it gives birth to.  The fluorescent green rice seedlings mature into fields heavy with gold, the sky clears to become a pristine stage for tissue paper kites to dance on, and the snow peaks re-emerge in their timeless majesty.  Nepal’s month of October, as in many countries in the northern hemisphere, is filled with the joy and festivities surrounding the harvest, as mounds of grain dry in the last of the summer’s warmth.  Many Christian denominations associate harvest with a season of abundance, blessing and the cessation of work, but is that the whole picture?

In most areas of Nepal, farming is an ancient craft that depends on the same tools and methods that Christ would have known in Palestine.  Harvesting is done by rows of family and neighbours using small hand-held sickles to hack through the drying stalks.  The grain is threshed by driving oxen in circles over it, or by passing bunches through a small foot-powered machine;  then it all has to be winnowed by hand, lifting large flat baskets of grain towards the sky and pouring it down into the passing breeze to sift away the husks.  Days and nights of heavy communal labour eventually secure a precious food stock for the coming months.  But there is little time to rest, before it is again time to take the oxen and crude wooden plough back out to the fields, along with heavy baskets of animal dung, to prepare the ground for the winter crop of wheat.  The cycle of labour and harvest continues with barely a pause between.

In 1963, a young Mennonite missionary left her family farm in Pennsylvania, USA to serve as a nutritionist in United Mission to Nepal’s (UMN) Shanta Bhawan hospital, located in a crumbling royal palace here in Kathmandu.  Having settled into her room in the old concubine quarters, Miriam began her work supervising the food provided for patients.  20 years later, her love for the people and country of Nepal found her leading the work of a community health project in Lalitpur district south of the city.  With her Nepali staff, Miriam visited villages and homes to discover the lives and stories of the women and children living there.  They sought out local traditions and practices which could be applied to address rampant malnutrition and high maternal and child mortality rates.  Their efforts were founded on a belief in the adequacy of God’s provision for these people within their own environment.  The resulting nutrition interventions were to be admired and adopted throughout the country, and are still widely utilized today.

By 1992, the nutrition work had grown to become a programme in its own right under UMN, with its pioneering work reaching out to the remotest districts.  As Nepali staff became more experienced, they took over its management and leadership.  By the time I first met her, during my first weeks in Nepal at the start of 1997, Miriam had settled into an advisory role as senior nutrition consultant.

Over the next 4 years, I worked in the Nutrition Programme as a nutritionist.  Although I had the highest qualifications of the otherwise Nepali staff, I had no experience in community nutrition.  Slowly, with their encouragement and support, I found what I could do to help, and enough Nepali language to get the job done.  Our team was close-knit, with commitment frequently making up for what was lacking in academic training; regular adventurous field-trips to remote areas strengthened the camaraderie.  We shared joys (including my romance with a Patan Hospital doctor) and sorrows, not least the enormous loss of our close colleague Kalpana and 3 rural staff when the public bus they were traveling in plunged over a cliff into a swollen river.  Over the years, our team has carried out community-level nutrition projects in many districts, multiple organizations have used our training materials, and we contribute to the development of the Nepal government’s nutrition strategy and policy.

My own contribution has ebbed and flowed.  After we started our family, I withdrew considerably, only making occasional social visits to the office.  Now I have more time to offer again, and have a formal role as advisor to the organization.  And I find the programme itself in a new ‘season’.  Five years ago, as planned by UMN, it became an independent Nepali-owned organisation:  Nutrition Promotion and Consultancy Service (NPCS).  With national levels of child malnutrition still running at 50%, the need for our work continues as before.  However, as with many small local organisations, NPCS struggles to maintain the external donor support necessary for its survival.  Now working on a shoe-string budget, with staff numbers severely cut by lack of funds, we are in an urgent phase of trying to secure long-term sources of income to ensure the survival of the organization.  The remaining staff includes several who have been there since its inception, who ‘grew up’ under the sheltering umbrella of the mission environment, and who there experienced the power of Christian prayer.  Although none of the Nepali staff are Christians, they ask for our prayers, and the prayers of the churches who support us – for their personal lives and for the survival of the organization.  The urgency has increased throughout this year and, as we pursue various options, we wait to see how and what God will provide.

Miriam has herself moved into a new season, initially ‘retiring’ to a role as patient counselor at Patan Hospital.  Now over seventy, she has an expansive and fruitful personal ministry, in which she continues to see many who are at the end of their physical and mental resources come to new life and hope.  Our family is blessed to meet Miriam each week at the Bible study held in our apartment.  Our own lives wend their way through the seasons:  our boys are more involved with school, particularly Zachary who is now in first grade, with its longer days, spelling tests and homework!  With our landlady joining the local building boon, we are sadly getting ready to leave this house where the boys have spent their ‘at home’ years, and are looking for a new apartment.  The Nick Simons Institute too is no longer a ‘start-up’ organization, but has gained the respect of both the government and other development partners, with a selection of established training programmes and relationships underpinning their newer ventures.

Do pray for all these situations, and may we see God making everything beautiful in its time.

With love,
Deirdre, Mark, Zachary & Benjamin.

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