Site Visit: Jogimara, Dhading
Up from the main highway, which goes along the Trishuli River, we followed a dirt village road up a steep mountainside.
Our 4 wheel drive truck got stuck more than once and finally there was a roadblock to prevent us from getting the whole way to the actual proposed bridge site, as a large tree had fallen and needed to be cut up and removed before the road could be used again.
On our way to Dhading, Ashok (President of the Rotary Club of Dhulikhel, Nepal and a close friend) and I were contemplating the building of a bridge across the Trishuli at the actual accident site from the June disaster.Cost for a suspension bridge can be roughly calculated to be about $1000 USD per meter, so to build over the Trishuli would be about 250,000 USD. It would truly need to be an international effort, we could try to appeal to the Nepali Government, other rotary clubs in the US, Nepal, Australia, New Zealand and Germany. This would have a great impact and potentially a very large catchment in terms of the amount of people it could service. A bright young woman from Jogimara, Pramila, joined us to guide us through the village this morning. We asked her opinion and she agreed, a bridge over the Trishuli would affect many people, but as there is the highway along the Trishuli, there is a lot of traffic and a lot of awareness. Especially because the last crossing accident got a lot of press, it will be easier to raise funds for a bridge there. But in Kot Dumku Danda, a more remote village that is higher elevation and very difficult to access, there is a small river, only 15-20 meters wide that needs a safe crossing. The villagers have been asking, but no one is responding. Pramila said, “There is one small river which is a tributary to Trishuli. It separates two villages. The school and markets are across the river for one of the villages and the villagers cross the river in order to reach them. During monsoon, those children cannot come to school, which interrupts their studies. The most affected people are the children and the women. The local villagers have made multiple requests for support to the government officials but the government and local officials have done nothing. This is a more remote area and there is no access to donors or larger organizations that could offer support. There are no educated people with the skills to request funds and support from the government. The village road to this area was built one year ago with funds granted to the VDC (Village Development Committee), labor was provided for free by the locals. The government and the funding agencies are not responding.”
Pramila continued, “There is a lack of solid leadership in the community. There are leaders, but they are not skillful enough to request funds. This is a high altitude, remote place and most of the villagers here are illiterate. In this area there are mainly Dalit people (Nepali equivalent to untouchables) and Mogar and Chapang. Both the Mogar and Chapang are highly marginalized in Nepal, as are Dalits. The Mogar and Chapang have more Mongolian features and follow Buddhist and Animistic traditions. They grow millet, maize, and vegetables such as potato, peas, cucumber, and pumpkin. The Chepang are traditionally a tribal group that is now beginning to assimilate into the rapidly changing Nepali society. Most of the people here have never seen vehicles, larger markets or cities.”Ashok and I looked at each other and felt it made the most sense to do the work here, to help this community. I thought dad would greatly appreciate the idea of “supporting the underdog” so to speak. Even though we didn’t make it all the way to the actual site, we spoke to one woman on the way from the village on the way to the site, Phul Kumari D. said, “I am an illiterate woman, I cannot say much, but I can say a few things about women’s situation and the impact of a bridge. Women here face many difficulties. They are deprived and weak in various ways. Most women are illiterate, but we are trying to educate our children. This is difficult, there are many challenges to educating them. We cannot even write our own names, and the numbers of women like this in our area is very high. There are no alternative options for income generation. Agriculture is our only option. The number of children is high, and it is difficult to provide them with education. We are borrowing loans from the wealthier to send them to school. We have recently built our own school to provide education up to 10th class, but it has not yet been authenticated by the government, so we have a building but no teachers and we don’t know if it will be fully established. We are maintaining the costs for the school from local resources by collecting small amounts from the villagers.
In regards to the bridge, that is a very steep area. It is very difficult to go up and down. I have been there a few times and the way is not easy. There are many leeches and dense shrubs. It is very difficult to cross the river, especially for the children and for the elderly.
This is even worse during monsoon. Compelled to go to the market, and more necessary when someone is sick. When the bridge is built, it will benefit everyone.” Finally, before leaving to head back down to the main highway, we met a woman from the village where the bridge would be. Lakshmi Magar said, “We have agriculture in the lower fields which are located across the river from our homes. We need to bring the products from the fields to our homes. During the Monsoon months we cannot bring the crops home and they are wasted. If there was a bridge, we would have enough food, our children could make it to school, we could bring our excess production to the market for income generation and we would be able to reach health services. We would be able to plant more and grow more food and with easier access to the market, we could have a better income and more food for our own families.” Ashok, Sanat and Pramila are fully on board. We are going to come again, hopefully in December to stay for 3-4 days to conduct a full needs assessment, soil tests and collect more information which will be necessary to move forward. This is going to be a lengthy process, we will not be able to begin construction tomorrow, but I believe this is a deserving area and it is worth the time and investment to create a change for the lives of these villagers.
Ashok had the chance to meet my father and feels very strongly about this project. He looks at me in a way that pierces my heart and says, “we’ll get it done. For him, we’ll get it done.” And we will. It may take years, but one day, we’ll walk across that bridge. I will sit in the middle of it and look down at the water flowing beneath and I will smile from the depths of my heart. It will feel like my father is giving a piggyback ride to every man, woman and child, bringing them safely from one side to the other. What can be more beautiful than that?