Tom and Gayané Ebling have been iDE donors since 2006 and Tom has served on the iDE global board for the same time. Tom and Gayané joined iDE and 11 other guests on a trip to Nepal and Bhutan in 2017 where they saw how their support has enabled iDE to deliver transformative programming in Nepal and beyond. Program visits are always a profound experience for our donors, and, after returning to Boston, Tom shared his impressions with us.
Our Visit to Nagdanda, Dhikurpokhari
After a long, slow drive through the foothills of the Himalayas along very narrow, winding, and precipitous roads, we parked above an impossibly steep hill that somehow had houses perched down its side, and even some very small terraces carved into the hillside for farming. To access the community, we navigated our way down hundreds of very steep stairs, some of which were simply rocks. It seemed a miracle that people lived on this precarious hillside, let alone made their living by farming it.
We finally reached the spot where a group of mostly female farmers were gathered— we were informed they were Dalits, the lowest caste in Nepal. The hillside continued to plunge steeply away for as far as we could see. Prior to iDE’s involvement, these farmers grew rice almost exclusively for subsistence purposes. Women and girls had to tackle this dauntingly steep hill for a substantial distance to retrieve water for their family. This consumed at least three hours a day of hard physical labor, making it completely impractical to obtain water for irrigation purposes, hence the farmers only being able to undertake subsistence farming.
The farmers told us how the intervention by iDE had changed their lives dramatically. Working with their labor, iDE and other donors had built a MUS (multiple use water system). This involved digging a trench from a set of springs five kilometers above. Water from the springs was piped by gravity to a large cylindrical container in the middle of the community. About sixty households participated in the construction of the system, paying a monthly fee of approximately fifty cents (USD) to access the water. iDE’s experience building MUS’s elsewhere demonstrated the crucial importance of working with the community. The system continues to be sustainable after iDE’s involvement ends, as water fees are collected for ongoing maintenance and repair.
The impact on the lives of those in the community was very inspirational to me. Accessible water has greatly improved the lives of these farmers, allowing much more freedom for girls to attend school now that they were no longer needed to fetch water. From a financial perspective, having irrigation water allows farmers to grow crops in the dry season when they get much better prices for produce. These vegetables—tomatoes, cucumbers, and cauliflower—are sold to generate income which pays for school fees and home improvements, and reduces the need for men in the community to seek migrant labor.
We both found our visit to be a very moving experience. We saw for ourselves what a hugely positive impact iDE’s financial commitment and field expertise, combined with community labor and commitment, has made to the lives and livelihoods of one of the most disadvantaged communities in Nepal.