I just made my 20th trip to Nepal. It has been nearly 15 years since I first visited Tikapur in January 1999.
There were national elections on November 19, and the campaigning was heavy when we were there the previous week. A political candidate came over to talk to us when we were in the town of Munawa on the way to Grace School. He asked if I had noticed any changes over the past 15 years.
I replied, "Yes, I have noticed more money in the villages, and a lot more of brick buildings have been built. But there is a lack of public service. People clean their own houses, but they throw the trash outside and make it someone else’s problem. OUr faith says to 'love your neighbor as yourself.'"
The politico balked, "Why talk about religion?"
"Because without loving your neighbor there is no concern for the public good. Will you join me in cleaning up this village square?"
So there were five Americans and one Nepali politico picking up trash in the filthy town. The public watched, somewhat amused. A couple of young boys joined in. The politico’s friend took pictures on his iPhone.
We had to leave before the job was done. Our car was stuck crossing the river. A passing oxcart helped to pull the Toyota Innova out of the water (I don’t think Toyota wants to hear about this). We got to Grace School and installed a new water treatment system there, visited with the teachers, and taught One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish.
We started in 1999 with seven families being redeemed from slavery. The next year, we added 35 more families, and the three communities of PremNagar, AshaNagar and ViswasNagar were created. They left lives of slavery and began new lives in their villages, ready to live in freedom. Some families learned to walk in freedom, being transformed. But one family sold their daughter back to their former master and returned the money to our local partner. I imagine the three villages may not have been quite like heaven. Many families moved away from the villages, and some sold their land to people who had nothing in common with the other ex-slaves.
With the schools starting at PremNagar in 2004 and at Grace School in 2008, the communities came together again. They are dreaming with their eyes open. M, a teacher at Grace School, was among 30 girls selected for training in Nursing. She has now completed a 30 month course and is leading a maternity and child care clinic at Grace School. Grace Elementary, originally built for four classes of 25 each, had over 170 kids. The new Secondary School with six new classrooms and two vocational classes will ease the crush.
The cadences of Dr. Seuss are heard at all of these schools. The children still do not speak much in English, but they are able to enjoy Dr. Seuss and get around all the phonograms that comprise the English language. Visiting volunteers are increasingly able to communicate with both the teachers and the students without translators. We expect that these children will learn to read, write, and speak in English and excel over the better off kids in other schools.
In 2008 and 2009, floods ravaged much of western Nepal. After the floods there is a desperate need for clean water, food, and shelter. Water treatment systems have been introduced in our schools, and children trained to understand the sources of infection and sicknesses. Increasingly, the people are learning how to keep themselves and their families healthy.
In 2013, floods again hit the region around Tikapur. In the village of Simrani, 167 houses were completely destroyed. We are introducing a new type of construction, consisting of a platform built on cylindrical pillars and with steel floor trusses. Former slaves are now building the cement blocks for the elevated houses and church buildings, raised by at least four feet above the prevailing grade, or a foot above the high water mark of the floods. Our work continues.