On October 8, a group of Kathmandu Mid-Town Rotary members (of Rotary District 3292) along with some
members’ spouses, and youth headed to Mugu — a district of Karnali zone — to inaugurate a Birthing Center at a remotely located village called Shirkot.
Nepal now has over 80 active Rotary Clubs — Kathmandu Mid-Town Rotary being one of them — that functions under the Rotary International (RI). The objective of RI is to work to establish development projects in the world in line with six major areas of focus: promoting peace, fighting disease, providing clean water, saving mothers and children, supporting education, and growing local economies.
The Shirkot Birthing Center project falls under the fourth focus — saving mothers and children. Included under this project is the Auxilliary Nurse and Midwives (ANM) training project, which comes through the 3-H Grant project no 59789 (means Health, Hunger, Humanity relief).
We flew to Nepalgunj’s Ranjha airport on October 8. After a brief stop there, we reached Mugu’s Talcha airport. From there we headed to the Rara Lake, situated about 3,000 metres above sea level. To see the sparkling waters of pristine Rara Lake after almost six-hour-long uphill walking felt like a gift of reprieve.
We then set off towards our destination for the first night, Danfe Guest House. En route, we spoke to some military officers of Nepal Army who have their barracks there. We felt proud of their service for our nation.
Eating scrumptious Faparko Roti (buckwheat pancake) for breakfast, we continued our journey. Passing through the Murma and Jewdi Khola, we reached the Smritika Hotel and Lodge in six hours. We were served refreshments of locally grown legumes, herbal tea, lemon-water, and local alcohol Marpha. Some of us were already interested to have a sip of it so early!
On October 10, after an early breakfast, we headed to our destination — the Birthing Center at Shirkot. It was located at about an hour’s distance.
Others walked steady, while I lagged behind. Luckily, a horse was brought from the village to solve the problem of the boils on my soles.
Before reaching the Birthing Center, our host Ayush Baniya introduced us to the JTM Orphanage that he started for six
children under patronage of his family members. Touched by the effort, we made some contributions.
During this time, I thought — ‘it has been 25 years since the Convention on the Rights of Children (CRC) has been passed, and Nepal ratified to it as most nations in the world did. These basic standards since 1989 set the minimum entitlements and freedoms that apply to every human being everywhere. When would all the children in Mugu get an access to their rights?’
The quality of life at the Orphanage seemed pretty good compared to the heart-rending sight of other children we saw along the way including three small children a wayside shopkeeper mother was bringing up. While her children loitered around, Buddha Maya cooked some Chowmein for us. I pried in to look at her traditional village kitchen with the mud stove using firewood. Cooking gas hadn’t reached here. I checked to see if the mud stove conformed to the ‘smokeless chulho’ prototype designed by my father late HR Baidya for village homes in Nepal (in the 70s). My observation is that perhaps there is a crying need for mud stoves to get locally engendered briquette upgrade here.
As soon as we arrived at Shirkot, we saw crowds of people congregated in an area. Some of us went to visit the Birthing Center to have a look at its facilities. Kathmandu Mid-Town Rotary has provided necessary equipment for this Birthing Center. They had been transported up here from Surkhet. Their inventory was being taken by Coordinator of this Rotary Project Rajaram Joshi, also our guide throughout this trip.
The equipment consisted of stretchers, delivery or birthing surgical equipment, cots for babies, beds, and birthing beds, and a wheelchair to be used between inner delivery room and outer room where mothers can rest after delivery. Joshi made a revelation, “What seems to be still lacking is the participation by the local staff and community.” For this, a sense of ownership and accountability for the project was still hard to come by.
At 11:00 am, the Birthing Center was inaugurated in an open space. Present in the event were members from major political parties along with deputy health assistant, village development committee representative, women health care volunteers, and a lady motivator.
Speeches were given by speakers — Rtn ex-past President Ajaya Sthapit (2001-02), Rtn Secretary Bhairaja Panday, a lady motivator and me. All spoke enthusiastically, thanking the initiative taken by Kathmandu Mid-Town Rotary of District no 3292 for having remembered the basic needs of the people of Mugu. People from diverse backgrounds and geography had converged to work on one thing — to uplift reproductive health of mothers in Mugu, to restore their health rights.
Then I snooped in to the nearby buildings marked as Child Health Center. I discovered basic items carelessly strewn about.
With the inauguration of this Birthing Center, a new step in development for the Muguites had possibly been taken. Surely, one candle had been lit and one diyo for Nepal’s better future to achieve two goals — No 4 and No 5 — of the recently concluded Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and into the recently proclaimed 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). MDG Goal No 4 was to reduce child mortality by two thirds of the 1990 levels and Goal No 5 was to improve maternal health (or reduce maternal mortality by three-quarters of the
I was little concerned, the deputy health superintendent there was unable to provide any such related statistics when I enquired. However, we can be sure, at least the right direction has been taken by this initiative of establishing a regular safe birthing station. Every village has been allotted at least one stretcher — it has been allotted to a responsible person, now in charge of bringing the expectant women here for safe delivery.
Before the conclusion of inaugural event, Rtn Dr Deepak Bajracharya emphasised on the urgent need to maintain accountability and ownership of the facility. Joshi appealed for accountable participation of the community members to monitor that this delivery mechanism will be working as planned. The representatives present stated they would put together a Committee to ensure this integral requirement.
Here in Mugu, people lack the very basics that have been identified for a quality life. As our horse carer Surya Bahadur Baniya confided in us, Mugu people have been managing their lives by borrowing money or food as they do not have sufficient grain stocks for six months of the year. Many of them migrate to India in search of work during this period.
Another conversation I had with a sudeni (traditional birth attendant) will always remain memorable. The sudeni pointed out to all the children playing around there — who she helped to successfully bring into this world as the ‘reproductive health helper’ for the village women.
The return leg of this trip seemed to take longer. It was an experience of some steep climbs and descents. We stopped by the Smritika Hotel and Lodge for a quick lunch and then set off for the next several hours’ journey.
On this incredible journey to Mugu, we had come face-to-face with the haunting paradox, which is the face of Nepal— so beautiful, but with spectres of poverty from which its citizens have not been freed over the centuries.
With our nascent inclusive secular democracy in the wings supported by the new Constitution 2015 to drive its development, with the symbolic breakage in the glass-ceiling by the acceptance of a lady for the first time as our President, and acceptance of a lady as the Speaker of the House, Nepal must implement more critical or meaningful developmental changes at the local and peripheral levels so that they become embedded in the quality of the lives of all its citizens, wherever they are situated geographically.
Finally, at about 9: 00 pm, we arrived at our now beloved Danfe Hotel. We just went off to sleep.
On October 11, after our breakfast we headed for our last long hike and horse ride back to the Talcha airport. The plane was scheduled for the next day. Finally, we reached the Talcha airport lodge.
We were in for a surprise as the plane did not come for us on October 12. Bad weather was the culprit. The number of days one could be stranded was never certain, people there told us. We whiled away the waiting hours by playing the cards along with relishing the Marpha and the delicious Mugu potatoes.
Luckily on October 13, there was a flight and we hurried. In another 45 minutes we landed at the Nepalgunj Ranjha airport. We drove out of the airport to have a local meal. Then, we returned on time to board our flight back to Kathmandu.
What a gruelling yet educative trip to Mugu!
Unforgettable, beautiful landscapes but very remote, and still very distant from any advances made so far by the 21st Century men and women.
The encounter with the three children of Buddha Maya on our way to the Birthing Center was heart- rending for me. The youngest baby, a toddler, had on torn pants. We in the group have made plans to collect used but clean clothes for the children of Mugu who we met.
Through this article, I request readers to donate used unwanted but absolutely clean clothes for these children and those in JTM Orphanage. Anyone wishing to do so may contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
(The author specialises in English Literature, Gender, and Development)
A version of this article appears in print on December 19, 2015 of The Himalayan Times.
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