"That romantic image of incense and wild mountains does not apply here"

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"People were so warm and welcoming. And the children beautiful. Their deep gazes go right through you". We are having lunch. And our colleague Henriëtte talks about her experiences, having just got back from a project trip in Nepal. Together with our Bengali collegea Kazal, she visited various areas where Max Foundation wants to start working. They also spoke to different local partner organisations which might be able to implement the projects. It's the first time max Foundation crosses the borders of Bangladesh!

There are toilets and water wells. So what's the problem?
The team visited the lower lying villages in the west and east of Terai. “That romantic image of incense and wild mountains one has when thinking of Nepal, does not apply here”, Henriëtte tells us. "Around some of the villages we saw quite some human excrement lying about, and children were walking right through them”. This causes dangerous bacteria entering their gut, leading to nasty infections. 

It's strange really. Many locations had water wells. They had fairly good latrines (toilets) and sanitation buildings (separated toilets for boys and girls) had been placed near schools. It's obvious that organisations have been active in the area. But it seems the facilities are barely being used. Many people still defecate out in the open. Simply because they do not link it to hygiene, or it causing their diseases.

(Sanitation building that is barely being used)

The power of knowledge
The answer to this problem is awareness, and involvement of the whole community. And this is where 'outside help' can really make a difference. Max Foundation has incorporated this in her ‘Max WASH-approach’ very explicitly. We create local support first, by means of extensive education in all layers of the community. Once people see and understand the importance to change their behaviour, they will. And they will want to have good latrines and safe water. And invest in it themselves too. To apply our integrated approach of, amongst others, education, setting up nutrition programs and building community groups, we invariably spend several years in the village. This way we aim for a lasting effect.

Aiming for the less visible areas
Because of the earthquake last year, many NGO´s and individuals are helping in the mountain villages. Perhaps the popularity amongst tourists for this region contributes to this as well. This is very good news of course! But in the Southern regions of Nepal there is unfortunately less focus on poverty issues, including the high child mortality rate. It suits Max foundation well to consiously choose to work in those areas: this is where we can achieve a lot of impact.

Sometimes you kind of feel like a 'white giant'
“At first, when you enter the villages, people look at you slightly suspiciously. This is pretty understandable. You kind of feel like a strange white giant yourself. Naturally we always explain why we are there. And Joke and Steven's story, with their loss of Max, is intrinsically part of this. Sadly, this story is recognisable for many of them. It is so heartening to see that, every time, this opens people. It seems to build trust immediately”

Finally, Henriëtte tells us: "When you travel in Bangladesh in the areas where we have implemented our programmes, you see the results of your work. That is very satisfying. But there in Nepal, you see the difference that you can still make. And that is just as as encouraging!"    

Next steps in Nepal
Resulting from our visit we have asked two Nepalese NGOs to develop project proposals, based on our joint observations and analyses. Once these are approved, we will start later this year.

If you are interested in supporting our future projects in Nepal, please contact Kaat Burbidge-van Velden for the possibilities, via Kaat@maxfoundation.nl or +31 (0)20- 611 7674

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