The Russian attack on Ukraine, which put Europe in great fear, was not even on the front page of the newspapers in Nepal from the beginning. People are more concerned with the crushing price increases at the moment. The biggest political issue in recent months has been over the ratification by parliament of an agreement reached five years ago with the Millennium Challenge Corporation. The MCC is a large U.S. aid organization that aims to fight poverty in third world countries. In this agreement, Nepal is now to receive 500 million dollars for the creation of a 300 km long high voltage road and for road expansion in the Himalayan region. An interesting prospect for the conservatives of a country where 50% of the population lives without electricity and on less than 3 USD per day. Intellectuals and left-wing observers said that the U.S. wanted to make Nepal dependent on itself through this agreement in order to strengthen its position vis-à-vis China in Asia.
Spurred on by the Maoist party leader Prachanda, thousands of demonstrators fought bloody battles with the police on the streets of Kathmandu for weeks: They preferred to remain poor, they said, and in no case wanted to become a second Afghanistan. Afraid of being isolated by the other parties and losing his power in the country's politics, Prachanda suddenly changed his mind and ended up voting to ratify the agreement. His supporters, especially those who were injured in the street fighting and who belong to the poorer people of the country, now rightly feel cheated and exploited.
But the people of the 66 slums of the Kathmandu Valley have other worries: regularly the government comes forward to chase them away from the banks of the Bagmati River, and they too have organized and are demonstrating their resistance on the streets of the capital: they want to be recognized as the official owners of the small piece of land they have occupied for decades, and the authorities, who have tolerated this occupation for so many years, are failing to evict them unless they use violence.
The second major concern of these people is feeding their families, which is becoming more and more difficult for them due to high unemployment and rapidly increasing inflation. Like everywhere else in the world, the covid continues to creep around, but people live with it. Due to the fact that during the crisis very many health posts in the country were closed because the staff was afraid of getting infected at work, chronically ill people died in distant villages in the Himalayas. Many women there have not survived the birth of their children, and the unbalanced diet of children and pregnant women in both rural and urban areas has left them vulnerable to disease. Our efforts to alleviate these conditions continue.
We continue to supply the large slum of Thapathali with drinking water, which we have delivered by trucks. The many children also get our milk porridge enriched with vitamins and minerals, and our employee Muna goes from hut to hut every morning to check on the sick people. Even though we pay exclusively for the children's health care, it is extremely important that she checks on the adults because she can send them to the hospital if necessary. If no one urges the people of the slums to see a doctor, they hide in their hut hoping to get better soon and only check in when it is too late. Since the Covid crisis, crime has been growing in the Thapathali slum. Since many parents are unemployed, the young people are looking for alternatives to get money. Boys become thieves, and more and more girls learn to prostitute themselves at a very early age. The mothers, often single, look for their daughters in the evening to bring them home. They are also very worried about their boys, because it is not uncommon for the police to show up in the slum looking for the parents of the petty criminals. Add to that the fear of losing their dwelling, because of all the slums, they will be the first people to be chased out by the government if the eviction threats suddenly become a reality.The most difficult part of our work is for the people of our »Maute"« tent camp: The construction work on the new property, where they were to live in corrugated iron huts, did not take only four weeks, as it was agreed, but four months. Only at the end it was discovered that no sewerage system had been laid for the discharge of sewage and feces into the nearby river, as is usually the case in Kathmandu! Since we had not invested any money in this project, it was not a big deal for us, but our Maute people had to live in the middle of their garbage dump for six months longer. Only through our thirty-year friendship with the chairman of Kathmandu's 66 slum committees, Hukum Bahadur Lama, who is always there for us in burning cases, were we able to get a new plot of land. A friend of his offered us to take in the clan for the very reasonable price of 150 € per month.
On this plot we built a toilet with shower and constructed a washing place with our own well. When the residents of the neighborhood learned that Madhesis from the south would be camped there, they insisted that the owner surround the property with high corrugated sheets so that these dark-skinned people could not be seen. The clan silently ignored this discrimination because they firmly expected not to be evicted from there anymore. In the meantime, this place of living seemed to us like a small concentration camp, but when it comes to such concepts as racism and other discrimination, we foreigners have long since learned that we have nothing to say in Nepal. In the end, the clan became so much a thorn in the eyes of the neighbors that they forced the landlord, with the help of all kinds of threats, to abandon his project altogether. We had signed a contract with him, and he gave us back the money we had invested in setting up the residence. Now he is helping us with Hukum Lama to find a plot of land that should be as far away from residential houses as possible
In these repeated disappointments, the clan is extremely passive because it is so used to being discriminated against that no one could feel rebellion. This event causes a slowly growing impatience in us, because it is quite clear that these people are convinced that only WE can fight for a solution to their problem. The fact that living in garbage can cause nasty diseases in them and their children hardly scares them. The men are again selling their homemade "medicines" on the roadside. They do not earn much with it, because their customers are poor people of the city or small farmers from the mountains, who cannot afford medicines from the pharmacy.
Although it is most likely not noticeable by outsiders, the clan has changed a lot since we started taking care of them, despite all odds. The women feel they have become more confident as a result of their conversations with us, and they are no longer shy about expressing their opinions. We are in the process of making it clear to them that we, as a children's charity, can no longer justify their families continuing to live in garbage and hope that they will soon become more energetic in addressing their housing difficulties.
It is often the case that we feel we have been treading water for a long time in our outreach, but when we look back on our 32 years of work in Nepal, we realize that overall we have accomplished a lot. Changes just don't happen suddenly as if by magic, but only through a lot of patience, understanding and insight from all sides.
Many loving greetings and regards!