Only after a year and a half Corona break, Kathmandu's airport was reopened to air traffic last September. The foreign visitor did not notice anything special at first sight: All Nepalese were, as every year, exclusively busy with the preparation of the religious Dashain festival The tradition wants everyone then to go to his birth village to be blessed by parents and elders.
The festivities end a month later with Diwali, the Festival of Lights, where the goddess Laxmi is worshipped for money and prosperity. Excitement is always high during these weeks, and this year the covid fear was blown away overnight, despite numerous doctors warning against this annual migration in crowded buses. About 20% of Nepalese are vaccinated, mostly with the not very effective Chinese or Indian vaccines. At the latest when one observes how the poorer Nepalese eat today, one realizes how much most people have been affected by the Covid crisis: Only rice is still to be seen on their plate.
Tourists have stopped coming to the country for almost two years, and several hundred thousand people who became unemployed because of it cannot feed their families properly. The crisis has also reached distant villages where many men used to work for the numerous trekking tours. Many of Kathmandu's residents who used to work in hotels, restaurants and other tourist facilities live in the slums we serve. The malnourished mothers give birth to weak babies and are unable to strengthen them through breast milk. This malnutrition causes irreversible damage to the little ones, with serious consequences for their health and later learning ability.
It is difficult for us to convince parents that their children absolutely need a balanced diet. The Nepalese, even the wealthy, can do without anything when it comes to food, but never rice. The most important thing in our work in the slums, now more than ever, is the daily distribution of our nutritious milk porridge to all children and pregnant women. That is why they have all remained healthy so far in the three settlements where we operate, despite this difficult time.
Our discriminated Maute clan has once again been chased away from their campsite and is now camping directly in the middle of one of Kathmandu's large garbage dumps: there, the stench is unbearable, and the strong rays of the sun on the garbage produce health-threatening fumes that have hardly bothered these families - and apparently also our two staff members Muna and Sushma - until now. It was not until the visit from Germany that they all became aware of how dangerous such a living situation is. The welcome of these people, whom we have brought through the pandemic with basic food for one and a half years, was cheerful and very warm. It became correspondingly difficult to have to explain to them that their current living situation was inhumane to us Europeans, and that we could no longer justify supporting them in the future if they remained in this contaminated, carcinogenic place.
For weeks, Muna and Sushma searched for a new place to camp with the women, but only rejection came from the people of Kathmandu, who would like to drive these dark-skinned Madhesis from southern Nepal out of the city forever. In the end we were lucky: A man who had been observing our work with these people for years came forward: He owns a piece of land about one kilometer away from the garbage dump and made us the following proposal: He would be willing to build new tin huts for the 25 families on this piece of land. He would drill a well and put three toilets there. In return, he would charge 3000 rupees (21 €) rent per month per family.
One of our loyal long-time donors agreed to pay half of the rent, [250 € for all families], for the next two years. The women of the clan said that all together, even if the men remained unemployed, they could certainly beg the other half together with their babies.
Construction is progressing quickly, and by the end of December our Maute friends will move. The contract has only been verbal, but everyone knows that from now on, every family will absolutely have to honor that commitment.
The incredible thing is that even though these people live in such a contaminated place, not a single one of them has contracted covid so far. In contrast, in the two other slums we also serve, many residents have become infected, and some have died. The pandemic continues to reign over the country, but schools have only started classes again after 18 months.
The sanitation crisis has not necessarily awakened Nepalese minds, which tend to be passive by nature. Here, people tend to adapt to adversity rather than react and fight it. As the disease continues to creep around, no foreseeable improvement can be expected for the Nepalese tourism industry. As if the pandemic had not caused enough evil, Nepal was hit by massive flooding during the monsoon season this year. In Banshighat, our kindergarten was flooded within minutes at night.
Kathmandu's slums are all on the banks of the Bagmati River, which disposes of the capital's excrement and sewage. Clothes and blankets, which would now be urgently needed by these needy people in winter, were destroyed by the stinking broth. We were able to save most of the things in the kindergarten, but we had to "renovate" the floor and walls. These floods are getting worse every year, but that doesn't stop people from staying here because they have long since sold the tiny piece of land they owned in their village, and they don't know where else to live.
Also in the Thapathali slum, the children benefit from our daily milk porridge, and we continue to provide drinking water to the 1500 residents of the settlement. The children are regularly examined and receive medical care. For many years, the government has been trying to break up this slum, but the people have always vehemently resisted clearing their shacks. As the Corona crisis has brought even more poverty to those in need, the government has finally given the residents of the settlement permission to stay definitively where they have lived for so long. Each shack is given a number, and families are officially registered.
While this is a victory for the slum dwellers, it also means that they will almost certainly continue to live in squalid conditions for many years to come. Since the residents of the three slums have lost so much to the floods, we have provided the children with winter jackets. Nepal's poor have nothing to expect from ever-changing governments.
It is depressing to have to realize that the steps toward development in which we have supported these people for so long are so arduous and fail again and again. For that we can learn one thing from them: whatever happens, they are much happier than we could be in the West and always meet us and life with a bright smile! Many thanks to all of you for your support; a big thank you also from the mothers of the many children whose careers you are making easier. We wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy New Year 2022!