The drums and cymbals could be heard from across the valley from the road to Patan in Baitadi. The occasion was the visit here by long-time Nepal resident Barbara Adams to inspect one of the model villages she has helped support for landless Dalit families.
Adams decided to set up her Barbara Peace Foundation (BPF) three years ago to help some of the neediest communities in Nepal: Dalit families without land and homes in one of the remotest districts in Nepal.
Thamu Chammudia is a settlement made for 36 ‘sukumbasi’ families. After providing them with pots and quilts, the foundation bought a parcel of land for each family on which small homes were built. Ownership was in the names of the wives so that the husbands wouldn’t gamble away or sell the houses for drinking.
The village is spread along the slopes of a lightly forested hill, with a scenic view of the western Himalaya. The villagers had asked BPF to provide three extra classrooms for the school, and this is the handover ceremony with speeches, garlands and more dancing
BPF is serious about making the new settlements self-sufficient and has provided training in organic gardening. Two local people are employed to help with health issues, training in farming and medicinal herb collection in all three villages.
All this is handled by a Dalit manager who is liaising with government and district officials in Baitadi to establish a health post in Thamu Chammudia, since it is almost a four hour walk to the nearest one. BPF is raising funds before starting construction to ensure staffing and medicines will be in place for years to come.
There is tension between the work of BPF and what the government should be providing as the Dalits fall between the cracks. However, the government seems to have learnt from the BPF work and is now also providing housing for marginalised castes.
In one of her visits here, Adams heard about villagers in Kukudapani who were threatened by landslides and provided new homes for them. Seventeen Dalit families living in the jungles were provided houses in Sittad village. Life is still hard for these families, they need a health post and more school rooms.
Back in Kathmandu, where billions was lavished for the SAARC Summit, the challenge for Adams is to find funds to expand the BPF’s work with the Dalits of western Nepal.
Ann Martin is a social worker from the UK.
Barbara’s new beat
Barbara Adams has been living in Nepal for the last 40 years, and is well known for her columns including for this newspaper. Having spent decades trying to bring about positive change through her writing, and despairing of the lack of progress after the conflict, she decided to set up Barbara Peace Foundation.
“I wanted to give something back to Nepal,” she says. At first she tried to create a Nepali ‘Peace Corps’, encouraging young people to volunteer to work in their own country rather than to migrate abroad for jobs. While successful, the project was too expensive to sustain. The BPF now works with Dalits in western Nepal, buying land and setting up self-sustaining communities by giving them self-esteem. The BPF is funded by Adams herself and from donations from friends.