by Dan Shafto, Nepal program leader ’14
Krishna Maya Lama was born and raised in Okhle. She married at 18 and had her first child soon after. Now 43, she and her husband have one son, age 26, and three daughters, ages 22, 19 and 15. In addition to being a wonderful cook, a gracious host mother, and quick with a radiant welcoming smile, she is also the head of the community’s organizational committee, called the Mother Team, which is made up exclusively of women in Okhle.
The first Mother Teams began in western Nepal some years ago as an effort at grassroots organization and development. The trend spread east, and is still catching on in central Nepal. In many cases, these organizational committees are entirely made up of women. In western Nepal, the Mother Teams receive help from youth clubs, which include girls and boys. Okhle’s Mother Team was created 9 years ago when members of the community reached out to established Mother Teams to ask for help starting their own.
Initially, the Mother Team in Okhle faced some opposition, as have others in central Nepal. In an effort to bring some stability and order to the community, the Mother Team banned drinking and gambling, except on certain holidays. Many people, especially men, did not appreciate these limitations on their freedom. It did, however, reduce financial irresponsibility and violence in the community. The evidence of these and other positive changes have gradually won over the majority of the community.
Early on, the Mother Team solicited donations from the community and used the 20,000 rupees (about $2,000) raised to purchase a plot of land and build a community house. Some money also came from the Nepali government, which contributes to Mother Teams throughout the country. Okhle’s community house is now used for meetings, ceremonies, funerals, celebrations, and to store communal resources. In addition to its many functions, the Mother Team offers loans to community members for unforeseen costs, such as those associated with funerals. Repayment of these loans is managed with great flexibility and understanding of the difficult economic situation of many community members.
One of the most successful initiatives of the Mother Team was creating a communal pig farm, which they accomplished with help from Heifer International. The farm was started six years ago, and many women in the community underwent extensive training (in some cases, 12 sessions) to learn how to raise the pigs and manage the operation.
Heifer has helped Okhle in many other ways as well. In an effort to reduce air pollution from wood fires within homes and in the environment as a whole, Heifer helped build smoke-free clay fire pits in homes and trained women on the construction, use and maintenance of this innovative technology. These wood-fired stoves require no chimney and create far less smoke than typical fireplaces. The Nuwakot district, in which Okhle is located, is now designated as a smoke-free district. In addition, Heifer has provided the community with education and training in planting, farming and waste disposal.
Looking toward the future, Krishna Maya wants to continue to shape her community by inspiring people to think more progressively about community development. The Mother Team has many ideas for community projects, such as creating a seed farm for radish plants. Radishes are a common crop in central Nepal, and people eat the nutritious greens as well as the root. Currently, radish seeds are imported from surrounding countries. Krishna Maya believes there is great potential for a market selling radish seeds throughout Nepal, since it would be more economical and preferable for Nepalis to buy seeds domestically.
Thanks to Krishna Maya, the Mother Team and the whole community, Okhle has received very high marks from Heifer International. Of several hundred Mother Teams that Heifer helped, Okhle’s Mother Team has been one of the most successful. When asked to what she attributes their success, Krishna Maya emphasized the importance of accepting visitors and taking care of them during their stay. This focus was clearly evident during our entire two-week stay in Okhle. Without exception, we were welcomed into lives, homes, kitchens and hearts openly and without thought of recompense. For our part, we tried to contribute in whatever way would benefit the community, and relished the opportunity to work, cook, eat, and live alongside Krishna Maya and every member of the Okhle community. We wish them all the best in the future. With such outstanding leadership, it is sure to be bright!
Dan (far right) with Krishna, family, and co-leader Brooke (2nd from left) in Okhle.