For TEAR's partner Shanti Nepal, working towards holistic transformation means all project activities, from toilets to health advice, are about building stronger communities.
For the families participating in the projects, the achievements they make to improve sanitation, maternal and child health, and human rights (including for women and people with disability) cannot be held in isolation; all outcomes are intertwined and reliant on one another, though each is physically very different. In these Himalayan villages, the relational meets the physical in a very practical manner.
Their aim is not to be a delivery agent, but a demonstrator of God’s love and compassion, an enabler of peace and harmony.
It all began in 2015, just before the huge earthquake hit Nepal. The community project had just got underway when the emergency usurped all other work. In the following months, Shanti worked hard with these villages to deliver tarpaulins, roofing sheets and building materials. But Shanti is by nature a social organisation. Their aim is not to be a delivery agent, but a demonstrator of God's love and compassion, an enabler of peace and harmony. Even when they are delivering relief materials, their method of working is entirely relational.
Today, the project focuses on improving health by overcoming some of the major causes of illness and death in these remote communities, such as water-borne disease, complications in child birth, and respiratory illness. A key activity is the formation of mothers groups, which are forums to pass on new knowledge and practices, and proven to continue to create a healthy environment long after the project has finished. These groups have been leading the way in eliminating open defection, ensuring women are able to get to a health clinic during pregnancy and at child birth, improving vaccination rates and spreading knowledge on good nutrition for children.
In one Tamang community, the outcome grew to much more than that. In this village, cutting its way through the houses, there runs a small stream. On one side, live the Christian families. They have cleaner streets, a higher income, and generally avoid alcohol. On the other, live the families that adhere to traditional customs and Buddhism. These families sensed hostility from the Christian side; the families from the two sides did not work together. In the formation of a mother's group, Shanti has found a way to foster a peace that has bridged the village.
Shanti's Community Health Facilitator, Manju, is from one of the Christian families. She holds Shanti's vision of transformation and is committed to serving the whole community. Shanti gathered together mothers from both sides of the stream to form the mother's group, and encouraged them to form a committee including both Buddhist and Christian women. Her care and compassion across the religious divide has enabled the group to flourish.
The women have worked together to improve the entire community. One of their first activities was to build a meeting room, with the support of Shanti. Importantly, they chose a site on the poorer, Buddhist side. They also worked to clean up the streets, taking pride in the whole village's appearance. And they worked with the local government to improve sanitation, ensuring that all households have a toilet. They have since achieved the coveted official government recognition as being an “Open Defecation Free” village, a recognition worthy of a large ceremony attended by officials.
So what impact does all this have on the health of the children and families? Improved sanitation has a clear link to health, and so does growing up in a peaceful village, where diversity is accepted and equality respected. No amount of toilets could achieve that much.