This story is about the Chepangs, a semi-nomadic tribe of Nepal, living in some of the poorest conditions and often extremely marginalised from mainstream society. The Chepangs belong to one of the lowest cast of the country and too often are perceived as an ‘untouchable’ community. To date, very little has been done to improve the lives of the Chepang people. Out of the estimated 52,000 Chepangs in Nepal, few have been allocated permanent housing, and the majority has no access to land or property.
In Dhading district, Restless Development Nepal is focusing part of its work on improving the sanitation conditions and access to clean water of a Chepang community, living in the high mountains at 14,000 feet, just below the forests. Restless Development Nepal’s support over the past three years has gone a long way and has truly impacted the lives of community members and their children.
When Restless Development Nepal first met the Chepangs in Dhading a few years back, the community faced many development issues. Infant mortality for example was particularly high. Chepang mothers gave birth to an average of seven children to keep their dynasty alive; however, all families met had at least lost one child. Lack of readily available clean water contributed significantly to this high instance of infant mortality.
Further complicating the issue, the public taps were off limits for the Chepangs. Being at the bottom of the cast system and considered as untouchable, the Chepangs are often not allowed to collect water from the public pump. It is also usually the task of women to fetch the water from mountain springs, which due to distances took them a considerable amount of time. San Maya Chepang, a community volunteer who took part in Restless Development Nepal’s activities and trainings, shared her knowledge about preventive and curative illnesses to her peers. However, a significant amount of her time continued to go into household chores and a three hour walk to fetch water. She felt frustrated as she had limited available time to properly educate others on health issues.
San Maya was part of the group of mothers who suggested providing them with clean water. Restless Development Nepal agreed this was a priority for the community and decided to provide the 21 community houses with readily available drinking water. It made use of its experiences from past projects to mark local participation, local ownership and local investment as key elements of the partnership with the community.
After forming a local users’ group, local volunteers were secured to work on this project. A water tank was built and maintenance training provided for long term sustainability. Materials were collected locally and the community members contributed some of the funds. The latter was most difficult to achieve; however, Restless Development Nepal believed this was necessary to create a feeling of ownership regardless of how little the contribution might be.
This water project started out small with providing the water tank facility, but through its integration with other community projects its impact became much greater. San Maya Chepang now has more free time to educate her community members about basic hygiene, mother and child care, sanitation, and nutrition. “We had to walk for 3 to 4 hours each day to collect water. We sometimes used to send our children to collect water instead of sending them to school. Now water is in our home. We use this water for drinking and irrigation of our kitchen garden. This provides us some income and fresh vegetables”, explains San Maya Chepang, mother and community volunteer.
Now that the water is available close by, it is no longer solely the responsibility of women as men also take part in helping out. Children’s attendance to school has improved and drop outs have reduced. Credits saving practices are starting to become popular. After providing the community with water, a local community organisation constructed a toilet further improving the community’s situation.
Looking back at the project after three years, this quote by an external evaluator who conducted the social audit in the village summarises perfectly the long term impacts to date:
“When a water project works, nothing works like it. Mothers sleep well. Fathers earn more. Daughters go to schools. Youth stays with their families. Livestock is fed well. Toilets are constructed. Kitchen gardens flourish. Saving and credit schemes are up and running.”
This story is about the Chepangs, a semi-nomadic tribe of Nepal, living in some of the poorest conditions and often … more