WIN is committed to going to the most remote areas. This task is extremely difficult and costly. Getting from the city of Kathmandu to the village where we built Water System #2 required two flights, a 1-hour jeep ride down the mountain from the airport to the town, and, the following day, another 2-hour off-road jeep ride. The road is so rough that if you don't hold on, you'll get your head slammed against the window as the jeep lurches and bounces over rocks and ditches!
When the jeep could go no further, it was time for a welcomed walk the last bit of distance to the village.
From the road, I could see the 80 or so huts that composed this village - brown or blue-gray tin and thatch roofs clustered and perched on the slope. Below the huts, row after row of terraces fanned across the mountainside. Each was cut into the earth to provide a few feet to cultivate crops. But even though the weather was warm, everything was brown and dry due to a lack of irrigation water.
We arrived near dusk, and to my surprise, our villagers were coming home from working on the water system!
In all our projects, WIN engages the local people so that what we do to help them isn't ours but theirs. We try not to give anything completely "free" so that the recipients have "skin in the game" and feel ownership. Free stuff devalues the recipient, whereas true empowerment says, "You're not destitute; you have something to contribute," and creates environments for that contribution to happen.
So it was fun to see them returning from work, picks and shovels across their shoulders, and every one of their weather-crinkled brown faces glowed with smiles. They knew they were a part of creating a better future. We were to stay that night at the school teacher's home, a young, cheery man and the only person in the village who knew a little bit of English. His family had a large new home built on three levels, with the animals accommodated below and the people above. After walking through the narrow footpaths, we climbed a ladder made of notches cut into a log and stepped out onto a spacious open-air platform offering a breathtaking view of the valley and mountain ranges. Inside, his family members – in these extended families, it's hard to know whether a person is a sister or sister-in-law, brother or brother-in-law, cousin, mom and dad, or aunt and uncle – all received us with honor and scurried to prepare the culturally-essential cup of tea.
That evening seated on the floor around the iron cook stove, we dined on the standard fare for people who've had no irrigation water for many months – potato stew ladled over rice. Without electricity, the only light was from cell phones and a dim bulb powered by a small solar panel. With all batteries dead, Sumit, our videographer, pulled out the emergency battery backup we brought. Our phones and cameras must be readied for tomorrow's trek to the water source. I was shown to a private room furnished with a wooden cot, a thin pad for a mattress, and a blanket that had never experienced a washing. Having been prepared to sleep on the floor in my jacket, I was thankful!
In the middle of the night, I heard shouts and a ruckus.
In the morning, I learned that a fire had broken out in the town, and our local pastor Brother Daarul had to walk back across the mountains at night to check on things!
Amar, WIN's Nepal coordinator, was there and worked valiantly to rescue people and fight the fire. His jacket and shoes got burned, but thankfully no one was seriously injured, and Brother Daarul's hut was spared. But many lost their homes right before winter set in. Then, Daarul turned around and walked BACK up the mountain in the wee hours of the morning! Though exhausted, he was still game to hike up another mountain to show us the water system being constructed.