15th January 2021
Ruth’s Nepal news – late 2020, early 2021
Give thanks for
- Holiday in Langtang (October 2020) and over Christmas.
- The hospital agreements with the government.
- The life of Dr Herbert Karrach who died on 10th January age 96. He was the father of Dr Rachel Karrach who is hospital director in Tansen. He stayed here every winter and then the whole of 2020. He was so humble, thankful and inspiring.
- Laxmi’s family – Akash’s new job and Binod’s improved mental health.
- The relatively limited infection and deaths from Covid here.
Please pray for:
- Political stability in Nepal and effective service to the country.
- Positive outcomes in negotiations with the government over UMN’s working agreements so we can continue to do whatever work God wants us to be doing here and to have the staff and visas we need. Also for negotiations for the court case over the Headquarters property.
- Friends with job difficulties.
- The most needy and vulnerable in Nepal – those with little opportunity for income, with disabilities or at risk of trafficking, domestic violence, child marriage, missing school etc.
- For me to be effective and a good example in my work.
- For me to find a better rhythm to writing and sending updates (seriously, it is a struggle and takes me forever hence how they come so infrequently – often feels like I’ll never finish!)
- For wisdom to know when to visit the UK this year for Home Assignment!
- For my Mum who is waiting for an operation on possible skin cancer.
(You can sign up for weekly prayer points from UMN here – www.umn.org.np/pray )
Christmas and New Year
Since the summer or autumn my Nepali family have been inviting me to join them at Christmas time. So that’s where I went, and also stayed for New Year. It was a gift to spend time with a big family, conscious of all those back home who couldn’t. This year is very different for Nepali Christians too – usually they have a big feast at church after the service rather than a family gathering at home. But this year church was still on zoom (in Kathmandu at least). We did have a feast, at or rather outside the home of Rajendra’s cousin who lives nearby. They hosted us and some neighbours with lots of food (and juicy Nepali oranges) followed by chatting and some dancing. The Nepali expression is “dancing and singing” rather than “singing and dancing”, which shows you their enthusiasm for dancing! If you’re just hanging out it’s more about the participation than skill, although many people are talented and able to remember long routines. Back in the summer or Tihar festival I taught the kids some Scottish dances (they were quick learners and we could use slowed-down YouTube for the music and moves) and also La Macarena which was new for them. On Christmas Day I showed one or two kids a couple of dances down the lane which they thought was fun (and I think rooftop neighbour was watching us too). And also La Macarena. Mostly though, it was Nepali dances, to Nepali Christmas music when the power was on.
There is a lack of special Christmas food in Nepal – you just make sure there’s meat and add some extra vegetables or pickles and maybe make sel roti, the festival donut-like thing. But I managed to supplement with some treats thanks to my Dad sending some Lebkuchen all the way from UK Lidls! I had just thought I miss Lidls Christmas treats and then he sent them. We also had fun making cookies with the kids thanks to Aashish (left) being inspired by a family from the USA who he knew in China. We used a recipe from a Swedish friend’s grandmother and made some peanut butter ones too. So we ticked the ‘baking’ box essential from my Western-style Christmas!
For New Year, I thought there might not be any plan, but in the end, in true Nepali style a wee party was whipped at Rajendra’s place at short notice by someone’s idea, so we enjoyed a multi-dish feast cooked on a fire, plus an outside fire and some songs and a cake for one girl’s birthday.
I am so glad to be in Nepal right now rather than the UK! Whilst we had a very strict lockdown from March for many weeks – stricter than the UK – and another in August which the UK didn’t have, we’re now virtually free and back to normal in terms of restrictions, at least outside work. I am very conscious that it’s a massive luxury to meet a few friends inside their home. We sit at a bit of a distance usually, but still! Some of the last things to return just before Christmas was vehicles being allowed to every day (instead of odd or even number plates) and, the re-opening of the zoo, just near me. This doesn’t mean Corona isn’t here. I do know a few people in my area who have had it now. The official figures look like the numbers are going down, but the testing is also going down so it’s hard to know. Officially there are around 500 new cases and 10 deaths a day at the moment, with approximately 4,500 active cases. It’s likely to be quite a bit more than that. But, nothing at all like the UK and other European countries just now. Unless the new contagious strain reaches us I don’t think we’ll have another lockdown.
The impact though is massive, as you will know from your own countries. Unemployment or loss of income (with no benefits/ furlough to compensate), regular health affected e.g. Childbirth, TB treatment, cancer treatment. Domestic violence, lack of school / online school etc. The postponed school exams from April have just been taking place now!
UMN and Communications Work
New ED selected – First, good news. A new Executive Director has been selected in the first round of recruitment. Our current ED, Joel Hafvenstein, is due to finish in summer 2022. Dhana Lama has been chosen – she’s the first Nepali to be an executive director of UMN in its 67-year history! So it is exciting. And she already works for UMN with a long history with both medical and project experience. She’s currently the Programme Director.
Agreements and visas – The last few months have included sagas with UMN’s agreements with the government and related visas, and they’re not over yet.
For my work and the work in the clusters (districts), those in a government department who are considering the “Project Agreement” are not happy with the variety of UMN’s work, the number of expat visas and some other things. UMN has been here for over six decades doing a huge variety of work (previously even greater) and we still cover health, education, equal rights, advocacy and good governance, livelihoods and farming, climate adaptation etc. They’d like us to focus on only two or three of these. Secondly they don’t understand why we need so many foreign volunteers. There are at least 20 non-hospital posts written into the agreement but they’d like to reduce that. So in theory our jobs are up in the air. These tend to be specialist advisors e.g. in mental health, gender, monitoring and evaluation, grant and proposal writing etc. Please do pray for the negotiations and for those considering the agreement, to be enlightened and see the validity of our work bringing security, freedom, justice, peace etc etc. with some of the most marginalised groups. Currently we’re on a tourist visas but can work from home. They run out near the end of February so we would like to move to work visas then.
For the hospitals, with a new rule they have had to make the agreements with provincial rather than national government. That required a whole new process and relationship-building. Tansen finally got a one-year agreement at the end of 2020 and Okhaldhunga’s was signed on 11th January. Meanwhile, all hospital expats ended up on tourist visas for 5 weeks and not allowed to work in the hospitals – despite added staffing pressure from the pandemic! They finally started right at the end of the year/ early Jan, with the bonus that they didn’t have to travel all the way to Kathmandu for the visas and work permits (usually they do). Their visas are only for 6 months… You can read more about the hospitals’ latest situation in the latest UMNews .
Tasks and products – Regular news for website and social media plus the quarterly newsletter keep us occupied and then in the Autumn there was the big slog of the Annual Report – you wouldn’t believe the nitty-gritty work of checking and chasing involved (and to a smaller extent for newsletter and weekly news), but mostly I enjoy it. Sometimes it’s about the English, or checking facts or making sure our story has a good photo and the selection represents the variety of our work. My boss Vijeta and colleague Prashanta have been busy with videos too. I’m just involved in checking the text and the final versions before they go out. And then there’s calendars and Christmas cards. We spent ages finalising photos, dates, verse and captions for the calendar. Checking and selecting photos amongst us, online only, was a challenge since they take ages to load when we’re using the work network remotely. And we don’t have printers at home so Ramesh printed one final draft and delivered to each of us. In the end the calendar looks great but…. The post office has still never re-opened for International postage! Usually this is a big product that we send around the world. This year, how could we post any orders? Thankfully the few initial orders we got, we managed to send through a colleague who was returning to the Netherlands for a few months – big thanks to Arno and his family for taking over 16kg of calendars and cards to post from the Netherlands! And then we took them off the website but have had good demand within UMN. Meanwhile for our newsletter, we even printed one issue (September) thinking that the post was finally open (because it arrives from abroad, but just doesn’t leave). But now, they’re all still sitting at the General Post Office. It’s sad to be unable to contact many supporters whose email address we don’t have. They’ve not had a newsletter since February/ March 2020.
It’s interesting that my job description mentions nothing about team building, but it seems that it is an unwritten part of my role. I think Vijeta has appreciated having another person to discuss work and situations with. This past year, we’ve had Phil mostly abroad, one colleague having to finish his contract after around 30 years, one colleague struggling with mental health and performance and another due to get a promotion when all promotions were frozen. Never mind the pandemic, working from home and the hospitals appeal!Work team – Our team met in person last week for the first time in 10 months! Our colleague Phil Rawlings is finishing after 10 years investing his engaging, clear, positive design skills into UMN. He even met his wife at UMN! Actually he’s hardly been in the office the whole time I’ve been here, firstly because of the Masters visa rule (he’s now got one with a distinction) and then because he needed to stay with family in the UK. It was really nice to gather and celebrate in the garden.
Covid management team – Because Vijeta the Communications Manager has to help her 6-year-old do online school in the mornings, I’ve been co-opted from Communications to be on this team. It meets fortnightly or more to discuss and decide what procedures or rules we should have in place to protect staff and communities from catching and spreading Covid or to mitigate for losses e.g. refunding treatment. It also means I can hear the latest updates on government agreements etc.
We put our masks straight back on after!
We are in political instability / dysfunction. The president dissolved parliament just before Christmas and they’re calling for fresh elections in April and May, a year before the 5-year term is up. As far as I can gather, the ruling communist party is divided. The current prime minister should have handed over leadership to another half-way through the 5 years but didn’t. The other parties are protesting that the dissolution is unconstitutional, while still others were campaigning for the king to return. In general, discontent, frustration and division. Please pray for political stability to return and for responsible leadership so that things function and people in Nepal will be well served.
Katherine my flatmate is still in the USA. So I’ve been grateful for friends to hang out with through shopping walks, occasional visits to their homes and especially for my Nepali friends who have been such a gift as a family to become part of for a week or more in August, at Tihar in November (a festival which feels like Christmas) and then for Christmas and New Year! I’ve only had 5 visitors in my flat since March, all as once-only visits, (excluding my househelper Indira who comes maximum of once a week, since about 4 months into the pandemic here). The last guests I had (in December) were a couple of expat young people so we they could meet and play board games and have snacks. They’re a similar age and have been doing school online the whole time, 5 or 6 hours a day plus homework but had only met vaguely doing football. Well, I knew the landlords might not be too happy but it was only two people for a short time and they had hardly been mixing with others. Anyway, my landlady freaked out when I told her the night before (conveniently too late to cancel) and then said no more guests until end of February! We had a nice time though and it turns out they even have the same birthday, a year apart!
My friend Clare took her first ‘city break’ from Okhaldhunga village life in December, conveniently overlapping with my birthday so we lived the high life, visiting a cheese shop and going out for dinner. So nice.
Friends struggling with work / income
Like many in Nepal and around the world, some of my friends here have family members who have lost jobs, like my househelper’s husband (who worked booking travel for tourists). Another friend Maya, her husband has been paid only a tiny bit for 4 months of night security work at a new hospital (even the doctors haven’t been paid apparently) while in her own househelper job, her boss stopped paying her for 3 months without advising in advance. She’d like her husband to quit but I guess he’s hoping he will get paid in future and also prefers to work than sit at home, plus it’s hard to find other work. I was able to share some of the Christmas gift from Perth Baptist with her and she was really happy to be able to celebrate Christmas assisted by that. But long term she may try to open a business. Please pray for their job situations.
For my friend Laxmi, give thanks that her husband has just been offered a job, for at least a year! Both her husband and sister-in-law were out of work so she’s been the only earner in a household of 10 including grandparents and 4 kids. But give thanks that some people have been helping to support them short-term. Also give thanks that her brother Binod who was suffering from mental health problems is now doing much better. After leaving home for several months he returned, is taking medication regularly and is much calmer – previously her parents were scared to be living with him.
Church, worship, gatherings
Since we’ve just had Christmas, I’m taking the opportunity to share some highlights of the alternative church activity and gatherings in 2020:
Nepali lockdown worship series – there were 15 or more worship times led by young Nepali Christians, some of whom work for UMN. One of my favourites was this one – the lady has such a beautiful voice! It was so nice to see and enjoy people’s skill and initiative while doing my evening washing-up!
Just after Easter, there was a massive online holiday club for a week, 2 or 3 hours a day. Hundreds of kids joined – so many that they ran another one a few weeks later. They enjoyed making craft, singing songs etc. It was organised from India and some ISV partners were involved in recruiting and supporting it. I was really impressed at the speed of providing something enjoyable for children, so early in lockdown using a new technology.
Cross-country Bible study – the little Bible study group that I was part of before lockdown had only 4 people. On day 2 of lockdown we met on zoom and then continued weekly for months, now fortnightly. At first there were 4 of us in Kathmandu, my friend Clare in Okhaldhunga and a guy in Cambodia who both used to be in it! Then two ladies returned to the UK but we’ve continued. Currently we’re 5. It’s been good to have a community and share reflections on the Bible passage and pray for each other through the year and its craziness.
Perth Baptist online services – it’s been nice to connect with my home church in the UK. They’ve published some excellent services on YouTube so I can watch or listen later. It’s been nice to see or hear familiar people (including some interviews) and appreciate a lot of creativity and teaching. They’re also doing Messy Church for families and had some nice story-reading at Christmas time. (Note, if you want to skip the notices go to about 10 minutes in!)
Prayer partner – I had been thinking I would like to find a prayer partner but didn’t know where to begin. It turned out to be Yvonne who had arrived with her family in January from Australia to teach at an international school for two years. We started meeting in July every couple of weeks at a café, or just praying by phone. It’s been a blessing to us both and a nice way to start friendship. And if we hadn’t been hanging out I probably wouldn’t have had the chance to join them to go to Langtang* (she’s second from right). * Langtang– In October I had a beautiful relaxing but energetic escape to go trekking in Langtang with Yvonne (my prayer partner), her husband Mark, daughter Jasmine (15) and my friend Gaby. We’re all from ISV. It was amazing. Eight days of trekking in beautiful scenery with no internet. Hard work and we reached nearly 5000m and saw snow, yaks and mules.
United Mission to Nepal: http://www.umn.org.np
Thank you for reading my update.
8th January 2021
An update from Ruth:
Belated Merry Christmas! I hope you could celebrate with some family even though you probably couldn’t celebrate with as many people as normal. It sounds really tough in the UK just now, especially since we’re used to seeing each other over Christmas.
Here in Nepal, our cases and deaths are getting lower now and are far lower than the UK. So I’m grateful to be here! I have spent Christmas with my Nepali friends at their home so it has been a luxury to celebrate with a lot of people! I miss some of the British traditions but they still have carols here, even quite a few different Nepali ones. And I can put on Western carols and put up some Christmas lights.
Good to know that the churches are working together in Grangemouth and a zoom Coffee morning sounds like a nice idea. I found that after a while in lockdown, that by living alone and not going to work or church or anywhere else, I missed out on just normal chatting with people about what was going on. UMN started a weekly gathering for expats on zoom just so we could chat and catch up, which was welcome while the lockdown lasted!
I hope you will stay well and encouraged in these weeks even though it is hard work. Best wishes to you for 2021!
God bless you and thank you for staying in touch.
Regards from Ruth, in Nepal.
Ruth’s Nepal News and Prayer
A few days before lockdown came, I celebrated one year in Nepal. And 12th of August marked one year since I finished the 5 months of language and culture orientation and started working full-time in the communications team.
Many thousands of Nepalis work abroad (providing 28% of the GDP) and thousands have returned in a rapid influx from India especially – up to 4,000 a day arriving from India into the Far Western province alone in late May (with 56,000 arriving there in just 2 weeks), as well as hundreds who are eventually being returned from Gulf countries. Since they had travelled in crowded transport and were coming from countries with much higher infection rates, these thousands had to be quarantined for two weeks. But creating and supplying these centres so quickly was impossible.
Some returned home without quarantining, some left quarantine early because of poor facilities – even lack of food or sanitation – and quite a number contracted Covid-19 while staying in quarantine in cramped conditions. All this after months of no work in India and finally reaching Nepal, and facing unemployment now they have returned.
For those who do get infected, it seems that their communities will often fear or shun them or their families, and also it’s really hard for people to self-isolate at home here because many live in a small room or two, and several families may share bathroom etc. So isolation centres are also needed!
In my experience there is been no shortage of food in Kathmandu’s lockdown as long as you have money to buy it – the problem is knowing when shops are open. Sometimes they were (and are) only open e.g. 5-7am with a few vegetable stalls open til 8 or 9 and some opening briefly in the evening. The rules kept changing all the time, but luckily I was informed and entertained through a local foreigner’s What’s App group which also connected me with Hot cross buns, bagels and a massive soft fruit run achieved by two cyclists going up a steep hill to collect the orders for around 40 foreigners! Through the group I learnt about some new shops.
For friends in the villages or smaller towns (and I assume for many villages in Nepal) there has sometimes been a big shortage of vegetables as they can’t get to market, which is also awful for the farmers when their crop is ready. This is partly because of inter-district transport being banned, and public transport also for a long time – transporting another way is much more expensive.
For the many thousands who rely on daily wage work or have a business which they can’t / could not run, their problem is no money to buy food. Some were left in heart-breaking situations of having no food left or being refused in official hand-outs because they didn’t have an identity card from the same district, surviving on fern shoots from the wild or a nearly-finished bag of dry flattened rice. There have been some good food supply schemes though. Some through the government but they didn’t seem to reach everyone. I’m was relieved and encouraged to hear of others – a church near my area which supplied food to around 700 households of the poorest people including many people with disabilities. That church was started by a man who spent years in hospital, semi-paralysed after an accident. It now welcomes so many people with disabilities, it is a blessing to go there).
I know there were schemes in other districts, one friend shared about a scheme which helped over 200 families through support mostly from the Netherlands. And a Nepali friend Nira who usually runs a café, I found out that during lockdown she organised preparation and distribution of hot meals daily to 150 people for 75 days! She used her café to prepare the food, her large vehicle for deliveries and collecting supplies (when there was no public transport, even taxis) and groups she knew helped as volunteers.
She received some support of food and money as well as using her own funds. UMN has also supported poor families, especially the poorest and those with disabilities in Okhaldhunga district (300 families) and also food for a quarantine centre and some Dalit (so-called low caste) families.
Amongst my Nepali friends, a friend, a friend’s sister-in-law and my house-helper’s husband have all lost their full-time jobs during this season, and in UMN others have had their contract finish early and not be renewed. In Nepal and many less wealthy countries around the world, there is no unemployment benefit and there has been no support to businesses other than a tax delay.
There are heart breaking stories of daily wage workers and shop owners committing suicide because for days and weeks they couldn’t work during lockdown. And since so many thousands who were working abroad have also lost their work and come back, the impact on household incomes is going to be immense, affecting so many other areas of life.
Transport and Exercise
For most of lockdown we had no public transport and personal travel was restricted. We still have no inter-district travel without permission, and no international flights.
There was no daily exercise allowance. If you have a roof, that’s a great space to do exercise and people often use it anyway. I enjoyed going on the roof to do some stretches and watch people, birds, dogs, the view. I got connected to our What’s app shopping group that way in week 1, through talking to another expat who lives over the lane who was on her roof.
Eventually we realised we could meet friends to go on circuitous shopping walks, armed with shopping bag and mask.
Later, in around June, I learnt of a walking group starting from outside my house and met people who were only names. 6am on Sunday mornings. A bit early but it was already super humid and I’m happy to avoid the full sun.
So finally, I could do a much longer walk into semi-countryside up to Chobhar hill where I’d never been – about 2 hours round trip. Good exercise, sometimes good views, and good chats.
Resources and UMN Updates
My work has been very busy, especially sharing the hospitals appeal and more regular news, checking video content etc. I’ve edited or written perhaps half of the recent content on our latest news, social media and in the quarterly magazine.
UMN’s work in this period has focussed on keeping the two hospitals going – Okhaldhunga and Tansen – when they had a massive drop in patient numbers and therefore income (which may happen again).
Their work includes serving the poorest of their districts. There was a massive generous response from around the world so we can still function well, but an estimated USD 1m / GBP 0.75m shortfall remains, because disease and lockdowns may come and go. The cluster work in districts has been almost halted (because we can’t travel and can’t meet in large groups) and turned into Covid-19 support to quarantines etc. and some relief and lots of planning.
We hope to send staff back when this lockdown eases so they can support local partner organisations and be ready for action when it’s possible, albeit restricted…
Regards from Ruth, in Nepal.