The Xavier Network in Nepal: serving remote communities
Some secluded villages in the north-east of Nepal can only be approached by crossing a hanging bridge. Now the Nepal Jesuit Social Institute, alongside Jesuitenmission Germany, has built another bridge, this time a figurative one. It connects the people of this drought affected region with the helpers from all over the world.
The Tata off-road vehicle crawls upwards inch by inch. At the edge of the gravel road, the ravine gapes hundreds of meters into the depths. Far below, mustard fields are dabbing yellow stains into the landscape. In between winds the river Sunkoshi, and a hanging bridge leads over it.
The trip goes to a water tank with a five-kilometer pipeline to the villages Rakathum, Chapadi and Lubhu in the district of Ramechap, financed by the Nepal Jesuit Social Institute (NJSI) – also thanks to donations from Germany. Why just here? In the north-east of Nepal, dozens of similar hamlets and single huts nestle in the slopes… But: Rakathum is the home village of Ram. The 22-year-old helps to coordinate the work of the NJSI in this remote area and has reported on the predicament to the Kathmandu Institute. The house of his family shows deep cracks, the heavy earthquake of 2015 left behind. Thus the water supply was no longer guaranteed for months after the old device had broken through the quake and the source could no longer be reached.
A Herculean task
In addition to P. Klaus Väthröder SJ, Head of the Jesuit Mission Germany, PR Officer Steffen Windschall and Nepalese Jesuit P. Boby J. Thadathil SJ, P. Roy Sebastian SJ accompanies the excursion. The NJSI Director is aware of the difficult situation on the ground: apart from the severe earthquake damage that has not yet been remedied, the area south of Mount Everest has always suffered extreme drought. “The rain clouds are intercepted by the Sindhuli hills, and there is hardly any rain in Ramechap. The villages are situated directly in the rain shadow behind the hills and are dependent on drinking water and agriculture for the monsoon “, says Father Sebastian. The only alternative to gaining water is three kilometers away: the Sunkoshi. To raise the water is “a Herculean task,” says Roy. Especially for the women who are the majority in the village – many men work in distant cities: except for sparse agriculture and cattle, there is nothing to do here.
But: Go to school. There are a total of 34 households with 67 children. Three of them accompany the excursion to the tank: on the roof of the jeep. Especially the little ones and the women are very grateful to the NJSI and the donors from all over the world. The Xavier Network has supported the public village school with teaching materials, school uniforms and a sanitary facility. A social center for the women is being built. “What has contributed to the success is the commitment of the people, especially the women are organizing themselves,” explains Roy Sebastian: The money came from outside, but the work was largely done by the people alone.
“To help the poor in my homeland, nothing feels better”
When the Jesuits and Ram arrive at Rakathum after having a look at the water tank, which contains 16,000 liters, there is a reception committee waiting at the front of the school. The village leaders are there, the school director, teachers, children, men, women. The people in the villages are exclusively Hindus, and the gratitude towards the Christian helpers knows no limits. Representatives of the students, the women, and the dignitaries go round, hanging flowers around the Jesuits’ necks and artistically woven scarves, and they paint red tikalas on their foreheads as expression of the highest reverence. In long Nepali speeches, they thank the guests, Father Sebastian translates. Then Father Väthröder explains the motivation behind the relief campaign: “Building bridges between the people of Ramechap and those in Germany and the whole world who donated.”
And this bridge building is contagious. When asked about his dreams and plans for the future, Ram replies: “I want to find a woman and get married. And I want to help the poor in my homeland. Nothing feels better.”