A Special Experience Calls for a Special Testimonial
Farmers Helping in Nepal: A Special Testimonial
Bettina Scherrer and Ole Rennstich spent six months in Gorkha, Nepal, actively involved in development work on the farm in the "Land of the Medicine Buddha." Bettina shares her experience and what she personally gained from her time there in her testimonial:
Where do I begin?
In the midst of the monsoon season, we arrived at the beautiful piece of land on the banks of the Trishuli River, drenched in rain and sweat. In our luggage, we had tools, kilos of screws, the obligatory Swiss chocolate, and a strong dose of motivation. For the arduous journey from the road to the farm (carrying all the luggage through rough terrain and between the rice fields), we were rewarded with the lushest greenery imaginable! Never before had the world appeared so green to me.
The people living and working on the farm initially observed us cautiously from a safe distance, but soon curiosity won over and we were bombarded with questions. In our daily English lessons, we were immediately put to use for oral practice. "Where are you from?", "What is it like where you come from?", "Are there mountains there?", "Are you married?", "Why arent you married?". And then we were allowed to ask a few questions and learned a lot about the people who inhabit and cultivate this special place. Kalpana has been there the longest and can communicate very well. She lives in a nearby village with her youngest of three sons and her husband. Another son works in Qatar, and another in southern Nepal. From the village, there are also Gita and Rita. Both work on the farm to support their families. Some of the farm residents belong to the Chepang ethnic group, who live in the southern part of Nepal under very basic conditions and engage in agriculture under the most challenging circumstances (by our standards). The youngest Chepang girl, Usha, is 18 years old and very shy.
English, Accounting, Agriculture
Babulal, the village elder and a respected figure, does not participate in the English classes. He consistently speaks Nepali, although over time it becomes apparent that he knows a word or two in English. The classes are taught by a teacher from Satrasaya. Tika Ram, the farm manager, keeps a diligent attendance record. In addition to daily English classes, the women receive blockwise instruction in accounting and agriculture. When the women are not in class, they are either weeding, harvesting in the fields, or separating the leaves from the already dried herbal stalks. It is a pleasant task where everyone sits in a circle and chats, sings, and laughs while working.
Now, let's talk about us. How did we spend our time on the farm for 5 months?
For Ole, a trained carpenter, it was not difficult to keep himself busy. There were many things to improve. Furthermore, a new classroom, kitchen, bedrooms, and sanitary facilities were recently built for training and seminars. There was also plenty of work to be done in these areas. As for myself, I initially worked on revising the training materials for agriculture classes and, once I was done, I assisted Ole.
A Lot to Do and Build... Nepali Style
In December, the first Biodynamic Permaculture Design Course with approximately 30 participants was scheduled to take place on the farm. There was still a lot to be done before that. The new buildings were all still unfinished, without windows, without furniture, without sanitary facilities, and unpainted. We took it upon ourselves to move things forward. A water filter had to be installed, the rooms needed floors and furniture, windows and doors had to be installed, and paint had to be applied to the walls...
So, together with the men from the farm and external workers, we worked on the buildings and quickly realized that everything takes a little more time in Nepal. Initially, it was frustrating for us to adapt to the Nepali way of working and the available materials. But once we understood that we had no other choice, we could see how creatively and calmly people dealt with challenges. Many could learn a thing or two from them! Somehow and at some point, a solution was found for every problem. It was usually far from what we had imagined, but it always worked.
From Monsoon to Dry Season
So we made our way from the monsoon to the dry season and were impressed by the metamorphosis the landscape underwent. What was initially bursting with green life gradually faded and dried up. The rice fields were harvested, the soil cracked from dryness, the snails and frogs disappeared, along with the countless insects. The magnificent butterflies became fewer, but we discovered more and more caterpillars on the leaves and on the ground. The nights became clearer, and the view of the majestic peaks of the Himalayas improved. We particularly enjoyed a ten-day hike to Machapuchare, the sacred mountain and abode of the gods.
Speaking of gods: It is absolutely fascinating how different religions come together, mix, and peacefully coexist in Nepal. The majority of people are Hindu or Buddhist, but there are also Christians and Muslims. Religion is omnipresent. Sometimes loud and cheerful, sometimes contemplative, and sometimes, in our perception, a bit brutal when, for example, thousands of chickens, goats, and buffaloes are sacrificed. The farm workers also celebrate religious festivals. When they set off in their finest attire with the tikka on their foreheads, you can be fairly certain that they are going to a temple to pay homage to the gods. We had the privilege of witnessing traditional rituals up close.
Preparations for 30 Participants of the Biodynamic-Permaculture Design Course
And then December slowly approached, and we were in the final sprint for the preparations of the Biodynamic-Permaculture Design Course. The final preparations of the buildings had to be made, and our collaboration with the instructors from the organization Woven Earth became closer. It is hard to imagine what it means to conduct a course with 30 people, mostly from the West, in a place where there are no roads, no waste disposal system, no running water, and where locally available food has to be transported to the farm on foot. This requires complex logistics and the prerequisite that the participants are willing to forgo the familiar luxuries of hot showers, varied meals, and washing machines. But just in time and with Nepali serenity, everything was completed, and the course could begin. For four weeks, many young and interesting people from various parts of the world populated the farm. The paths by which the participants found their way to the course are as diverse as the people themselves. But they are all united by the search for sustainable ways of living and a love for nature.
A Special Course
The farm workers, who didn't quite know what to expect, were initially very excited. They were involved in small tasks such as grocery shopping and cooking for the course. Kalpana, the proud full-time chef, enjoyed her role and the interaction with the participants. And Tika Ram could often be found in the kitchen, making pancakes, brewing tea, and rolling chapatis. The exchange with the participants was enriching and gave the farm workers the opportunity to practice their English. In addition to the organization, we also participated in the course and enjoyed the beautiful atmosphere that developed between the participants and the farm workers.
We learned how preparations are made, how to compost, how to terrace, and overall, how existing resources can be utilized in a sustainable way to obtain food, warmth, and shelter, and how harmonious coexistence of all Earths inhabitants could be possible. The course was a true success. We are proud to be involved in the realization of this beautiful idea. And then the end of our time in Nepal approached, along with the farewell to many beloved people. We were bid farewell with tears and led to the bus. It is comforting to know that we have made a contribution through our work and mere presence and have left something behind on the farm.