HDFA with Ghunsa – Reaching higher

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Himalayan Development Foundation Australia is a registered charity based in Adelaide. HDFA has been  working alongside the people of Ghunsa to support improvements in:

  • education standards  through Ghunsa Lower Secondary School and it’s hostel (school reconstruction following earthquake damage; teachers’ salaries; hostel conditions and care)
  • healthcare – we’ve renovated the Health Post and support two Health Assistants with salary top ups and training
  • basic infrastructure – we’ve been helping repair the local hydro scheme following earthquake damage and wear and tear
  • livelihoods – helping seed micro-enterprise, supporting existing businesses and promoting tourism

Why? Our directors have longstanding connections to the area through our mountaineering and trekking exploits and we believe in supporting those who’ve supported us. Sustainability, collaboration, working alongside – this is how we work.

Our partners: Our local delivery partners are the Kanchenjunga Buddhist Social Service (KBSS). KBSS  is an Non-Government Organisation (NGO) that serves as the not-for-profit body representative of the Lelep-Ghunsa villages.

HDFA also works with the School Management Committee Association, Nepal and PHASE Nepal on specific activities.

Here’s some background information

Location

The Ghunsa Village lies at 3,400m altitude in the remote Mechi Zone in the far East of Nepal in the Taplejung District, bordering India further to the East. Ghunsa is the highest permanent settlement in the valley, immediately to the north lies Tibet, which is accessed via 5,500 metre high passes.

How we started

In September and October 2013 and subsequent visits to Kathmandu in June 2014, HDFA Board members met with local community members to discuss the pressing needs the Ghunsa community had identified.  KBSS and HDFA members agreed that further community consultation was immediately required following June 2014 discussions in Kathmandu.

The KBSS senior board members conducted further community engagement visits in site in July 2014 to ensure all community members had input to the overall Ghunsa Village Development Plan. It was also put to the community they need to have strong input into all development project activities and be prepared to “put some skin in the game” by way of co-investing in time, labour and physical materials whenever possible. HDFA in partnership with WRA (World Relief Australia) will not build or offer assistance as welfare – if the community requests assistance they must also be active partners.

Overview

This HDFA Ghunsa Village Development plan is supported by six pillars, of which education is the initial focus. The six pillars are:

  • Education
  • Child Safety
  • Healthcare
  • Infrastructure
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Economic Development.

Healthcare: HDFA is supporting community nurses who are now trained and stationed at Ghunsa to offer medical support to the wider local area and the increased numbers of students. We negotiated with the local district government to provide the base salary and medications for these staff, with HDFA assisting with top up supplies and annual training support. We now also support with additional medicines and equipment, plus training on specific issues such as mid-wife skills (prolapsed uterus is a common killer here) and medical centre management.

Economic Development: This is crucial to the future success of the region. HDFA has commissioned this website specifically to promote tourism in area. (A similar approach has been implemented for tea-houses to advertise themselves on an information portal in the Manaslu Circuit area in central Nepal and has seen a three-fold increase in trekker numbers in only two years)

We believe that by offering training for tea-houses workers and basic business/governance issues we can engage with the community and deliver other needed outcomes such as basic hygiene and health care under the auspices of tourism training.

We’re also supporting the development of sustainable Medicinal and Aromatic Plant harvesting micro-enterprise and currently (2016) working with ideas for tourism services such as a rhododendron garden, community museum and cafes.

Infrastructure: Education infrastructure will make education available to remote students for the first time and is outlined below.

We have a medium term plan to roll out Wi-Fi in the region by partnering with a Nepalese organisation that has successfully delivered this transformational change in four other areas of Nepal.

We envisage that the internet will serve multiple objectives:

  • engagement of children with the classroom
  • online medical support to assist the community nurses (tele-medicine)
  • online teacher support to deliver more engaging course work
  • allow people to stay in their village and be connected
  • take away the isolation factor in relation to relatives all over Nepal and the world
  • improve commerce
  • allow direct communications between partners

Child Protection: Child relocation and forced removals are not prevalent in this area of Nepal. Although many young people leave to study in Kathmandu or India, this is done by choice. HDFA will monitor this concern in the area, and initial child protection issues are focused on mitigating health risks via improved accommodation, food and clothing if appropriate.

Environmental sustainability: The area is part of the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area, and home to threatened species. Economic development poses a risk to environmental sustainability, and initially our environmental focus is on limiting damage due to activities (mainly building) and opportunities for reduced or improved resource use, and waste management

Improving education

In the side valleys surrounding Ghunsa numerous small family dwellings exist and it is estimated there are 120-160 children in the alpine areas. Many of these children live a number of days or hours walk from the Ghunsa School and are unable to attend school.

Another issue in the immediate area is schools of unsustainable size, for example the village of Gyabla has only 3 school age students. When the quality of education deteriorates the parents often withdraw their children from school and thus the few available resources are reduced further due to lack of student numbers.

Quality of education is a real issue, which negatively impacts parental and community for support for schools.

In order to enhance and deliver a higher quality education in the Ghunsa region a school system restructure is required throughout the upper valley. Essentially small schools (Gyabla, Olonchangola) could be run to an lower year level only, provisionally to year 3 or 5, after which students will be allowed to transfer to Ghunsa, which for now will provide education for up to year 8. This will require a boarding facility and focus of resources onto Ghunsa as student numbers increases.

The education program for the Ghunsa Village Project includes:

  • Empowering corporate governance School Management Committee for (SMC) (in progress)
  • Boarding facility renovation and repair 20% funding from local village (completed)
  • Boarding facility ongoing support, food, staff 50-80% funded by families
  • Renovation of existing school buildings, insulation, carpets etc (completed)
  • Teacher training
  • Teacher support – improved accommodation situation (completed)
  • Teaching support materials (ongoing)
  • Australian teacher volunteers – with teacher coaching

As a support to activity to the improvement of education a one-off capital works program was undertaken in 2015. The design of the new buildings took into account the earthquake risk of the region and employs earthquake damage risk mitigation structural techniques. This design wasdeveloped by an architectural firm in Kathmandu with consultation of structural engineer in Australia with Nepal experience.

School and hostel re-build

Construction used local stone and wood which was supplied by the local community as part of their 20% of funding AusAid/WRA/HDFA requires for project commitment from community on construction projects.

Other items such as insulation and metal roofing were brought in from Taplejung and India.

The use of earthquake prevention measures, insulation and other modern building techniques was shared with the local community. This is especially relevant to tea-house owners and developers so the next wave of infrastructure development can produce more energy efficient and healthier accommodation using simple concepts to improve the overall housing standards within the region. Better designs also result in positive health impacts such as reduced respiratory illness resulting from improved ventilation.

Governance

HDFA has partnered with WRA (World Relief Australia) who holds all funds in a public fund, administered by independent trustees. The funds are quarantined to the Ghunsa Village Project which has been approved by the WRA. The WRA Public Fund is endorsed with DGR status for overseas aid activities.

As a partner of WRA, HDFA monitors, reports, designs and amends the project in consultation with its local partners in Nepal: the KBSS, Local School Management Committee (LSC) and other regulatory bodies within Nepal, such as Social Welfare Council (SWC). This is all overseen by the WRA trustees.

HDFA board is comprised of eight members, the majority of whom are responsible persons. The HDFA Program Advisory and Delivery committee reports to the board and comprises members with expertise and experience in education, health care, infrastructure development, economic development and, importantly, experience in Nepal and contacts to ensure delivery of the programs.

Financial Capacity

HDFA has a wide network of members throughout Australia and the board is satisfied that the budget allocated to the project is achievable.

 

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