- Roger Thompson
Living witnesses in rural Nepal
The Kingdom of God is like two women who gave up the bright lights and fashions of city life to serve a poor and marginalised community in Nepal.
Nisha Praja and Sulochana Thakuri are two social mobilisers who have been working for Human Development and Community Services (HDCS) in Chitwan District. They gave up their full and vibrant social lives in Kathmandu in order to work in community health.
The Chepang people group is one of the most isolated ethnic groups in Nepal. They are often described as the poorest of the poor. They live in the remote hills of Central Nepal, in areas unreached and untouched by development. Their communities are often located across rivers that have no bridges, making them inaccessible during the monsoons. Their culture is deeply rooted in traditional practices which act as a powerful barrier to change. For example, many Chepang people prefer to remain sick instead of visiting hospitals, which are generally perceived to be far away and too costly. Young people are blighted by low socio-economic status, poor hygiene, alcoholism, early marriages and teen pregnancies.
HDCS identified the need for community health interventions in the region. They set up a Public Health Programme, linked with Gunjaman Hospital, Chitwan (one of three rural community hospitals run by HDCS across Nepal) and they recruited Nisha and Sulochana. The pair chose to sacrifice a life of comfort to live among unfamiliar, underprivileged and impoverished people. In doing so, they have demonstrated a commitment and motivation that has set them apart and has helped bring transformation to the community.
Although Nisha grew up in Kathmandu, she herself belongs to the Chepang ethnic group. Her motivation springs from a negative experience she had in one of her Social Studies classes, when her teacher described Chepang people as “a group who collect excrement for a living”. She claims that this memory is strongly imbedded in her mind and it has propelled her to become an agent for change.
Together with Sulochana, the two women got to know local residents by offering a helping hand with daily household chores and striking up conversations. They ran community educational sessions on kitchen gardening, health and hygiene; they promoted the free health services available at Gunjaman Hospital through telephone calls and home visits, so that no one was left behind in pain and suffering. This has led to a change in behaviour amongst the Chepang people, who are now encouraged to access healthcare through timely follow-up and counselling.
In spite of all the challenges, Nisha and Sulochana’s drive and enthusiasm remained intact and resulted in love and acceptance by the Chepang community. As HDCS Executive Director Kapil Sharma comments, “We are blessed to have found two treasures that support each other and the vision and mission of HDCS: to be living witnesses of God’s love and transform communities”.