A father's love transforms remote Chepang village

Published On: June 15, 2016 12:33 PM NPT By: Republica  | @RepublicaNepal

CHITWAN, June 14: Six years ago, Kanda village in Chitwan had drawn headlines for death of eight members of single family due to poisonous mushroom. Poverty and illiteracy was the identity of this Chepang village then. But coming, it has changed. Thatched huts are replaced by fairly well sheltered houses. Solar lights have been installed in every house. Children attend a modest nearby school with a good canteen and hostel.

And the person who changed the identity of this village is Bishnu Prasad Gautam. After losing both of his sons to road accident within nine months, Gautam looked for ways to console himself. Other things than selfless service would not give him peace. In the course of finding ways to make the rest of his life meaningful, Gautam brought such awe-inspiring changes to the Chepang village. “The village was also living in trauma after losing eight members of single family. It did not had any facilities and no help was being extended to the community. I felt the need to take initiatives that would make their living easy,” said Gautam elaborating on the initial days when he mulled over the idea of assisting the village to transform. 

He claims he only acted as catalyst in transforming efforts put forward by many Nepalis. “With support from a lot of Nepalis, now all the 133 houses in the village have solar lights installed. 59 of these houses have corrugated roofs. There’s hostel and school for kids,” he said.

The Chepangs would cook very early in the evening and sleep earlier. Now, as they have solar light, the lifestyle has changed. As the school is nearby and education is absolutely free, children now happily attend classes. “We had never thought that our village would be like this. Not even in our dreams,” Ratna Bahadur Chepang, a resident said. “This has changed the way we lived for the good,” he added. 

Though Kanda village has indeed breathed new life due to the development, it’s not still that easy to reach out there. From the district headquarters Bharatpur, it’s over three hours of ride through east west highway to Hattidhap. From Hattidhap, one has to walk at least for six hours. The village is situated on the top of a mountain that lacks access to road ways. “We feel really good that we could bring positive change to such a remote village,” says Gautam. 

Following the death mushroom death case, the village had grabbed attention of many including media persons and social workers. Journalist Ekal Silwal and his friend Rabindra Singh Baniya had registered an organization called ‘Miteri Foundation’ in order to facilitate development of the village. The group came in touch with Gautam, while the later was in search of an initiative that would enable him to make a meaningful change in the life of someone needy. As soon as they figured out that they complimented each other- the group got to work and initiated process for translating their objectives into action. Along with providing infrastructural support, the foundation taught the apple farming to the Chepangs. 

“We worked in coordination with many individuals and organizations. Along with the infrastructure, we assisted them in receiving training for apple farming, which could provide them sustainable source of income,” said Gautam. According to him, apple farming was technically supported by a Jumla technician, Shree Bahadur Bhandari. 

Sharing some deep emotional attachment with the Chepang village, Gautam said that his younger son had visited the village once and had expressed sadness while reporting about the pathetic life of the villagers to him. “And later when I came here to see for myself, I nearly broke down. His portrayal of this village matched exactly and seeing all the miseries myself, I could feel how my son would have felt about the villagers,” said Gautam. “It was in that moment, when I realized that I would be working for creating a better life for these villagers.” 
Construction of new houses in the Chepang village had started two years ago. Installation of solar lights followed thereafter. Gautam had lost his sons in December 2008 and in October 2009. Younger son Kumar was claimed by road accident in Kathmandu while he lost his elder son, Balaram, in a road accident in USA later. “I have lost two sons. Running a hostel for these children has now given me so many sons to love and care for,” Gautam said.

The hostel offers all the basic facilities to the students. Currently, 123 students reside there, most of who are Chepangs. Hostel in-charge Manoj Shrestha informed that the hostel’s residential area has 13 blocks spread in 10 ropani of land. In the remaining 44 ropanis, the hostel has vegetable farms and cattle sheds that supply dairy for the children.

The hostel, managed by Laxmi Pratisthan, a non-profit headed by Gautam himself, is actively supported by Miteri Foundation in operating the hostel and other academic activities at the school. Initially Gautam had sold his family property to help the villagers, but later on his initiatives were supported by many Nepalis within and from outside the country.

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