The Chepang people group is one of the most isolated ethnic groups in Nepal. They live in the remote hills of West Nepal, in areas right under the shadow of development and often across rivers without any bridges, which makes reaching them very challenging and difficult during the monsoons.
Their culture is deeply rooted in traditional practices which drives their perception and acts as a strong barrier to change or development. Many Chepang people prefer to remain sick instead of visiting a hospital out of fear that they are far away and too costly.
Even though many organizations have implemented projects within the Chepang community for nearly two and half decades, there remains to be seen any real change and transformation brought to this community. Previous interventions have negatively impacted their lives by creating dependency on aid and relief.
Nevertheless, HDCS identified the need to establish community health interventions through our Public Health Program in the Chepang community along with providing free treatment for impoverished people through HDCS’ Gunjaman Hospital in Chitwan.
This brought HDCS a wonderful surprise: Nisha Praja and Sulochana Thakuri, two of our social mobilizers in Chitwan.
If you meet Nisha and Sulochana, you would come to quickly realize that they are city girls who love fashionable clothes, makeup, hanging out with friends, dancing, singing, and living their best life as young women.
However, we took notice of their hard work, commitment, and motivation which has set them apart. They have sacrificed a life of comfort to live a life among unfamiliar, underprivileged, and impoverished people to help bring transformation to their community.
When they first began their work, they were met with insecurities and vulnerabilities as often people would lurk and gawk, which made them feel unwelcomed and uncomfortable. On many occasions they testified that people would peep inside their living quarters, leaving them feeling at risk and afraid of harm. After comforting each other and taking extra safety measures they overcame their fears and focused on the goal that brought them together.
Nisha Praja, grew up in Kathmandu but belongs to the Chepang ethnic group. While growing up her friends were not aware of her ethnicity. Her motivation comes from a negative experience she had in one of her Social Studies classes, when her teacher described Chepang people as a group who collect excreta 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 – to help build and restore the dignity and well-being of the Chepang people. Unlike Nisha, Sulochana does not come from the Chepang community, but is self-motivated to bring about change.
Both Nisha and Sulochana do not speak the local Chepang language and yet are highly driven to help them. They have been a source of encouragement for the Chepang people as they motivate the elderly by extending a helping hand with daily household chores while striking up conversations, a behavior common in remote areas and considered a friendly and endearing gesture.
They have also been instrumental in sharing information and creating awareness about kitchen gardening, health, and hygiene. They also create awareness regarding our Gunjaman Singh Hospital services, so that no one is left behind in pain and suffering and are knowledgeable about our free health care services and easy access to care. They have been instrumental in reinforcing the health-seeking behavior of the Chepang people through timely follow up and counselling through telephone calls and home visits.
They often also engage in providing charity to the poorest of the poor and are highly motivated to bring change to the lives of children in these communities. They believe that working with the young is the key to transforming the community that is beleaguered by low socio-economic status, poor hygiene, alcoholism, early marriages, and teen pregnancies.
They have also noticed changes within the community through our School WASH projects, as they witness children applying their knowledge and becoming ambassadors within their family to promote good health, hygiene, and sanitation.
In spite of all the challenges present, their drive and enthusiasm remain intact. And after overcoming many hurdles they are now loved and accepted by the Chepang community.
HDCS is 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.