The Fellows Recap: 8 Months in Oda
Health & Operations Fellow Sarah Helms, and Education Fellows Taylor Murillo and Aaron Charney have been living in rural Kalikot for 8 months, serving the Oda community. From teaching our daily English tuition classes, to a mural project, to a water usage research survey, to shadowing in the clinic and grant-writing, they have been crucial to our operations and our community-driven approach to development. Below, they share some Oda moments and lessons learned.
What have you learned?
I want to be honest that coming in to a community this vulnerable and marginalized was intimidating. I didn't know exactly what teaching students in rural Nepal would look like - what the students would respond to, how quickly they would learn, how it would feel to be with them all these days in the classroom. When I started, I would do a bit of hand-holding during lessons. I've learned that every day, my expectations are exceeded. When people are given an opportunity and given a platform, they have amazing capacities.
Alongside teaching, my current project is a 60-household comprehensive water survey. I had worked in marginalized communities before coming to Oda, and knew I wanted to work in sustainability. The water project is an in-depth experience of a way to work in sustainability with a direct impact on people that don't get enough help. I've learned you can't do that work without actually knowing a community - I relied a lot on community help, and being able to talk with community members in order to figure out the best research process.
Compassionate problem solving. The number of challenges here can be overwhelming - injustices against women, lack of health education, intense poverty. But the challenges intertwine with what unfailingly connects us all - the fact of each individual's life and heart. Compassionate problem solving means sitting down with complexity, and then asking: but what more can we learn about our community, and what more can we do? What could work better, both for overall development and each individual that comprises this community?
Share a moment with a community member.
I worked on a month-long poetry-ethnography project in January. I'll always remember sleeping in the one big room with the family, laying down next to three of the younger girls, and we would chorus back and forth "Raamro sapona dekhnos," see good dreams. And then, "Amma-buwaako sapona dekhnos" see good dreams of your parents, "Gaaiko sapona dekhnos," have good cow dreams, "Bakrako sapona dekhnos," have good goat dreams, and on and on like that, whatever the kids would say.
There's a young woman named Rajenpura who is now really involved with both our women's health trainings and our tailoring center. When she went to her first health training with Days for Girls, she could hardly stand up in front of the group and felt really self-conscious that she couldn't read and write. Two months later, and she is the one teaching, telling the newest women entering health trainings to stand up straight, to speak up.
Advice for the next Fellows
Be prepared for the unexpected - and be excited for those unexpected things to happen. Remember that these are rich and rewarding times, and once in a lifetime. Take advantage of Bagawati, our language teacher in Kathmandu. Her advice on culture and on learning from the people we serve was invaluable.
Look for the in-between moments, when you're waiting for a program or class to start, waiting for dinner to finish and sitting with the staff, when you pass one of your student's houses and see them doing a chore. Those are the moments when you start to build an actual life here.