“NAMASTE” is a Nepalese greeting Caritas diocesan director for Brisbane Joe Foley will never forget.
He heard it a lot on his recent inspection of Caritas projects in Nepal.
“It was the first thing that struck me,” Mr Foley said. “People there greeted each other not the way we sometimes do without any thought. Rather it was with a deliberate and meaningful ‘Nam-aste’ while putting their hands together in a prayer-type gesture and making eye contact.
“Translated roughly, ‘Nam-aste’ means ‘I bow to the God within you’ or ‘The Spirit within me salutes the Spirit in You’.
There was inspiration and adventure on Mr Foley’s trip with six teachers from Brisbane and Toowoomba Catholic Education offices to visit Caritas Australia-funded programs in Kathmandu and Pokhara in October.
“It was so reaffirming for me to see how Caritas programs funded by Project Compassion were improving the life of people in poor villages of Nepal,” he said. “But it was quite a challenge to reach many of these villages. I’ve done a lot of four-wheel-driving in my time but we faced some really serious river crossings and incredibly steep inclines, not to mention some fairly perilous drives along cliff faces.
“Our first outing was to the Balthali Village Saving and Credit Co-operative. I was amazed at the remoteness of this program.”
The group visited two types of programs supported by Caritas Australia – the Integrated Pest Management program and the Co-operative program. At Balthali minimal funding was provided for the administration and set-up of the village’s co-operative. The co-operative provided access to loans and organised social activities/training such as sustainable farming, women’s rights and education.
The Dhampus community had undergone the IPM training three years earlier.
“This community was well-established and firmly in control of its future,” Mr Foley said. “The community produced more rice and vegetables than they required for themselves and supplied the local hotels with the surplus.”
Terraces used to channel water from the region’s snow-capped mountains to rice crops particularly impressed the visiting group from Australia. Behind the seemingly idyllic surroundings and laid-back life in the Nepalese villages was a darker side.
“We were given a talk by Caritas Nepal’s Gender Development co-ordinator Rupa Rai who explained the seriousness of trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation,” he said. “She also discussed the plight of Nepalese migrant workers in Qatar working on infrastructure to support the soccer World Cup in 2022. As a result, many of the women in the villages had husbands living away for long periods.
“In many cases these unfortunate men have their passports taken away for a year when they arrive in Qatar and don’t get paid for many months.”
Mr Foley said the overwhelming impression from his visit was of the good work done by Caritas Nepal helped by funding from Australia.
“Caritas workers there earn ‘peanuts’ but are truly happy to walk alongside the villagers and create a better lifestyle for them,” he said.
And his most memorable experience while in Nepal?
“Probably the day before I left,” he said. “I visited a primary school in the foothills of the Himalayas out from Pokhara, a major tourist destination. Every single kid at that school had a family benefiting in one way or another from Caritas programs. Of the 15 teachers, only seven were funded by government and the rest were funded by community co-operatives Caritas helped set up. This sort of thing really makes you realise how important, how life-changing and how far-reaching funds raised by Project Compassion are.”