What an exciting way to wrap up our time in Nepal. On our last day in Kathmandu we met with Mr. Min Bahadur Gurung, owner of Bhat-Bhateni, the largest supermarket chain in Nepal.
Before we delve in further to this, we want to give much deserved appreciation and praise to Robert and Gina Rose and all the members of The Rose International Fund for Children (TRIFC). It was inspiring to be associated with such a great team. Their efforts in Nepal are clearly effective and guided with passion and sincerity, and they all contributed to our experience in countless ways.
The richest part of our time in Nepal was making connections and building relationships with students, staff, and community members in the many places we visited. We realize that to pull off a successful trip where the experience is mutually beneficial and impactful, many factors come into play. For instance, Rob introduced us to R.R. Pandey who is the Executive Chairman of Everest Express Tours & Travels. Transportation can be a challenge in a new country, and Everest Express was there not only for transport to many of our destinations, but were also very informative, educating us on cultural subjects and helping us to better understand the city. Additionally, we had the pleasure of meeting Nirmala and Sita Gyawali, two sisters who experience blindness. Nirmala is the Executive Director of Nepal’s TRIFC chapter and Sita is a teacher at a local Kathmandu school. They taught us many things about Nepalese culture, and also educated us on current supports for people with disabilities in Nepal. This helped us better frame our vision within a cultural context, guiding us in how we approached various schools and programs.
The importance of learning and observation first:
What was so beneficial about this service-learning trip is the access we had to various facilities that support people with disabilities. Although this was just scraping the surface, we made friends and connections that will undoubtedly continue and grow in the future. At Khagendra Newlife Center, which was our first facility visited, we met many dedicated staff and started to learn about available funding for organizations that support people with disabilities. Sita, who was a resident at Khagendra for several years, gave us a tour of the facility, telling of fond memories as she introduced us to old friends who still live there. Rob introduced us to students sponsored by TRIFC, and we could see first-hand how these sponsorships impact the lives of the students. We also spoke with many staff and residents to explain Trillium services and how we support people to find employment. This was a new concept to many and stirred up excitement and further conversation.
On the same day, we continued to Disabled Newlife Center (DNC) where we met more staff and students. DNC has an updated building close to the city center and supports many students in education, physiotherapy, and residential support. All of the organizations that we visited on this trip had a strong focus on physiotherapy run by an in-house therapist. Before traveling to Pokhara, we were fortunate to return to DNC later in the week and also visited and toured DHC. DHC has a similar model to DNC on a smaller scale. Khagendra, DNC, and DHC are all organizations partnered with TRIFC sponsorships. These visits helped us to establish more of a baseline in learning about what supports are available for people with disabilities in this region of Nepal.
One morning, we visited Patan Community-Based Rehabilitation (CBR) just outside of Kathmandu. This was a meeting set up by TRIFC and we met with several staff and the director, Loonibhah Chitrakar. Our conversations revealed that staff were interested in how Trillium conducts services and ways to move their students forward to community employment. We spoke about the different types of industries our customers work in, and described the types of supports we provide to businesses and individuals. Currently, Patan CBR has several trades they teach students including candle making, rug weaving, and making greeting cards. All products are sold at local markets to help with funding. Patan CBR is an organization that works closely with Nepal Rotary. One idea is to develop greeter positions at the local rotary chapter for one of their students. This would be a good step towards Community Based Employment and is a great opportunity to start conversations with rotary members about other industries that will benefit from a supported employee. In our exit, we exchanged contact information and promised to send a list of types of industries we work in and to provide virtual support to Patan CBR as they continue to develop their vocational program.
Another great contact we made was a man named Sushil Man Singh Pradhan. Bimal, the director of SGCP, informed Sushil that we would be spending time at SGCP and he wanted to meet us to collaborate. He works for an organization that runs a vocational training program and workshop. Similar to Patan CBR, their customers make various products in a workshop and at home that are sold in local markets. Initially, he wanted to discuss ideas for how his staff could improve their training to support their customers to create better products, explaining that products customers created were more quality in the home than in the workshop. This sparked a wider conversation about Trillium’s services and the importance of community employment. This was a new concept to Sushil, and he lit up when we discussed what our services look like. Before parting, we created next steps for collaboration and a continued partnership. We exchanged contact information and will start by collaborating virtually (through e-mail using photo and video) about coaching techniques that will help his staff better support customers. Although there is a heavy interest in community employment, lack of funding and limited resources makes the employment workshop and vocational training program a good start. We look forward to providing support to Sushil on steps to starting small and focusing on community employment as a next step.
Volunteering and Training:
If you followed our blog for the last 3 weeks, you already know a little about The Self Help Group for Cerebral Palsy (SGCP) and Sathi Sansar located in Kathmandu and Pokhara respectively. At SGCP, we brought supplies requested by Director Bimal Shrestha including Dycem (an industrial sheet of nonstick material), nose cutout cups, utensil hand clips, sensory balls, touch and match sensory game, slinky pop toobs, lacing blocks, and various fun toys and soccer balls. We spent time in the vocational skills room and the computer room. A next step for collaboration is to trade photos and videos with the computer teacher, Rajuna, and aid in creating a video to be used for gaining resources in the tech room. This video can then be used while communicating with potential donors or volunteers from assistive tech companies.
Sathi Sansar (SS) was a great opportunity to provide direct support to staff and students on principles of Systematic Training. Again, we exchanged contact information with staff and will keep in touch. Luni Shakya, the director of SS, gave us a list of various vocational training programs in Pokhara along with contact information. This is important information for future relationship building and partnerships in Nepal.
Job Development at Bhat-Bhateni:
Okay, so you read along this long to find out what happened at Bhat-Bhateni. Mr. Gurung was a contact that R.R. Pandey made through a family contact. We met with Mr. Gurung on the 5th story of the massive supermarket building. Including the three of us, Robert Rose, R.R. Pandey, Sita Gywali, Sima (Sita’s student) also attended. We described what Trillium’s mission is and what our services look like. Along with this, we showed Mr. Gurung a video resume and a flyer that described the types of tasks our customers perform in a supermarkets and what grocers are saying about the employees. Thank you to those from Trillium who put together this flier! Mr. Pandey and Mr. Gurung discussed the importance of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), and Mr. Gurung highlighted 3 different employees with disabilities that he employs: one employee has a hearing impairment, one has a vision impairment, and one man with Down Syndrome, Sangam. He then introduced us to Sangam, his sister Sharana, and his mother Sarada. Sangam has worked at Bhat-Bhateni for 11 years!
We were very impressed with the fact that Bhat-Bhateni has already hired people with disabilities into their workforce. In the words of R.R. Pandey, we urged Mr. Gurung to “take the next step” by partnering with local vocational programs to increase resources despite the lack of government funding. Acknowledging the fact that Mr. Gurung has recruited employees with disabilities without any extra funding or job coaching services shows just how dedicated he is to his CSR. Since we have made so many great connections during our time in Nepal, we will do our best to connect these vocational programs with Mr. Gurung to hopefully build partnerships that will lead to more hiring within Bhat-Bhateni.
Aimee: Move through learning from a place of curiosity. Ask more questions before assuming anything.
Heidi: Talk to as many people as possible. Conversations create connections, relationships, learning opportunities, new ideas and change.
Ryan: Be present and take each step intentionally. Realize the takeaways and create next steps during each experience.
Thank you all for following us on this blog. We are fortunate to share our adventures with such amazing people.
Throughout our travels around different cities, meeting many people, and seeing many programs, one thing remained clear. The importance of observation and immersion into a brand new cultural experience cannot be understated. It is also important to remember that we come from a place of privilege where resources and program funding are relatively accessible. So, when coming into a new situation we must remember that the lens we look through is very different because of the environment we regularly navigate. Asking why is key, and making assumptions may cause a missed learning opportunity. We looked at our new experiences as a learning exchange where we could equally give and take. Constantly, we had to step out of what we know and take for granted, then observe, listen, and ask lots of questions. Just as we do as employment consultants, we work with businesses to better understand their needs before recommending a job candidate or a job carve. In the same vein, we first worked with students and staff to learn about them to better understand where our expertise could best be used. This led to amazing experiences where we feel we received just as much as we gave.
Lastly, we could not have pulled off this amazing experience without the support of our Board of Directors and our Director Trish Borden. Thank you all for allowing us to participate in this life-changing opportunity of immeasurable learning, and personal and professional growth. We are forever grateful.