This story was written by Manjeeta Gurung, dZi's Communication Officer
It can be difficult to accurately capture life in Eastern Nepal. On a computer screen, the steep Himalayan mountainsides look less daunting, and peoples’ warm smiles look less vibrant. As dZi’s Communications Officer, I spend weeks each year trekking in our remote working area to document the lives of community members. I have been privileged to learn about the lasting impact of dZi’s community-centered development approach and to hear about the barriers to basic needs that many still face. There are few substitutes for experiencing Eastern Nepal for yourself, however, the power of a good film can transport you there.
In December, we worked with Joey Schusler, a renowned Colorado-based cinematographer and director, to create a short film about the dZi Foundation’s work. In 2017, Joey directed RJ Ripper, one of our favorite short films about an amazing Nepali mountain biker. We were so excited to work with Joey, and his expertise and passion for Nepal made him the perfect person to capture our unique work. Joey made the long journey with the dZi team – including Samip Magar and Kripa Dongol – from Kathmandu to dZi’s working area to document the impacts of our programs in Eastern Nepal.
Our journey began in the Kathmandu Valley, where we packed vehicles full of camera equipment and departed for Solukhumbu District. Thick clouds enveloped most of our drive on the rough, bumpy roads, but we were graced by a clear sky clear and snow-capped mountains as the evening light faded. The following morning, we continued our journey to the community of Sotang.
Jitna Janam Rai, dZi’s Solukhumbu District Program Coordinator, joined us here to walk us through fields of growing crops and show us Sotang’s thriving local market, where farmers in dZi’s agriculture program were selling their produce. After waking up early the next day, we watched the sun rise, casting light on the 21,000-foot Mera Peak. Jitna showed us the vast community of Chheskam, which has several neighborhoods spread out on hillsides that are separated by seasonal rivers and people must walk an entire day to reach the other side of the river. We are working with Chheskam, a community of over 4,000 people, this year to construct a new truss bridge that will make it safer and easier for people to reach schools, markets, and other local resources. The new bridge will also make it easier to reach Mera Peak – enabling local tourism and creating new opportunities for employment.
No dZi trip is complete without visiting farmers in our agriculture groups, where dZi’s collaborative and community-led program is transforming traditional livelihoods. We spoke with Aanan Rai, a farmer who shared how dZi's support has helped her cultivate new and more nutritious vegetables. She is now able to irrigate her garden with the drinking water system that dZi built, and after learning entrepreneurial skills in her dZi-formed Farmers’ Group, she has been able to sell her harvest for more money in the local market.
In a neighboring village, we met with Anjaan Rai, who is taking a different path to financial security. He overcame his fear of honeybees and now keeps three hives in his backyard after taking a bee-keeping training with dZi. He has learned how to harvest honey and can provide for his family by selling the honey for up to $45 per hive. With few pesticides and abundant flowers, Anjaan’s honey is high-quality and delicious – so much so that even Joey bought a bottle of honey to take home to Colorado!
Towards the end of our trip, we met a mother in the village of Jaleswori wearing a beautiful blouse who greeted us with laughter and folk songs. Looking at myself and Kripa, dZi’s Director of Impact and Innovation, she was reminded of her daughters who had left their village in search of opportunity. “My daughters were like you. They have left and I don’t know where they are today,” she sang as she started to cry. “Don’t cry, mother! They will return,” we said, sobbing through our own tears.
In that very short interaction, we felt a deep connection with her and were reminded of why dZi’s work is so important. dZi does not only construct safe drinking water systems or earthquake-safe schools or help subsistence farmers access sustainable livelihoods; dZi also works with communities to design programs that identify and meet local needs, increase local capacity, and build a future where people are not just surviving but thriving. In this thriving Eastern Nepal, more and more young people can choose to stay in their own villages because they see opportunity there. Together, community members and dZi staff are charting a path to greater prosperity at home.
On our grueling 17-hour jeep ride back to Kathmandu, we reflected on the amazing experiences and incredible moments we captured. We were all so grateful for this journey - it was a journey that provided us with a new perspective on the lived reality in Eastern Nepal and filled our hearts with warmth and inspiration. We witnessed the impact that dZi's programs have had on these communities and saw the challenges they're still working to overcome. Mostly, we were in awe of the resilience and determination of the people who call this place home, and were excited that we were able to capture a part of that inspiration on film.
For those of you that haven’t had an opportunity to visit Eastern Nepal, we are so excited to share this short film with you, which captures the magic and beauty of dZi’s partner communities. And for those of you who have traveled to this corner of the world before, we hope this reminds you of your experience in such a special part of the world. Thank you so much to our friends, cinematographer, Joey Schusler and our incredible editor, Aidan Haley, who brought the magic of Eastern Nepal to life. Thank you to everyone who is a part of the dZi community – together we are all Partners in Prosperity.
See the gallery below for more behind-the-scenes pictures from Eastern Nepal: