• Hannah Maureen Wagner-Loeffler
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Anju Chepang, a member of Jhilimili Female Group, lives with her family in the village of Tarseling in Chitwan district. Like most members of her ethnic group, her home is on the steep slopes of the Mahabharat Mountains in central Nepal. This severe topography and the associated water shortage in the winter season make permanent agriculture difficult and leave many families undernourished all year round. With the help of Caritas, however, Anju Chepang, like many other families, is slowly able to improve her livelihood and raise her standard of living, which for the first time offers real opportunities for the historically marginalized community.

On behalf of all members of her female group, she tells of their past struggles:

“I would never speak aloud and introduce myself to strangers. I was shy. I had no confidence at all – none of us had.”

Throughout history, members of the Chepang community have been marginalized and discriminated. They learned to remain silent, to switch off and live in seclusion. “We also had serious water supply problems. Every day I had to walk two to three hours to collect water from a river in the valley. So I had very little time for my children and couldn’t get them to go to school. “Anju says with her eyes on the ground. “The winters were particularly hard!” With little rainfall this time of year, she couldn’t even grow enough to feed the family. As a result, she had to do labour work for two to three months each year. And even during the agricultural season, due to the traditional way of farming, the harvest was just enough, she was never able to sell and make profit.

Change was imminent when Caritas started implementing the project “Building a Resilient Chepang Community Through Integrated Program”. One of the first steps was to organize households in groups so that they could save money and support each other financially.

“I used to spend all 100 rupees. But I’ve learned to save half of it. Now I only spend 50 and I save the other 50 rupees for a common purpose.”

Caritas motivated the group members to take turns taking loans to invest in their farm. With training on more efficient cultivation techniques and material support such as seeds, seedlings, goats and various materials, Anju Chepang managed to expand her production so that she is now even making profit. “The water supply was also no longer an issue. Caritas built taps in our village. Now I have more time for agriculture and my children because I no longer have to walk for hours to get water.” She claims. “In addition, Caritas has built a collection tank in which we can even breed fish.” In this pond, the community saves as much water as possible, even water that would otherwise have been wasted. It is then used for irrigation purposes, which allows villagers to grow vegetables even in the off-season. Anju says proudly:

“I can now provide my family with nutritious food all year round and even make profit!”

Things have also changed a lot in terms of hygiene. Thanks to awareness-raising campaigns, the community now organizes cleaning events twice a month to protect nature and keep the environment clean. More conscious behaviour is also manifested in the area of menstrual hygiene. “I would have used any type of fabric to meet my menstrual needs. But I realized how unsanitary this habit is. Germs could have easily penetrated. This is over now! I now use self-made sanitary pads that help me take care of my intimate parts.” She adds.

“Caritas not only supported us materially, but also helped us sustainably, which I am grateful for.” She says with a broad smile. “Many organizations in this region want to help, but none of them focused on us Chepang people as much as Caritas. We are shy. We do not ask for help directly. But Caritas has recognized that support is needed and for the first time we really feel treated the same!“

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