By Joelle Mamon and Brandon Novack
Joelle: This morning we had an early start for our first day venturing out of the big city. We waved goodbye to Kathmandu as our caravan of four-wheel-drive Jeeps wound through farm lands and rice fields and bounced along mountain switchbacks and countryside roads. By mid-morning we arrived in the rural municipality of Bethanchok and were greeted by Dr. Bishnu Chapagain for some much-needed hot tea as he introduced us to the community and to the work of Tevel B’Tzedek.
After an impromptu volleyball game with some local teens, we met with several Tevel employees who welcomed us with a heartfelt “namaste” (Nepali for “hello”) and huge, warm smiles. They taught us about the community projects the organization is working on, focusing on a twofold mission of empowering community members and improving livelihood, as well as mobilizing both Nepali and international volunteers.
As we made our way through the rural mountain community, we saw the literal fruits of Tevel’s labor. We walked through fields of beautiful yellow mustard plants peppering the mountains, ogled at the adorable resident farm animals and learned how local farmers grow tomatoes and shiitake mushrooms using Israeli irrigation techniques. Along the way, we learned about Tevel’s focus beyond agriculture on projects in women’s empowerment, youth empowerment and earthquake response efforts. After our trek—by foot and by Jeep—we were eager to learn about Tevel’s efforts to increase tourism through their inviting homestay program, which you’ll hear more about from Brandon below.
Brandon: After scaling the hilly farmland, we reached a summit filled with beaming children who were thrilled to welcome us into their home. Lunch was served in the community center by the local Tamang population. Lunch was both an authentic and delicious experience, as we sat on mats and were served endless platefuls of vegetarian delights. Any time an empty plate was seen, the village volunteers would rush up and offer more food to fill our bellies; our Jewish mothers would be proud.
Sufficiently stuffed after lunch, we were transported to the main community building, where the day’s highlight took place. Around 25 local women greeted us with huge smiles and marigold necklaces (our second of the day!). We had an engaging conversation with both groups asking questions of the other: What challenges do local women face? How has climate change affected their agriculture? What is a day in the life like? We were all certainly inspired to hear how much Tevel has made an impact on this small community. The women we met have received valuable training in both modern agriculture techniques and managing the growing homestay business.
Above all, and as discussed during a group session later that night, we were amazed at how much the women repeatedly mentioned how Tevel has given them confidence—the confidence to speak out against horrible injustices they have faced in their lives—and it was even more impressive that they could share vulnerably with our group. The most powerful words were delivered by a teenage girl in the community, a vocal and proud beneficiary of the youth empowerment work Tevel provides. It was an honor to be in the presence of such a kind community, even if only for a little while.
In parting, to pass along their message to the world, we want to share how wonderful a community they have and we hope other people will consider visiting in the near future.
Joelle Mamon works as a registered nurse and is a nurse practitioner student. She is a Massachusetts native and has previously participated in LEADS with CJP. When she is not working or studying, Joelle enjoys podcasts, traveling and photography.
Brandon Novack is a project manager at a financial technology company in Boston. He grew up in Newton and attended college in D.C. at The George Washington University. Brandon recently got involved with CJP through the Kadimah program and as a member of the Chai Society Committee. In his spare time, Brandon enjoys photography.