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Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Holiday Thanks

An Egyptian routine
This holiday season, WELNepal has a lot to be thankful for. Two festive occasions — Halloween and the quickly approaching Christmas — have been especially good to us.

Gorgeous fan dance
On the weekend before Halloween, the talented and beautiful ladies of the BellyUp belly dancing studio in Oakville, Ont. hosted their annual Spooky Souk. All proceeds of the event, which totaled a fantastic $2,500, went to WELNepal. Just to put that amount in perspective, try to remember that just $500 funds an entire class for a year. A cool $2,500 goes much farther, so we’re very thankful to all the attendees who came out that night to not only see a spectacular show, but to support the women we work with in Nepal.

Some Halloween revellers 
The event was hosted by Tribe MayaFire (who also performed at the September benefit bash) and featured performances by dancers and dance troupes Joharah, Valizan, Shades of Araby, Jackie Pullar and Wild Orchid Dance Studio, Elysium Tribal, Jennifer Drummond, Earth Shakers, and Ala Nar. There was also a silent auction, which allowed guests to bid on everything from wine tour tickets to jewellery to gift cards for local stores and restaurants.

And since it was Halloween, prizes were given out for best costume. WELNepal would like to extend a special thanks to all who were brave enough to dress up!

But now that Halloween is long behind us and winter festivities are fast approaching, we’re pleased to say that Santa has, so far, been quite good to us and the women we work with.

Last week, we released our annual Christmas newsletter and we've already received several generous donations.

To everyone who decided to give the gift of literacy to a woman in Nepal this holiday season, we’re incredibly grateful. For anyone who would like to donate on behalf of a loved one email David at to ask for more details. 

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year,

From all of us at WELNepal

Thursday, 27 September 2012

A Good Night for Us, A Better Night for the Women of Nepal

Attendees checking out the silent auction

Each year, WELNepal organizes an intimate benefit bash (with the help of good friend and great supporter Monica McKenna) to raise some money for the women we help educate. This year — our 11th year, to be exact — was exceptional for a few reasons.

Firstly, we welcomed more guests than ever before, making the bash a little less intimate but a whole lot more fun. We hosted the bash at the Liberty Village hotspot The Academy of Spherical arts, and were pleased to see 120 guests crowd the elegant and spacious venue.

Secondly, our new venue got outstanding reviews from attendees. Many praised the ambience, tables and chairs (no one had to juggle a plate and drink while perusing the auction items), delicious buffet-style food and pool tables.

Tribe MayaFire 
Thirdly, we were once again blessed to experience wonderful performances by local artists. Canadian actor Barry Flatman hosted the festivities with ease and charm, and musical acts HoboWally, !DO! and Mother Tongue gave wonderful performances that had people dancing and swaying long after the silent auction closed. Belly dance troupe Tribe MayaFire mixed traditional Middle Eastern tunes with top 40 hits to create a fun and memorable dance routine that drew enthusiastic applause.

More auction enthusiasts
Our auction items, ranging from traditional Nepali art to musical instruments to original art, excited the crowd and drew some competitive bids. 

On behalf of the Nepali women who will now have the chance to begin or continue their education because of your generosity, we thank you very, very much. Every donation, large or small, can make the difference in the life of a woman in our project area.

To all who attended – thank you, and see you next year! 

Friday, 7 September 2012

WELNepal’s Annual Benefit Bash is Coming!

 Who/What: WELNepal’s 11th Annual Benefit Bash
When: Friday, Sept. 21 2012 at 7:30 pm
Where: The Academy of Spherical Arts - Toronto
How: With a recommended minimum donation of $40, a night of music, dancing, dining and auctioning is in store for you!

The Academy of Spherical Arts
1 Snooker Street
Fall is an exciting time. It might herald the unfortunate ending of long, hot summer days, but it promises Thanksgiving dinners, colourful leaves and, if you like candy and children, Halloween. It’s also special to us WELNepalians because it’s the season of our annual benefit bash.

The bash, co-hosted by WELNepal’s dear friend Monica McKenna (a Toronto photographer who used to kindly lend us her home and studio until the crowd grew too big to comfortably accommodate) is now into its 11th year. Each fall, we’ve seen the benefit grow bigger and bigger, generating more donations for our work and alerting more people to the plight of illiterate women in Nepal

The bash, which will be held in Liberty Village hotspot The Academy of Spherical Arts, has always served two major purposes. It raises awareness, and it celebrates the support and contributions of our friends, family and generous donors. We aim to provide guests with a memorable night of live entertainment, exceptional food, a great silent auction and, most of all, a chance to see the difference their donations make for the women we help educate.

To add some star quality, Canadian actor Barry Flatman (ReGenesis, The Kennedys) will be hosting this year’s festivities.

On the musical side of things, we’re pleased to announce Juno-nominated musical group Mother Tongue will be performing at the bash. We’re also excited to welcome drum and organ duo !DO!. And, back by popular demand, the beautiful and talented ladies of belly dance troupe Tribe Maya Fire are set to perform.  

As far as food goes, guests can enjoy dishes generously donated by acclaimed Toronto restaurants Mt. Everest and The Roastery. Attendees can also peruse cuisine prepared by professional cooks and generous donors alike (don’t miss out on Nancy’s famous noodle salad!). And since no dinner is complete without a beverage, guests can purchase minimally-priced Steamwhistle beer and Pelee Island Winery red and white vino.

Our silent auction is set to be better than ever, with Mt. Everest and Playpen restaurant gift cards, hockey tickets, Nepali jewelery, masks, bags and artwork all up for grabs. And we’re accepting even more items! If you have anything you wish to donate to the auction, don’t hesitate to email David at and let him know.

To learn more about the bash, check out our newsletter here

You can also gain admission to the benefit by donating online

Hope to see you there!

Monday, 9 April 2012

Happy Holi!

One of the most interesting of Hinduism’s many holidays is the festival of Holi.

President David doused in the Holi spirit
Holi participants celebrate the death of the evil witch Fagoo by throwing colured powder and water at and on everybody and everything that lives and breathes. It is such a beloved event here in the Chitwan area of Nepal that it lasts for two days.  People and things wind up most colourful indeed, from head to foot and top to bottom. And, if you don't keep your mouth shut, inside and out! Fortunately, this colour washes out easily enough, though it is advisable to wear old clothes during Holi.  Unfortunately, getting the colour out of one's hair takes a little longer.  And folks with white hair (like myself) wind up looking like they belong to the Miami Beach senior's crowd.

Another Happy Holi celebrator 
The other much loved aspect of Holi is the eating of meat. The first morning of Holi, the guys and I (womenfolk eat later) consumed a couple of chickens and most of a goat. That evening, we ate a pig and the rest of the goat.  The next morning we ate ducks and more chickens.  The final evening we had leftovers.

This happens all over Nepal and a fine time is had by all, except for the farm animals.

I can tell you that there was far less clucking and quacking the day after Holi. 

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Sauraha's Recycling Project
Sauraha's extensive bottle collection
The miracle is that recycling has come to our little village, and the miracle worker is Martina Manders.  Martina is originally from The Netherlands, but now calls Sauraha her home.  Martina succeeded where all others failed. Yes, the photo (right) indeed does look like a confusing mess of various bits of this's and that's, but it is ALL being recycled. 

Other than the usual detritus accumulated in every village, town, and city everywhere, Sauraha accumulates a huge amount of plastic bottles. Empty plastic bottles tend to accumulate quickly in a country where tourists would rather invest in bottled H20 than risk trying drinking local water.

Organizing the detritus 
Those bottles are turned into rope by the thousands.  The heavier plastic recyclables are converted into plastic bags and pipes for plumbing use.  Glass is being crushed and reused to make more bottles.  All other reusables are separated  (sort of, as the photo illustrates) and are sent to places where they can be saved and made into useful and profitable articles.

How Martina did this is a testament to the patience, education, and support from Nepalis who were aware of the dangers of filling the planet with garbage.  She started by convincing the larger and better lodges to separate everything that could be recycled.  She then convinced the smaller shops and local people to follow suit.  Like anywhere else, some folks just didn't get it, or just didn't care to get it. 

Martina would go herself and, in front of the embarrassed shopkeeper or homeowner, take the time to start separating waste from recyclables. Martina tells me that the shame alone caused many reluctant doubters to comply.  Martina still encounters people who think burning plastic bottles — or better still, throwing reusables into the river — is the best thing to do.  Martina's patience with them is remarkable. She says that "shame on them" seems to work in due time.  Gentle persuasion and more awareness programs are doing the trick.  

Our little village is now littered with marked refuse containers that are filling up with the appropriate material.  From someone who hated seeing piles of recyclable and reusable articles piling up along the river or smelling burning plastic, the sight of locals carrying out their "garbage" all separated and ready for pickup is a wonderful indeed.  Three cheers for Martina Manders!


Tuesday, 6 March 2012

A Dedicated Teacher

The foundation of WELNepal's work (and much more importantly, of the women's lives), is literacy.  Literacy is the first step these women must take in order to change their lives, their family's lives, and ultimately, their country.

Fortunately, this year we were able to fund 20 new Basic Literacy Classes.  That means more than 600 women will learn how to read and write in their own language for the first time.  Unfortunately, we had to ask more than 20 women's groups to wait until next year due to lack of funding.  But, out of so many groups wishing to start literacy training, how do we choose which groups which will start this year and which groups will have to wait for another year?  It used to be "first come, first serve" but over the years we have learned better.  Experience has taught us that the teacher is most important part of a successful literacy class, and ultimately a successful program.  The teacher who motivates, encourages and challenges the women is the teacher who will get the best out of their fellow villagers.  We always remind the prospective teacher that if one or two students miss class, that is a minor problem.  But if the teacher misses classes, that is a major problem.  Decisions on who is in and who is out are made by our coordinators and myself when we visit the prospective groups.  And I have been down some bumpy, extremely poor excuses for roads for the past three weeks meeting these prospective groups. 

It is interesting to see, that even without much communication in the outlying villages, news gets around.  Women's groups, who were previously unaware of our program, now ask to join.  These groups are put on "next year's list". However, there are always exceptions. While meeting with a potential literacy group, a woman from a village a few miles away came and introduced herself as Mon Kumari Chaudhary. Mon Kumary asked for a literacy class for the women in her village.  Our literacy coordinator Jugge told her that she was too late this year, but to prepare a class list and find a suitable room for her class to be held next year.  Mon Kumari found Jugge's phone number and called him that evening.  She had prepared the class list and had found a good room for the women to take their classes THIS YEAR.  Jugge again informed Mon Kumari she was much too late this year, however next year was possible.

The next morning, at the office of our coordinator's NGO, Mon Kumari was waiting for us to open. Mon Kumari insisted that we give her the class this year.  She said that her group of women did not want to wait until next year and wanted to learn NOW. We were pleased to make Mon Kumari Chaudhary and her group of 25 women in the village of Gawai our 20th Basic Literacy Class for 2012.  By the way, "Mon" means "HEART" in Nepali.  Below you can see Mon Kumari proudly holding the sign with the name of George and Eva who will be sponsoring her group this year.
Mon Kumari proudly standing with the students enrolled in George & Eva's Class

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Sanu Maya Thapa

Sanu Maya Thapa in front of land

Meet Sanu Maya Thapa. 

Behind her, you can see part of her land.  She has seven kathas (or about 7/10s of an acre) where she wants to grow organic vegetable in partnership with the women in her village of Odera. She plans to call the cooperative "Three Angels Organic Farm" after her three daughters, the oldest of whom is attending college through a scholorship with WELNepal.  Sanu Maya and her group took a 16-week organic vegetable training course four years ago.  There, women from three different villages met once a week in the field and grew, with training through funding from WELNepal, a crop of vegetables that saw neither pesticide nor insect spray.  Soon, Sanu Maya and her group will take a three-day refresher course through WELNepal and its partner organization Ecocentre and begin growing organic vegetables all year round. With the proper training, the women should have no trouble producing three crops of various vegetables a year. Because Sanu Maya is one of the area's most active women in the community, we feel that with her leadership and motivating skills, a successful project is almost certain.

Sanu Maya in her home
Another plus for Sanu Maya's group is the village of Odera is very close to some of the better lodges servicing tourists who come to visit Nepal's beautiful jungle in the Chitwan National Park.  We're certain these lodges would see no reason not to pay a little more for organic produce when they can advertise "Some of the vegetables you are eating are grown organically by local women's groups" at their dining tables.  Sanu's groups will now join 13 other women's groups, all organized and funded by WELNepal, in growing, eating,and selling organic vegetables.  Since more and more Nepalis are becoming aware of the negative effects  of commercial sprays, our women's groups will  work with Ecocentre to create a large co-op through which organic vegetables will be sold at commercial outlets.

Good luck Sanu Maya!


P.S. If you want to learn more about day-to-day life in Nepal (and there's a lot about it that's guaranteed to make you smile as well as think), please follow us on Twitter @WELNepal (!/WELNepal)

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

My Village



My village of Sauraha is a tourist town.  It sits on one side of the Rapti River.  On the the other side is the jungle, home of the one-horned rhino and the tragically endangered Bengal tiger, along with other assorted jungle creatures who live free and protected in the Chitwan National Park. Up until recently, protection has been somewhat spotty. Poaching has taken too many of these endangered and magnificent animals.  But last year, not one rhino was slaughtered for its horn.  Good for them, but not so good for the middle-aged Chinese men who will now have to rely on good old-fashioned Viagra to get them through the night (rumour has it that some believe powdered rhino horn is a natural aphrodisiac, though it's often used--with no scientifically-proven effect--to treat illness).

Sauraha, located in the flat lowlands of Nepal, is where I spend my days.  Yes, there is much work do be done with the women who live in "them thar hills", but unfortunately, at my tender age, I'm not up to walking up and down the Himalayas to visit women's groups. Besides, bouncing around on the back of an old motorcycle (whose shocks have seen better days) down rough back country trails takes enough out of my back to keep my keep both my chiropractor and yoga guru busy.

Some traditional Nepali transportation

A camel waiting for a rider
More  traditional transport
Sauraha is a tourist town for both Nepalis who wish to escape the noisy, polluted, chaotic, and overcrowded Kathmandu for a few days, and visitors from abroad who need some warm weather and flat land after walking around the snowy mountains up north. Yes, there are some t-shirt shops and restaurants featuring the "best pizza in Nepal" but Sauraha still has a "sleepy" quality. A few years ago, during the political turmoil here in Nepal, Sauraha was more than sleepy--it was in a coma. Nobody  came here.  For many days I was the only "stranger" in town, which made negotiating a good price for the best room in town a relative snap.  But that was the bad, good old days.  Now  the "insurrection" is over and the rebels have joined the government and all are at peace, and the tourists are coming back.  "Main Street" has been paved, more hotels and lodges are popping up, and electrical wires have been strung.  That said, most times of the year service is somewhat irregular.  These days we are limited to eight hours of power a day, half of those hours coming between two and six in the morning when many students do their homework.  For many here, it comes down to buying candles or buying food.  One would think that all those rushing torrents of water coming down from the Himalayas could produce enough power to light up all of Nepal.  Indeed there is, but it's used to light up all of India instead. 

And yes, the paved roads and a bridge over the Rapti River has brought both prosperity and motorized vehicles to Sauraha.  But I've included some of the more conservative modes of travel that still can found in my little village.

More interesting transport

Monday, 23 January 2012

Time to go to Work


Meet Jagganath Mahato (above).  

We call him Jugge, and he's the coordinator of WELNepal's literacy program.  He's responsible for meeting the women who want to learn to read and write in their own language for the first time in their lives.  Jugge helps select a relatively educated woman in the village to be the teacher.  He also arranges training for all those women will teach their villagers the Nepali ABC's.  He arranges the purchase of the text books, work books and teaching materials. He is also responsible for visiting all the classes on a regular basis to ensure that the program is running as smoothly as possible.

This year, Jugge presented WELNepal with a list of 40 women's groups who want to start our eight-month Basic Literacy Class.  WELNepal's budget will NOT be able to fund half of those groups. The rest of the 600 or so women in the other 20 or more classes will have to stay illiterate for yet another year.  As the Nepalis would say, "Ke Garne"....What to do?

After Jugge ensures the completion of the women's literacy classes, Harimaya Bhandari (above), takes over to continue the education and growth of the women. 

Harimaya has been coordinating projects for WELNepal for the past six years.  We realized that teaching a woman to read and write is only the first step.  For example, a woman can now read, but what is she going to read? Harimaya has built fourteen libraries, so that as many of our graduates as possible have access to interesting and educational books.  Harimaya arranges lectures on health, women's rights and empowerment, and ecology.  She also arranges for organic farming training.  Land is rented for the the women's groups to grow organic produce for home consumption, and much to the women's delight, sale. The women also grow mushrooms as part of an income generating program.

Harimaya also oversees our scholorship program, which funds those young girls who are scholastically gifted, but come from families whose parents are either too poor to pay the school fees or are too disinterested in educating women.  I have added a photo of two of our "bright lights", Samjhana and Suraksha (below).  Both girls would, in all probability, been married off by the family without our sponsor's help.  There is no sense in having an extra mouth in the family to feed. 

Between our two coordinators, Jugge and Harimaya, we now have to decide which 15 or 20 groups of women will receive literacy classes this year and which 20 or 25 groups of women will have to wait. Believe me, it's hard to tell some women that change will have to wait. 

Time to go to work.