Isolated No Longer

Twenty years ago, Rukum district was at the heart of Nepal’s Maoist rebellion. It was famously isolated from the rest of Nepal, with no motorable roads.  Its grinding economic deprivation was a major factor driving local villagers to take up arms.

Today, you can drive to the district center on asphalt, and traverse Rukum from east to west on the Mid-Hills People’s Road, Nepal’s second country-spanning highway (not yet paved). Tourists are arriving on slightly macabre “Guerrilla Treks,” retracing routes used by Maoists during the civil war, to enjoy Rukum’s dramatic Himalayan skyline and Magar culture.

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Sisne Himal, the heart of Rukum district

Young men and women are leaving Rukum to work abroad at the same rate as in the rest of the country. All in all, the previously isolated, marginal district is catching up fast with the rest of Nepal.

Joel visited Rukum in February to monitor UMN’s work there. As in other districts, the Rukum team is working to meet many different needs. UMN spent years supporting commercial vegetable seed production there, which continues to give a good income to hundreds of farming households.

Today, much of UMN’s livelihoods work is focused on reducing the impact of climate change; see here for a video documenting some of the effects in Rukum and Mugu. Joel visited areas where UMN was helping farmers identify and plant new wheat seed varieties, irrigate apple orchards, raise hardy goats, and increase their water supply in ever-drier areas of the hills.

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Rangsi village, where UMN is helping villagers deal with a less predictable climate

These interventions help people increase their incomes in ways that are more resilient when the rains fail (or come untimely, as they have in much of Nepal this year).

Meanwhile, UMN’s health team has been supporting village health centers and working with mothers’ groups to encourage pregnant women to use them. More and more women are now coming to the health centers not just for prenatal checkups, but to give birth in a hygienic space with trained attendants. Thanks to UMN partner staff, they’re also learning better nutrition and sanitation practices to keep their babies alive and healthy.

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The first mother in Taksera village who chose to give birth in the health center

And UMN’s education team have been working with Edunet Nepal to bring computer labs to the local government schools – with the latest computers, Microsoft software, and well-trained teachers. For young men and women looking for opportunities outside Rukum, basic computer skills can be the factor that helps them earn a decent income, or find work in Nepal rather than manual labor abroad. There’s no internet in these remote villages yet, but encyclopedias loaded onto the computers are opening up a world of knowledge to the students.

In the far east of a district once famous for its supposed backwardness, it was remarkable to see dozens of high school students practising their Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations!

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