To adequately address and permanently resolve a given issue, it’s a good idea to start upstream. For Outreach community partners in Nepal looking to improve their village’s water quality, this approach was more than just a suggestion, it was clearly the only solution.
As the first official project undertaken between Lakasa, Nepal [or LN, the local name of the Outreach-affiliated team there] and their communities, cleaning up the reservoirs that supply their villages with water was a good introduction to the Outreach Process, as well as an example of the shared sense of empowerment that follows. As the first result of this new partnership, the outcome served as a watershed moment — as a tangible result of teamwork, and renewed source of hope for the hundreds of community members who benefitted.
there’s no ‘I’ in Stream
After identifying water quality as a pressing issue in community-led meetings, participants from each of three different communities joined staff for the long, frequently perilous hikes necessary to reach their respective communities’ reservoirs — enduring steep, narrow roads, dense forests, slippery rocks, hungry leeches and punishing humidity along the way — all while wearing flip-flop sandals. All in a day’s (or in this case, three different days’) work.
The villages each receive their water through the same means: Upland reservoirs collect water from rainfall and melting snow, then direct it downhill via a system of concrete canals, where locals collect it from a communal source. Dirty reservoirs at the top mean dirty water at the bottom. Over the span of three different trips to address each community’s respective reservoir, locals got their first experience in the sort of participatory engagement in which Outreach specializes.
For each reservoir, community members and LN staff, outfitted with shovels and buckets, removed caked mud, debris and algae that had accumulated throughout the season, and returned the water to a pristine, healthy shimmer. It wasn’t easy, but the improvement in quality was immediately clear.
Soaking in the Success
Once the teams returned from cleaning, they gathered to discuss their successful efforts, as well as brainstorm ideas to refine and improve further work on the reservoirs. First up: A more organized approach, with more community members invited to participate in future efforts, as well as ensuring that everyone has the proper tools necessary to achieve a faster, more effective cleaning process. Next, plans were made to install fences and netting over the reservoirs and canals to block debris in the short-term, with long-term plans for the construction of water tanks closer to home were marked for further discussion.
Cleaning the reservoirs was essential to improving the waters condition, but it also functioned as an essential introduction to the communities’ new partnership with Outreach — besides the immediate benefits to their water quality, locals got their first taste of how future successes will flow: With them serving as active participants in their own success, equipped with a sense of agency in determining their own collective destiny. For the LN team, the project enhanced their understanding of each community’s strengths, illuminated some areas ripe for improvement, and brought a clearer determination for other future community improvements.
When it Rains, It Pours
As a means of introduction between LN staff and their communities, between the communities and the Outreach Process of development, and among the community members themselves as teammates, the outcome was an auspicious debut. Conceived organically through discussion among community members, implemented through a robust turnout and shared workload, and celebrated through thoughtful reflection and hopeful discussion of future plans, it’s hard to imagine a more positive result.
As a secondary benefit, the work serves as perhaps the best metaphor yet for Outreach’s approach to resolving chronic poverty-related issues: Identify the source of a problem, address it through practical planning and teamwork, then relish the significant, sustained positive outcome that flows forth from the first taste of success.
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