Go to the people,
Live among them,
Learn from them,
Start with what they know.
Build on what they have.
But of the best leaders,
When their task is accomplished,
Their work is done,
The people all remark,
“We have done it ourselves”.
Found on the home page of Chirag—the Central Himalayan Rural Action Group. Chirag describes itself as “a rural development organisation based in the Kumaun region of Uttarakhand in India. Since 1987, we have worked closely with communities on issues relating to forestry, soil and water conservation, agriculture, animal husbandry, drinking water, health care, education and skill and knowledge development of young people. We work in nearly 200 villages in Nainital, Bageshwar and Almora districts.”
In November, 2011, I took a trip to Nepal to visit an international development NGO called CHOICE Humanitarian. I met the organization’s former CEO earlier in the year and was struck by the statistics he presented—contrary to many NGOs’ M.O.s, the rural villages that CHOICE works with have an abnormally high success rate after CHOICE’s involvement is over. Their model of teaching leadership over the course of their development projects trains villagers to take control of their own further development, so when CHOICE leaves, they’re self-motivated and empowered to keep their own improvements going.
After five days volunteering in the office, getting to know CHOICE and how they operate, and exploring Kathmandu, I joined CHOICE’s Kiran Neupane on a trip to visit a few of the villages CHOICE works with. We were accompanied by a few members of Kathmandu’s Rotary Club which was supporting some of their work and we stayed two nights in villagers’ homes. CHOICE and the villages we visited were preparing to launch a new home-stay-based trekking route the following month and we were a friendly group to give them a trial run.
The people were friendly, open and wonderful as Kiran checked on and showed us the progress in different villages. CHOICE works on a variety of projects, letting the villagers decide their own priorities, and we saw a few schools and a health outpost tucked into the steeply sloping hills and cascading rice paddies. But one recurring item really struck me as I saw them installed in many villagers’ households—the bio-gas digester.
What is a bio-gas digester and how does it work?
* Time to check your squeamishness at the door. We’re about to talk about poop and pee. We all make it, we all have to do something with it, and here’s a way to harness some good from it. *