Upper Mustang with the Living Earth Institute and BMKF.
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Exploring culture, geography, and water sanitation in the Himalayas

In late April, three BMKF scholars traveled to Mustang on a mission: to conduct a field survey for the Living Earth Institute (LEI), a Seattle-based nonprofit that helps international communities develop sustainable water and sanitation solutions.

Neema Sherpa ’14, Pema Sherpa ’15, and Babita Sharma ’16 were selected to carry out the project. Their goal was to assess the current practices and conditions of water and sanitation in the village of Lo-Manthang in Upper Mustang. They needed to see if the villagers would be interested in household toilets and gather enough information for LEI to evaluate if a toilet construction project would be feasible. Over the course of five days, the young women met with Lo-Manthang’s community leaders, surveyed 76 households, and facilitated a community focus group to gather feedback.
A culturally rich, but hard to reach destination

Travel from Kathmandu to Upper Mustang took the field survey team three whole days by bus and jeep.

“The ride was adventurous, given the bump-shaking journey on a single lane, off roads (no black top) across steep barren hills,” said Neema, who led the project and says the chance to visit the region fulfilled a cherished goal.

“Upper Mustang was always one of of my to-go destinations. The arid and monumental landscapes fascinated me. But it’s also a plush destination given its cultural uniqueness and location, that a layman can hardly afford, so being there was very special,” she said. “The people up there were very warm in contrast to the cold, chilly weather. We stayed with local villagers and our hosts made us feel at home in every sense.”
Relevant water sanitation research, led by women
Leading the survey project, Neema says, provided a great sense of achievement. “Locals, foreigners, and domestic tourists were surprised and glad to see our team of young ladies led by a lady (myself!) come so far to conduct relevant research given the scenario that the villagers still have primitive toilets,” she said.

“If the LEI board decides it’s feasible to implement the project, that is, toilet construction, it will have a lasting positive effect on the sanitation status of local villagers. It may also help their home-stay businesses flourish, bringing the commoners of Lo-Manthang into the mainstream of economic development through more tourism business.”  

To read more about the BMKF/LEI water sanitation survey project and see photos from Mustang, visit our website
Coincidentally, our program manager Sabita Ghising ’14 also traveled to Upper Mustang in April, with a group of students, faculty and staff from her university. Here she is trying not to get blow away in Kagbeni!

“I was surprised by the astonishing altitude variations and ecological diversity. All trek routes are surrounded by enormous peaks. Most of all, I wondered at the un-stoppable wind blowing in Kagbeni. I haven't felt such a wind in any other place. My friends and I had to walk by catching one another’s hands to control us from that air.”
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