So this will be the official blog for the Phakumba Social Development Project (PSDP), under Concinnity International, for our group research expedition Jan. 2010. The purpose of this trip will be to collect data on the social infrastructure of Phakumba and initiate communication with the villagers. This information, besides from being anthropologically novel, will be used to inform and refine our skeleton social development model with the long-term goal being self-sustainable public infrastructure.
More specifically, we will be conducting informal recorded interviews in hopes of A) finding out how decisions are made at the individual, familial and public level B) prioritizing the village's need for public infrastructure (potable water filtration, medical clinic, school etc.). We are also concerned with and plan to research the environmental ramifications of development with the idea that you cannot truly reach economic sustainability without environmental sustainability. With funding from Oberlin's Doris Baron Environmental Fund, we will be collecting soil samples, testing water flow rates, documenting irrigation practices and, in communication with the local agrarian population, brainstorming the most efficient way to increase irrigation thereby increasing percentage crop yield and cutting down on deforestation and subsequent erosion into the Maiwa River.
With funds from Oberlin's Creativity and Leadership Fund, we will be collecting information in order to design and test an economic model for development. The basis of the model is as follows: we hope to give out relative high-interest micro-loans, provide business development services and facilitating the exportation of product; combined, these fall under the Microlending Plus category. The interest, along with funds accrued from exportation, will recycle into public infrastructure; the idea being that the support provided by the much needed public facilities with provide motivation to pay back the loans and increase the viable work force and product yield.
With funds from Oberlin's Shansi In-Asia Grant, David plans to study the interplay between religion and politics. Phakumba is primarily a Buddhist community, with a substantial Hindu and Karati (Buddhist/Hindu Hybrid) minority. There is little to no public religious infrastructure, so the majority of practices occur in the house. Not only is the documentation of this religious melting pot unique, but it provides vital information as to the village politics with the idea that an individual is influence by their religion and the individual is the unit for public decisions.
This is an ambitious project. We see this as the first step of many on the road to a sustainable infrastructure. As of now, Phakumba has a staggeringly high infant mortality rate and equally disturbing literacy level. A large part of this problem, comes from the lack of governmental support (both on the district and national level) but also, from a lack of conversation. Concinnity literally means "a harmonious adaptation of parts." With this, our goal is to empower the villagers of Phakumba to generate a social model, initiated via small loans, that will allow them to create the public facilities needed to alleviate irrefutable and, more importantly, self-declared problems. We, as an organization, do not presuppose a low quality of life and do NOT wish to impose a particular social order or system. We are merely facilitators. In this as well, we do not wish to reinvent the wheel, so to speak, and hope, in our January and Summer Expeditions, to be in conversation and partnership with as many local NGOs and INGOs as possible. Of note, we have initiated conversation with Save the Children, the dZi Foundation, Kiva Foundation, Habitat for Humanity, the Sir Edmund Hillary Foundation, and Himalayan Health Care. With the latter, we will potentially be a feeder into their tertiary medical facility in Illam (2 districts south) and have taken steps to establish this connection.
This trip could not of been possible without the help of our tremendous Oberlin Support and Advisory group: Eve Sandberg, Jordan Suter, Laurie Hovell McMillin, Erika Hoffman, Lauren Abdenschein, Jay Needham, Ann Deppman, President Marvin Krislov et al. For help with funding, this would not of been possible without the generosity of the Doris Baron Environmental Fund, Oberlin Shansi's In-Asia Grant Program (http://www.oberlin.edu/cgi-bin/cgiwrap/shansi/shansi06.php?section=home), Oberlin's Creativity and Leadership Fund (http://www2.oberlin.edu/creativity/), Oberlin's Study Abroad Program, the Student Finance Committee, and Asia House and Barrow's hall counsels. We also wish to thank our family and friends for putting up with our constant obsessing and supporting us for the past 8 months when this project began. To all of you: Dan Ya Bhaad.
Happy Holidays from all of us (ie 3 of us) at CI,
We'll see you in February,
Sage, Suman and David
PS: Due to technological constraints, we will not be able to post for the majority of the month -- but, we will be in Kathmandu for the head and tail end of our trek out to Phakumba and will update as much as possible.