Allan: Damak-village in Nepal that hosted refugees

MORE than a decade ago, I lived in Damak. It was a small rural town in the South Eastern terai region of Nepal. Our municipality was considered one of the oldest and the second biggest town of the Jhapa District. At that time, it is where the Himalayan Tea State and three of the eight United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Bhutanese Refugee Camps were located.

I found this place during one summer outreach in Nepal through the Ullim Missions of South Korea. I was then in charge of community development and aside from Kathmandu we did work in Damak. Towards the end of that outreach in 1994 we were led to the local church and later to the refugee camp of Beldangi II. That encounter has yielded a team of adult education tutors and three classes composed of women. The classes were segregated as beginners, the next as the regular class and the third as the advanced class. Since it was only a brief training what I did was to let the community select the teachers who they know have advanced capacities in reading and writing in the Devanagari script that Nepali language uses. I had one translator who came with me from Kathmandu and the local church also found another translator. Between the three of us we developed the classroom system and the seminar curriculum. We were to go over the daily lessons with the three teachers and then after the class we check on the progress of the women. Classes were composed of ten to fifteen women per group and were given pen, pencil and paper for their writing class.

The classes went on for the whole summer, although I stayed on for a week to teach them the technique and schedules and words of encouragement that the teachers say to the women leaders and participants.

That outreach led to a long term capacity building project among the refugees in leadership, skills and knowledge. This project was supported by the Swiss Partners for Development and the UK Home for the Homeless. We set up a training center for leaders and for five days the Bhutanese leaders of the eight camps come together for tutor. By the second year, there were only two Filipino staff and the rest were Bhutanese men and women. By the time I left we were already being visited by trainers from Colorado, Hawaii, United Kingdom, the Philippines and other parts of the world. By the time I left, the Bhutanese refugee staff were running the training center.

Our first home was in Damak 13, where we had a five room house with a dirty kitchen a back and front yard with a roof top. That first week I bought some plants and flowers. I planted flowers in the front yard, but the next morning the red gumamela were gone. I went back to the florist and bought a similar plant and planted it again where the others were uprooted. In two days the flowers were again uprooted. I planted the third time and these two red gumamelas stayed with us until the second year when we had to transfer to another house.

The fruits and vegetables are fresh and cheap compared to other countries. At times we buy from the farmers, who bring their produce to town. There were few stores along the streets that are near Damak chowk so we buy when the open market is there. We would have a variety of spices, legumes and native food that became our daily food. Every meal was with curry and masala, a mixture of spices.

During their market days, goods were spread on the streets from food, school supplies, household items, clothes and even under wears. Wares are sometimes on sacks or on top of make shift tables, it was fun going around the market on those days.

Damak in winter is cold. We would have the thick blankets, undergarments, outer garments and the bonfire to keep us warm. It is not as freezing as Kathmandu and Pokhara but still the cold wind blows our way and around. The rainy season is one of the worst as dirty slurry water will be all over. The ticka, puja, sewer and drainage mixing with the rain water flushed on the streets, the rivers and the fields.

During these rainy seasons, I try to escape by going home to the Philippines, visit other countries for relief and development activities and trainings.

Who knows, I may just go back again to Damak! Only God knows.
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