Nepal’s poorest tribe reborn

Nepal’s poorest tribe reborn thanks to a Catholic school by Kalpit Parajuli For decades, the Chepang lived in poverty in the forests of Chitwan District (central Nepal). Since 2011, a Catholic school educates their children, offering adults some job opportunities. Tribal leader says, “Our people are ready to vote for a Catholic if he runs in the election for the Constituent Assembly.”

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – “Catholics have turned on the light of hope in our lives,” said Govinda Bahadur, a member and leader of the Nepal Chepang Association (NCA). “For decades, we and our children lived in the dark, forgotten by everybody,” he told AsiaNews. “It was impossible for us to send our children to school. In 2011, Catholics opened one for our tribe; since then our life has changed.”

Established on 12 November 2011, the Navodaya School serves hundreds of students. The facility was set up with the help of local and foreign donors, including several Italian associations like the Centre for Development Cooperation Italy (CCS Italy). In addition to educating children, it supports families by helping them find jobs and developing small farming projects.

As Nepal gets ready for the upcoming June election to the Constituent Assembly, all Chepang are ready to give their vote to a Catholic candidate if one ran.

Parties are sending representatives to some of the remotest areas of the country to secure the votes of ethnic minorities, and then forget about them once elected.

Siddha Bahadur, from the village of Siddhi, said that in 2008 he voted for the Maoists, but “once they were in power, what they promised was never realised.”

For Bhakta Bahadur Chepang, from a settlement near Siddhi, “the community often has no food, proper clothing, electricity or water. Nobody has ever taken care of us over the years. Only Catholics gave some help to our people.”

The Chepang are one of the 59 indigenous groups present in Nepal and are concentrated in the Chitwan District in the region of Madhyamanchal of central Nepal, numbering some 52,000, mostly Hindu or Buddhist. Their settlements are located 1,200 metres above sea level, far from the main roads and population centres. Their main source of livelihood is the forest and its products.

Over the years, a few families have abandoned the nomadic life, finding work as agricultural labourers. Unfortunately, due to the area’s topography and climate, farming provides employment for only six months. For the rest of the year, the Chepang feed on wild fruits, fish and game.

Often children help their parents in the countryside and are unable go to school, which results in a dropout rate of 70 per cent.