Jeff Leech’s latest expedition to Nepal as an AAA group leader
Tell us a bit about your trip to Nepal?
I went to Nepal as a group leader for a not for profit organisation called Aussie Action Abroad (AAA). This was my fourth such expedition with AAA. Aussie Action Abroad actively collaborates with communities in need to provide practical and realistic support leading to sustainable outcomes and enriching the lives of all involved.
Formerly under the organisation OzQuest Adventures, Aussie Action Abroad builds upon over a decade of experience in facilitating projects to communities in need and continues to strengthen its relationships with partnering organisations, communities and volunteers.
AAA partners with Architects without frontiers (AWF) to work on many of the construction projects within Nepal. AWF works with vulnerable communities to design and build health and education projects in the Asia Pacific region. Our MISSION is to improve the social and physical infrastructure of these communities, irrespective of race, religion, creed or political affiliation, using Australian design expertise.
The expedition consisted of some 45 Australians split into four teams. One Health team that did… And three construction teams that were focused this year on earthquake reconstruction projects. Two teams worked in a district severely impacted by last year’s earthquake. Their focus was on winterisation, that is making the temporary shelters that people are living in more suitable for the winter weather.
My team worked in a neighboring district, one in which AAA has been involved with for the last 15 years. We worked on a Primary School and a Kindergarten that were damaged by the earthquake. Very dangerous walls were demolished and rebuilt, using new techniques developed to be more suitable for rural construction in earthquake prone areas.
What was the highlight of your trip?
As with previous expeditions the biggest highlight is always seeing how grateful the local communities are to have our assistance in helping provide much needed works. This was particularly evident this year given the difficult year Nepal has had following the earthquake.
How do you manage to maintain your health and vitality while travelling?
Well this is always a challenge as everyone knows, but luckily enough in Nepal all the wholefoods are organic and naturally produced, which is a great help! Further to this I took Prana ON products to help fill some gaps in availability of some foods, and to assist with training while in country.
I still managed to get weight sessions in at gyms, be they very basic facilities when in Kathmandu, and body weight / band workouts when I was in rural areas. I also did many stair runs, plenty of stairs available, and also hiking and the physical nature of our work all helped keep me fit and active and healthy.
What Prana On products did you predominantly use while overseas?
Well given the limited space and weight I had in my pack, I had to choose carefully what I would need the most while away. I determined that I needed protein and amino’s the most. So I took with me Chocolate and Coconut Power Plant Protein, and Blood Orange Intra Strength. These were unbelievably handy when working all day on the construction sites, and also when trekking in the Mountains!
What type of food did you eat while you were there? Could you outline what a day of eating looked like for you?
Our expedition teams had some fantastic Nepali staff, one of which in each group was our head cook. They managed to wrangle up some very impressive feasts out of their cooking tent, everything from pizza to the traditional Nepali Dhal Bhat Takari (Lentil, Rice, Vegetables). As I eat plant based the cooks were ever so helpful in making sure I had plenty of options (and quantity!) every day. Sometimes this was a vegan alternative to the same dishes provided for others, or I ate like the locals do and had Dhal Bhat allot of the time.
A typical day went a little like this:
Breakfast – Hot Tea, Oats / Muesli, and some fruit
Morning Tea – Power Plant Protein
Lunch – Hot cooked Lunches
Afternoon Tea / After Exercise – Power Plant Protein
Dinner – Hot cooked Dinners
During working / exercising – Intra Strength
Evening – Hot Tea
How did their cultural way of eating differ from Australia?
Traditionally the Nepalese eat very different to how we eat in the west. This varies slightly depending on region the locals come from, but typically the Nepalese will eat only two large meals per day, unlike the three standard in the west. These are one in the morning, after all the morning chores are done, and one early evening after working for the day. These two large meals are typically both Dhal Bhat Takari (Lentil, Rice, Vegetables). It is estimated that out of the Nepali population of 28 million, some 22 million eat in this traditional manner everyday.
How has Nepal changed since you were there almost a decade ago?
Nepal has changed in some very significant ways since my previous three visits in 2002-2005.
The Government/Political situation has changed drastically since my first visit, at which time the country was embroiled in what is best described as a civil war. As with all events like this it is a complicated explanation, but I will do my best to summarise the events briefly.
Nepal had been a long standing Monarchy. In 2001 the Crown Prince was responsible for a royal massacre at the palace, which left the King and Queen, and many other royals including the crown prince himself dead. As a result a Prince, who was unpopular with the local population, was crowned King, and his even more unpopular son crowned Crown Prince. Seizing on the mood of the nation an existing political and armed uprising with the aim of overthrowing the monarchy and installing a democracy in Nepal gained momentum. In 2006 this was successful, a peace agreement was signed, and an election was held in which the rebels entered mainstream politics. The result was an end to the two and a half century old monarchy.
For lack of a better word ‘Westernisation’ has played a massive role in the changes to Nepal over the last thirteen years. Mobile phones and technology that were non existent on my first visit are now prolific. Many roads have been built allowing jeep and bus access deep into the mountains that traditionally were only accessible on foot and with donkey trains bringing in supplies. There are also now many stores in Kathmandu that are western, there are western TV stations accessible, and a huge change in the traditional dress of the Nepalese people. This is particularly noticeable when you head into rural communities.
Last years Earthquake has played a massive change in the psyche of the Nepalese people. I noticed a massive change in the people from being so carefree happy and loving in the first years I visited. Compared to now when the mood overall seemed allot more reserved and somewhat down, however still the most loving and friendly people. This prevailing mood is understandable given the many challenges that this developing country faces, even more exacerbated since the earthquake. There is so much work to be down to reconstruct the nation physically and psychologically.
Having said all of that Nepal is still an absolutely enchanting nation, with friendly loving and generous people, it really is the kingdom of the gods!
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