Productive trip to Kathmandu, Nepal

Arriving in Kathmandu, Nepal, is an assault on the senses.  You are first hit by the heavy heat which immediately envelops you.  Then you hear the sounds, ranging from honking horns to mooing cows to the lilting cadence of the local language.  Then you smell the pollution as well as see it—the kerosene and petrol fumes.  You also get wafts of enticing food from the street vendors, selling kebobs and curries and fruits.

I arrived at my hotel, settled in, and met local Niraj Subedi for dinner.  Niraj is a young guy who’s well on his way to being a true standout in the next generation of Nepali leadership.  With his unquenchable thirst for knowledge and varied experiences, he’s created his own path to success.  He’s worked in both the public and private sectors and has traveled abroad for education, gaining an international perspective he’s been able to bring back to his native land.  He’s fun, funny and determined to make a difference in Nepal.

We plotted our next few days over a dinner of murgh makhani (butter chicken).  My objective was to establish enough local relationships in government, technology and the local NGO world to make Global BrightLight Foundation a leader in distributing portable solar lighting systems in Nepal.  And I only had four days to accomplish this.

The next morning I was met at 7 a.m. by Buddhi Sapkota who was my host for the day.  Buddhi runs one of the more successful NGOs in Nepal called the Beautiful Nepal Association, or Sandar Nepal Sanstha.  Buddhi is currently getting his Ph.D. and has received funding from The World Bank, USAID and several other agencies and foundations.

We visited Ram Dhital who is the program manager for the government’s alternative Energy Promotion Centre.  We then talked with Prem Basnet who is the General Manager of the Renewable Energy Test Station, the authority that tests and authorizes manufacturers in Nepal—a very important meeting.

From there we met with the Executive Director of Suryodaya Urja, Mr. Nabin Bhujet, a founder of the company that manufactures panels in Nepal, but unfortunately they don’t have a product that meets our needs.

We then met with Shanker Pandey.  Shanker was born and raised in Kathmandu, but received his undergraduate degree at Cincinnati’s Xavier University and his MBA from Georgetown!  Shanker is the local representative of KFW, a German bank that does incredible work in Nepal supporting all types of worthwhile causes.  Nurej works with Shanker.

Following the day of meetings, Nurij graciously invited me back to his home for a meal with his family, a very special experience for me.  While English may not have been the common language for everyone involved, Nurij’s wonderful wife Sami and his five-year-old son Amorgh, made me feel right at home.  There’s nothing like having a home visit when you’re far from home.

The next day, Nurij picked me up and we drove into the country to visit villages where solar, micro hydro, and bio mass projects have taken place.  My objective was to see what’s worked and what hasn’t.  We drove a couple of hours to the village of Anpghari where we visited a three-generation home that had enjoyed a solar home system for the past 17 years.

The system had only recently stopped working.  The family showed me around their home and barnyard and demonstrated how they used the light.  They were anxious to replace the system, which was a common theme I found.  Once a family had experienced having light in their home, they would find a way to replace it if their current system stopped functioning.  I became enamored with the grandmother who lived with them—she had the most expressive face, even though we couldn’t exchange a word of common dialog.

We then stopped to visit a micro hydro plant followed by a visit to a family’s ingenuous biomass project, the process of which lay before me!  First there were the cows and goats, followed by the pile of dung, followed by the biomass tank, followed by the processor, followed by the wires into the house!  It was fun to see the entire process laid out so logically.

We drove about an hour to the offices of the Resource Management and Rural Empowerment Center (REMREC) to talk with their director, Gokul Gautam about how they might be able to partner with us in Nepal. We never want to put all our eggs in one NGO basket if we can help it.  Gokul brought his entire staff in to meet me, and they remain a viable partner alternative.

We arrived back at the hotel where I met my old friend Peter Hillary for dinner.  Peter had just led a trek to the basecamp of Mt. Everest for several major donors to the Himalayan Trust, founded by his father Sir Edmund Hillary.  They were a delightful group of kiwis and we had a wonderful time.  Peter and I also discussed how GBF might partner with the Trust to provide lanterns to students at some of the more rural schools they run.

Got up the next day and headed for home.  I feel we made real progress and will have a successful project in Nepal.  Love the food there.  Love the people there.  Love the culture there.  It’s a good site for GBF because the need is great and the appreciation sincere.