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July 2005 Newsletter
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Villages in Transition: from Death to Life

Dear Friends of Filters for Families,

On July 3rd the monsoon officially began in Nepal. This scant bit of rain marked the end of a long, hot, and dusty dry season in the Terai, where every breath choked with dust and heat. The tardiness of monsoon is reflected in the kaki colored landscapes where parched paddies still scream for rain. The rice planting festival is usually held the first week in June to coincide with onset of monsoon, this year the festival was canceled. Women in Parasi danced and sang in their manner of prayer to beg for rain. After the long wait villagers are at last planting rice seedlings from dawn to dusk, in hopes of a successful fall rice harvest.

Since groundwater irrigation in Bangladesh has contaminated agricultural fields with high arsenic. Thus, it gives plants an opportunity to uptake large volumes of the poison. On the other hand, in the Terai fields are generally irrigated with rain or river water, this is of great advantage for Nepal. By using surface water this arsenic inundation is avoided. The down side is that farmers must wait for rain and wait they have for almost two months. Usually our filter work stops in the monsoon due to swollen rivers carrying trees, debris and rushing water. All prohibit the extraction of sand and gravel from riverbeds. This year we opened an office/apartment in Nawalparasi, allowing us to store truckloads of sand, gravel and GEM buckets for filters. We too are busy planting, planting filters not rice in disadvantaged villages.

Our project is unique among those working in Nepal; we provide more than a filter. Our workshops on arsenic awareness and nutrition help schools and villages understand the hazards of arsenic tube well water and teach them the importance of a balanced diet (more vegetables and protein). We've designed our workshops to meet the schedules of the village women, giving sessions in several parts of a large village during their free time, at 11am or 4 pm. During the village workshops I conduct a health check to identify arsenicosis symptoms. If we find people with arsenicosis we donate vitamins along with a subsidized filter. This helps us locate people using someone else's well whose name isn't on the UNICEF list. Several families often use one well, usually only the owners name is one the UNICEF testing list. Our maintenance program is also a first in Nepal. We train and pay a local villager in each village to check filters for functionality and cleaning twice a month, if one is broken they call us immediately, reducing the risk of returning to poisonous water.

Along the way we've learned some lessons the hard way (see discussion on broken filters below) and other lessons were gifts of the heart. Not long ago a woman in Nadawa asked for medication (ibuprophin) for joint pain, I gave her 20 tablets. The next day while distributing filters in the village she walked up to me with a huge smile and a gift of a basket. Her countenance completely altered from the day before, her pain left her after years of arthritis, I was stunned to see this simple medication help her, later I was told that many people of the Terai suffer from arthritis - of course nothing is done for them - they just suffer. In villages where older people are still around many are crippled and bent over their normal size, and now more and more are riddled with cancers from arsenic. In the February newsletter I mentioned the young girl in Bagahi with hydrocephalus, we returned in April to take her to Kathmandu for an operation, sadly four days before our arrival she died. As one doctor told me no medical assistance is provided for these children, they are forgotten and die early. With this sad event pressed into our hearts and minds we acted swiftly when we found another child in our new village Nadawa, this child is much younger (7 months old). Today as I write he is recuperating from the shunt operation in a children's clinic in Kathmandu. Our team visits Sunil and his parents twice a day, they should return to Nadawa in a few weeks with hope for a normal life (see pictures below). We find more and more elderly dieing of cancers and unknown diseases in our arsenic villages. I fear soon Kunwar and Nadawa will loose an entire population of grandparents due to 10-12 years of drinking arsenic water. Is there nothing for them? Arsenic induced cancers aren't reversible, perhaps our only mission is give them comfort,help with pain and prevent the next generation from cancer. Along with them dies the history and memory of their culture. In Bagahi ward 2 we found no one over 54. These are the effects of arsenic not mentioned in the literature. As we walked through Kunwar one day a young man showed us the skeleton remains of house-since our workshops many are aware of arenicosis symptoms, thus these villagers realized that the family who once lived there - all died of arsenic poisoning. I don't know what their tube well arsenic was because the well was destroyed, but their neighbors well is 650 ppb (WHO safe guideline is 10 ppb).

Unlike many western countries, death surrounds us in the village environment, from cremations along the river bank, to the moaning of elders in pain awaiting death or the news of an 18 year old with uterine cancer. We are offering life, a chance for generations to stop dieing of cancers and other arsenic induced diseases. I wish you could walk through our villages and see the changes in the community- we returned to Bagahi ward 2 in April and May, a complete transformation was visible among the children, gone were the blank stares, runny noises, lethargic walks- instead there was life-happiness, playing, chatter and inquisitiveness - Pramod noted that they were so improved he didn't recognize them. We gave liquid vitamins and filters to all the households during our previous visit. This time we gave them to children, pregnant and nursing women, and sick people. My heart is always heavy when so many have cancer in one location. They often come to me with doctors' diagnoses and x rays, I have no medical care beyond a filter and vitamins for them only a caring hand and listening heart. We continue to return to each village, I give vitamins and now we hope to conduct more nutrition workshops. We would like to teach them the health value of a kitchen garden, but security problems in Rautahat prevent us from conducting more extensive projects at this time in this district. Kitchen gardens are really a must- these gardens are the best means for them to take in nutrients needed to ward off diseases. There is such a contrast between those who have a little money and better diet from those who are destitute. Arsenic and other diseases plague the poor, no wonder they're poor- no energy, no hope, no ability to think beyond survival. With your help we are stopping this cycle of death. Thank you for allowing us to give life to these villagers in Nepal.

Please continue through our photo essays to witness the changes you've made possible. Through you we've helped more than 4000 people, over 400 filters, more than 2500 bottles of vitamins have been distributed in two districts and 7 villages, 14 workshops and little Sunil's operation. Thank you for sharing your love for Nepal through Filters for Families.

Dr. Linda Smith

Aerial view of Mt. Everest by Kerem Barut / Download Wallpaper