Appeal for Donations - A Pictorial Presentation

An introduction to Sama Gaun village in Nubri Nepal, its people and conditions. As Internet connection is poor, we are still waiting for the latest photos on the current situation on the ground in this remote part of Nepal affected by the earthquake.
You can make a difference! No contribution is too small. Pls help!

Samagaun Development Foundation - 30/4/2015 Appeal For Donations For Earthquake Victims

About Sama Village
Samagaun is a northern Nepal village, located in the extreme north parts of the close-to-Tibet Nubri Valley, one of the most isolated areas in the Himalayan border region. Though maintaining as one of the biggest human communities of the latter – it counts about 150 houses, for more than 500 inhabitants –, Sama proves to be one of the poorest. What is more, the natural location of the village results in a cruel marginality: too high to benefit from easy access to city, too low to be a priority of government.
What is the current situation in Sama?
On the 25th of April 2015, Sama was hit by the terrible earthquake from which the country is condemned to suffer for many years. The day and time of the disaster enabling its people to avoid death or severe injury, they could not prevent their houses from being seriously damaged. We have recorded as a matter of fact that at least 30 of them find themselves in that case, raising a major issue why we want to sound the alarm and mobilize for: homelessness. Of course, many other buildings, secondary or animals habitations have been hit. But they are not comprised in the priority step of this call for help for the reconstruction of Sama.

Out of those 30 most-impacted houses, including the school:

 - 19 are to be totally rebuilt;
 - 11 are to be partially reconstructed or reinforced.
Why is this concern such a vital emergency?
✓ Because the poverty of concerned villagers, inspite of natural solidarity endeavors, creates a vicious circle that could let the situation rapidly aggravate.
✓ Because the evoked village marginality could have terrible consequences. Indeed, Sama finds itself in an in-between area and altitude: less reachable than many villages below, but yet much more violently hit by the disaster than upper communities. Two consequences so far: we know for a fact that the road from Kathmandu to the village is impracticable, making any rescue impossible apart via airway – i.e. helicopter. What is more, it is very likely this marginality will reduce governmental help to virtually nothing.
✓ Because it is our responsibility to prevent the village from cumulated damages. And we know that after earthquake, nature will hit soon anew through the monsoon, making the current camp installations definitely temporary and extremely hazardous.
For all these reasons, time is flying tragically quickly for Sama people. And for those reasons, not only should we be aware that the situation is critical, but also that it is likely to worsen in the upcoming days.
How can you help Sama inhabitants?
Concretely, many workers are about to arrive in Sama for rebuilding the houses. Adding to a great part of the village`s inhabitants themselves, among which one finds a lot of specialized people – that have obviously already started the rehabilitation of the houses. Given the roads designed to transport materials are not practicable, the adopted solution is to use the stones present in the village and in its surroundings.

 You could play the major role of this reconstruction movement by helping those people – inhabitants and workers from outside – financially. It is nonetheless extremely uneasy to gauge the exact amount needed for all the constrained expenses to come: food, daily salaries, material… Not to forget that the earthquake may have had latent physical impact that may manifest later, nor that we cannot better measure the impact on farming today. But we globally estimate the village’s needs at about 20 000 US dollars. It is thus up to you to decide how much you are able and desire to give.
For those who receive twice this document please note that you may either give to the following “Samagaun Development Foundation”, or to Khenpo Pasang, knowing that they are two ways of providing the same help. Your donation will eventually be sent to a unique account: “HELPING SAMA HOMELESS”.
Since five years, the Samagaun Development Foundation, founded by his current chairman and Head of Sama Village Lama Jigme, aims at gaining better clarity and greater dynamism in his mission of improving the living conditions of the villagers and empowering them. You may help the villagers by transferring money to the Foundation, from your bank in your country. Here are the account details:
Bank account A/c: 3201017500076
Swift Code: NARBNPKA
Bank Name: Nabil Bank Ltd
Address: Halchowk Branch
P.O. Box: 3729, Ward No. 15,
Halchowk, Swoyambhu, Kathmandu, Nepal
Phone: 01-4033553/54
NB: we apologize for the absence of current pictures, due to communication problems, that could help you to be perfectly aware of the situation. We are doing our best to send you some as soon as possible. On the other hand, we are working to propose you a much easier way of helping the villagers by transferring money.

Revisiting Sama Gaun

This article was published in Humaneity Magazine (Mar 2012 issue).

A Photo Essay by Stephen Freiheit, a Danish photographer

Eight years ago, Thomas Kurek and I met Lama Jigme at a nun´s monastery in the outskirts of Kathmandu. Jigme was born and raised side-by-side with renowned Buddhist meditation master Mingyur Rinpoche in Samagaun village. Also called Sama village, Samagaun village is located in Nubri valley, which is an isolated Nepali area in the Himalayan border of Tibet. It has a population of approximately 1000 villagers from 200 households.

Shortly after meeting Jigme, we started filming and interviewing him for our upcoming documentary on four Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in Nepal (supported by the Danish Center for Culture and Development (DCCD) and Today's Youth Asia (TYA)). It will be aired on national TV channel Nepali NTV Plus. We were fascinated about his work of heading Samagaun Development Foundation, an initiative that promotes healthcare and education for his fellow villagers.

During our first interview, Jigme told us that he has six siblings. At subsequent interviews, we asked about his mother's physical condition, having given birth to seven children. To our astonishment, Jigme informed us that his mother had actually birthed 10 children, three of which had died in childbirth, a common occurrence in Samagaun. Infant mortality is high there -- 40% of the children die before the age of five from preventable diseases. Furthermore, a large number of women die due to relatively simple (in our standards) birth complications.
Another Visit
Last year, Kurek and I decided to again visit Samagaun. We walked for eight days from Kathmandu through the Himalayas with Jigme and a Malaysian physician. We brought 30 kg of herbal medicine donated by a Malaysian NGO. Rumors spread quickly along the way, that a doctor formed part of our group and queues of locals who needed a consultation for themselves or their children quickly formed. It was quite overwhelming to feel the great need for medical care in the area and it became obvious that the farther we got away from Kathmandu, the greater the need. From Sama village, the nearest hospital is in Gorkha, a five-to-seven-days-walk. Since our trip, Jigme has contributed to finding funds to establish a Health Clinic in Samagaun, offering hygiene courses to help the villagers with common physical problems such as colds, arthritis, malnutrition, vitamin deficiency, lack of hygiene and bacterial infections, as well as provide assistance during childbirth.

Sadly, the economy only allows the village to hire two nurses for two years, after which new funds to continue the work of the clinic must be found. Jigme's goal is to eventually help the village gain access to the Internet, which nobody in the village knows much about. Via Skype, it will be possible to set up live video consultations between villagers and a doctor in Kathmandu. However, this idea will take some time as the installation of the Internet is expensive and accessibility is difficult. On the journey to Sama village, we welcomed the fact that we didn't constantly have to deal with emails. In relation to the crucial benefits that Sama village will have by accessing the Internet, our concerns seemed very small.

During our trip, Mingyur Rinpoche's family had kindly made their house available to us and we decided to arrange for medical consultations in the morning in the courtyard. Within few days, 100 residents arrived there to meet with the doctor, who in many cases could not heal the sick villagers, but could only temporarily relieve their pain. At first sight of smoke rising from the chimney in the early hours of the morning, curious children's faces began to appear at the cracks between the doors to the courtyard.
A Village With Religious Ties
The Buddhist monastery in Samagaun is an important institution. The monastery holds meditative rituals and pujas, which are religious rituals performed by Buddhists as an offering to various deities, distinguished persons or special guests. The rituals can last for days, even weeks. During our stay, we particpated in such a ritual, meditating and chanting in the monastery. The songs sung during meditation are often many hundreds of years old and have been passed down orally through generations. It was a great honour to have the opportunity to participate and gave a unique insiht into a culture that has definitely not changed remarkably over the centuries.
The puja ended after nine days of meditation, which was traditionally marked by lama dancing and subsequent blessings and distribution of snacks and food as offerings. A large number of Samagaun villagers attended the ceremony, demostrating the strong role of religion in an old and traditional society like Samagaun. Jigme's father is head lama of the monastery and directs the pujas and the lama dancing. We had the opportunity to interview Jigme's father and his uncles. They have all lived very modest lives, closely associated with the monastery and radiate both life wisdom, as well as serenity. They are, as the older generation of Sama in general, open to improvement and innovation, and look upon Jigme's struggle for this isolated society with respect. When we got back to Kathmandu, we felt transformed and deeply inspired by the people in Sama village.
This March, we will pay another visit to Samagaun. Hopefully at that time the new Health Clinic will be nearly complete as it is expected to open in May. We will work with the village youths and gather their thoughts and ideas on what the future may bring and how the village can be developed. We will air the results during our fourth TV program on national Nepali NTV Plus.

A Mission To Help His People

This article was published in Humaneity Magazine (Oct 2010 issue).

A journey back to his village inspires the inception of a new non-profit organisation based in Nepal with the mission of improving the lives of his people.

By Ula Jigmé,
Chairman of Samagaun Development Foundation

In 2000, I returned to my village Sama Gaun after 15 years of studies in Kathmandu. That was when I saw the numerous problems in the village. After I did some research to find out the reasons why the village condition and the people’s lives still do not improve after generations, I realised that the key lies in the mindset of the village people. It was then I saw that education in the young children would be the most effective agent for any positive change. This was why I started the Sama Boarding School project in 2004.

Sama Gaun is situated in the shadow of Mount Manaslu, the eighth highest mountain in the world. Standing at approximately 3,500m above sea level and approximately seven days trek from the capital city of Kathmandu, Sama Gaun is a place of stunning physical beauty, with spectacular views of magnificent giant snow peaks of the Himalayan mountain range. Unfortunately, this region also faces a harsh climate, geographical isolation, high illiteracy rate, and limited medical and physical infrastructure, thus making its villages some of the poorest in Nepal. Sama Gaun has a population of approximately 1,000 villagers of Tibetan descent.

Due to many factors, the development of this part of Nepal is not in the Nepali Government’s priority list. However, the Government does support Sama Gaun by giving funds to our Village Development Committee (VDC).

However, the problem with this is the Government funds may not reach the VDC due to corruption. The process of disbursement requires a village representative to go to the district office to collect the funds. Sometimes, due to language barrier and lack of education, the villager may get cheated by dishonest officers. At other times, even if the VDC receives the funds, the villagers may not be able to utilise the money wisely for long-term sustainable projects in the village.

It was my experience in managing the Sama Boarding School project that made me realised the difficulties of handling the project single-handedly. I could not devote enough time to oversee all aspects of the school construction to ensure that all went on smoothly as planned. As a result, this made me extremely busy. I could only try my best. This was when I decided to set up an organisation so that the responsibilities for the development of the village could rest on the shoulders of the organization’s other committee members as well, who are themselves villagers of Sama Gaun. For this reason, I sought for legal assistance in officially registering Samagaun Development Foundation as a non-profit organization.

The organization would serve as a representative for Sama Gaun. Currently, there are more senior villagers elected in the VDC. Hence, it was my vision that the Samagaun Development Foundation could work together synergistically with the VDC to provide better support in improving the management of the village.

Samagaun Development Foundation also aims to increase the villagers’ participation by empowering them to strive to enhance their own standard of living. The primary mission of this organization is to: Provide access of health services to the villagers who are deprived of basic healthcare, and help children on their education, especially those who do not have the opportunity to attend school. The Foundation also hopes to promote environmental and cultural preservation, and help provide a skills-oriented programme to local communities to facilitate income generation.

In March 2010, the non-profit organization finally obtained its official registration and affiliation under Nepal’s Social Welfare Council.

One of my greatest challenges so far is how to seek a more active participation and involvement among the village community. This is because if the villagers do not welcome or participate in the work the organization implements, there would then be a problem of acceptance by the villagers and they would find the work unsuitable for them. To overcome this, I try to ensure that the work implemented is received positively. I have to make them realize that whatever the organization does, it is really for the development of the village and improvement of their lives. I want them to realize the importance of following and continuing with whatever work the organization starts.

Currently, in the mind of the villagers, they can only see the issues that are of the most immediate concern to them. For instance, since agriculture is their main livelihood, taking care of their farms and livestock is their main priority, with education taking a backseat.

Another difficulty I faced when working with the villagers is how to change their mindset on certain negative practices. For instance, alcohol is deep-rooted in our culture. It is very destructive for our health. Nonetheless, the villagers believe that alcohol is good. Pregnant women are encouraged to take it as a tonic. Even babies are not spared as they will be given alcohol by their parents when they barely turn a week old!

The villagers also believe that sicknesses are caused by spirits or black magic. Therefore, when a person falls ill, the family will look for a lama (Buddhist monk) to do prayers instead of relying on medicine. However, since there is no basic healthcare facility or doctor available in Sama Gaun, this is currently their only option for recovery from their sicknesses. So I hope that by setting up a clinic, which is the first and most crucial project the organization will undertake since its inception, this mindset will gradually change.


One of the most memorable moments which strengthened my resolve that a basic clinic had to be constructed in Sama Gaun is the death of a 16-year-old girl, who happened to be my sister’s close friend. She had a serious case of jaundice. Her family did not take care of her well when she was ill and administered all the wrong treatment. They gave her alcohol and applied butter on her body, thinking that this would improve her condition. Expectedly, this only worsened her condition.

At that time, I was in Kathmandu. After seeing her condition deteriorated, the family called me and requested me to arrange for a helicopter to the village so as to bring her to the hospital in Kathmandu. Unfortunately, the helicopters in Kathmandu usually operate on a full schedule for the day. So at the time of my request, the earliest available flight was the following morning. I remembered that entire night I could not sleep. I was very worried that the girl might not be able to last till the next day.

Sadly, my worst fear came true as it was too late for her. She passed away when the helicopter arrived at the village. This was a very regretful incident for me as I could not save the girl. Had there been a basic healthcare facility in the village, the girl would be able to get the necessary medical attention in time.

Currently, the primary focus of Samagaun Development Foundation is to construct a clinic and complete the next phase of work for the Sama Boarding School. These include furnishing the classrooms with tables and chairs, putting in mattresses, blankets, pillows for the dormitory and adding more new classrooms for higher grade students.

As for my future plans for the organization, I hope that it can work hand-in-hand with the villagers to implement relevant and sustainable projects in healthcare, education, cultural preservation and income generation for the villagers of Sama Gaun.

Women's Society

Another of our initiative to empower the local community, we turn our attention to the women. We believe that empowering the women in the community is one of the most effective agents for a real change in community development.
Therefore, to make it happen, we have invited 9 married women, from between the age of 28 to 50 years old, to be in our Women’s Society. These women come from different backgrounds – some are in good marital relationships while some have various problems with their husbands. Because of the formation of this group, the women can support one another, and even come together to provide support for other women in similar situations of ‘problematic’ husbands. Unfortunately, some of the men in the village are addicted to gambling or alcohol, and these creates many problems to the family and marital life. Therefore, this society’s objective is to be a self-help group to the local community, especially for women.

Besides providing counselling, there are other things the women will do as well – they will also take charge in organizing the regular clean-ups in the village, promoting the benefits of vaccination to the mothers and giving talks on various topics to the other women. Regular trainings are given to these women in the society, in the area of environmental protection, hygiene and health. This will better equip them with the knowledge, which they will in turn pass on to the community. It is our wish that this model of self-help group will eventually expand and spread to the other regions, to the whole of Nubri. So let’s wish these ladies all the best!
Top: A woman sharing her knowledge on basic healthcare to other women.

Monthly Talks at Pema Choling

While the development of healthcare and education infrastructure is essential for the physical health, material wealth and future prospects of the people, the cultural and religious preservation is vital for their mental and spiritual well-being. Therefore, since November 2011, Lama Ula Jigme, who is the chief lama for Sama Gaun and chairman for SDF, had been conducting monthly talks on basic Buddhism at Pema Choling (the village’s monastery).

Welcome our Construction Committee!

The construction of a new, bigger clinic may have been slow, but it definitely is underway.
A construction committee, consisting of local villagers, has been formed. They will be the ones who will make the arrangement in all aspects of the task, from collection and purchase of wood and stones (which are located far from the village) to performing and overseeing the entire construction. This is our strategy to involve the local community in development and giving them an opportunity of income generation. We do not believe in simply providing handouts. We do not want the people to develop a mindset that everything will be provided for free. We want to empower them to take charge of their life and take responsibility in the development of their own community. Currently, the committee is still in the phase of material collection of wood and stones. The actual building work will commence once sufficient materials are gathered.

While we eagerly wait for the new clinic, which will have facilities for both Tibetan and Western medicine, to be completed, the smaller existing clinic for the estern medicine section, managed by our two capable nurses, will temporarily serve its function.

Topmost: The two nurses (in white and blue) for Sama Gaun.
Top: Medical record of the patients.