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.

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