The dying villages of rural Nepal
By Anne Johnston.
Man Bhuja Gurung is 99-years-old. She has seen her Nepalese village of Chiruwa change over the course of almost a century.
The village is her birthplace, and also where she has raised five generations.
But these days, it is only her, her 70-year-old son and his 63-year-old wife still living in the village home.
All her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren have either moved to the cities or travelled overseas to find work.
It has become common occurrence in many houses in this village, with the population of Chiruwa mostly aged under 18 or more than 50. The young, bright and fit are leaving in great numbers.
Every day, 1500-2000 young people leave Nepal to other countries looking for work, according to Nepal’s Department of Foreign Employment. They sometimes leave their houses and land abandoned.
The majority of these migrants find work in the construction and domestic industries of the Arab Gulf states.
Manoj Lamichhane, a teacher at Sheree Arniko Secondary, Chiruwa’s local high school, said that he has seen a decline with class sizes dropping by half in the past four years.
“As soon as the students finish their schooling here or higher education here they go off to college or university in the city and after that they settle there or they go abroad for more money,” Mr Manoj said.
“According to the current situation, we think villages will be empty within 10 years.”
Cities, on the other hand, are growing rapidly. Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal, has had a population boom of 235,000 people to more than one million over the past 30 years.
While the cities provide more job opportunities, the rising cost of living could soon force people back into the villages.
Nikki Chhetri, one of the founders of a female empowerment organisation called 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking, based in Pokhara, said that she has already seen this happening.
“They have to leave their family and their village but they never know what there will be. Even to go there they have to invest money. They have to mortgage so sometimes if they get disabled or they die and sometimes they have to return without a job and the whole family collapses.”
Sita Maya Rai, one of the women helped and employed by 3 Sisters, moved from her village to work in Pokhara city. But now she is worried by the rising cost of living that comes with city life.
“It’s getting more and more expensive. When we were here we bought rice around 25-30 rupee now we have to buy the same rice 70 rupee in just 10 years.”
The Nepali government’s 2016-2017 budget places agriculture in villages as a top financial priority. The farming health of villages is a bedrock for life in Nepal.[Feature photo of 99-year-old Man Bhuja Gurung and her son by Anne Johnston].