The second in a series of reports on our relief efforts in Nepal (See report 1 here)
Immediately following the news of the first earthquake in Nepal, the Absolute Essential team rallied. Our direct supplier relationships in Nepal with small, essential oil co-operatives gave us a specific focus for concern. How long would it take for these vulnerable, more isolated communities to gain access to aid?
As soon as we announced our campaign and pledged 10% of all online sales to raise funds to be delivered directly to the villages in need, with no administration costs, our generous community responded by adding their own donations to the cause.
In May 2015 working with a trusted partner in Nepal, we were able to deliver emergency supplies to isolated rural areas where Absolute Essential has direct links for artisan essential oils.
Then reports of the second earthquake reached us and we anxiously awaited news of our most recent business partners in Jiri, within the worst hit regions.
Genuine ecological enterprise in rural Nepal
Jiri (on route to Everest base camp) is home to a hand-made paper co-operative that works exclusively with wild, forest-managed lokta bushes. On previous excursions connecting with essential oil producers, I had spent some time investigating the various sources of this traditional paper. I was looking for a grass-roots operation with well-managed, responsible harvesting techniques.
In Jiri I found what I was looking for. As well as being an eco-responsible, pure lokta paper business, it is a local level co-operative that supports some 126 families (around 1300 people), and is about 40% owned by those same families.
The paper is made from high-growing, evergreen lokta bushes that grow wild and abundant in protected forest areas across Nepal.
Using the bark of this plant, the Nepalese developed a high-quality, durable paper (resistant to tearing, humidity, insects and mildew) that can be traced back as far as an ancient Buddhist script, written 1,000 – 2,000 years ago. Today it is still used for birth certificates and other official documentation.
And through national and international investment, the few indigenous families that had kept the paper-making skills alive have become a part of a drive to develop new markets for non-wood forest industries and create employment and stability to the poorer forest communities (especially to local women – who represent about 80% of all lokta related employment at local level).
Coming from a plant-source that remains largely untapped and that is renewable within 5-7 years of harvest, today lokta paper presents a genuine ecological choice.
For all these reasons, it was a perfect fit for Absolute Essential gift and selection boxes.
Generating trade and not just aid - for long term recovery and dignity
Unfortunately, by the time I was to return to Nepal to look at constructive spending of relief funds for more long-term impact, we had learned that that the second earthquake had ended paper production and income for the Jiri community.
Stage two of the relief plan had always been very clear in my mind: to provide support towards creating jobs and enterprise for sustainable recovery. And so, with a small window of opportunity at the end of an intense educational series through Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong and China, I made good my promise to pay my way back to Nepal and to personally oversea the directing of funds to a real, grass roots recovery plan.
‘Trade not Aid’, was the mantra that deepened in significance as I journeyed from Kathmandu and saw for myself the damage that was the new normal for so many people with so few resources.
Filled with trepidation and somewhat overwhelmed by the general sense of instability (continued aftershocks adding to the chaos), I headed for Jiri with every penny of our latest fundraising efforts guarded tightly in the hope of resurrecting the paper business that until recently had been providing sustenance and security to an entire local population.
The next chapter
Was it even realistic to assume that we could make an impact in the face of such damage at such levels of poverty?
Was I even safe here – the only westerner to arrive at what would normally be a busy tourist hub for base-camp hikers?
All I knew for certain was that a lot of people had trusted me with generous donations and my team had worked really hard to fulfill our own 10% pledge.
The only thing to do from here was to stay on the bus, stay focused on the plan, and see how things unfolded.
To be continued next week: A contract in Jiri.
Medicinal-grade Therapeutic Plant Oils must be 100% pure. At Absolute Essential we use certified organic or wild grown (sustainable) plants to produce our oils and all extraction processes are strictly controlled to produce the best quality oil with a maximum purity and therapeutic value. See more at Absolute Essential .