I also spoke with Shankar Thapa, the chair of the Human Rights and Environment Development Center in Udayapur, which is World Neighbors’ partner organization in the district. (By law, all international nongovernmental organizations must work through Nepali ones.) He said he likes World Neighbors’ emphasis on teaching skills rather than simply giving money. “Beneficiaries become very active because they are doing the main work,” he said. “If they want to progress they have to do it.”
Though bamboo covers much of Nepal, the Nepalese don’t know everything about it. As in the United States, where agriculture extension arms of universities help farmers, so it is that villagers can learn some useful tricks from experts within and sometimes outside Nepal.
The Bamboo’s Secret, a U.S.-based charity, has a school in the Chapakot municipality of central Nepal that teaches widowed and divorced women salable crafts that use bamboo. It has its own bamboo nursery on the premises.
Habitat for Humanity is teaching Nepalese women to build bamboo houses, a job that was once reserved for men, and make bamboo handicrafts. “Before, we didn’t weave these trays. We didn’t even have the knowledge to weave bamboo,” a woman named Maya Sunuwar says in a Habitat for Humanity Great Britain video.
There are as many as 1,600 species of bamboo, some more commercially useful than others. For example, Arundinaria bamboo is rare, grows in soil above 2,900 meters, is browsed by yak and other wild animals and is made into arrows, brushes and straws, according to a detailed table made by Keshab Shrestha, a former professor at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu.
And as any agriculture extension agent would tell you, there is a right and a wrong way to do everything on a farm. “The bamboo needs to be harvested in the dry season, preferably at new moon (first quarter), and the leaves left on for a few days (until they turn yellow) to allow them to extract the moisture from the stems,” says a set of instructions made by Sjoerd Nienhuys, an architectural engineer based in the Netherlands.
There’s a lot more to Nepal than bamboo, of course, and many national and international nongovernmental organizations are working on other pressing matters, from other kinds of agriculture to reproductive health and education. But for many Nepalese, turning bamboo into money can be a step toward financial independence.