The following is an interview with Kavita Thapa our program director in Nepal on 03/19/2021 While wealthy nations continue to grapple with Covid, poorer nations like Nepal continue to struggle with obstacles as big as the Himalaya Mountains that surround them. In a recent interview with our HANDS in Nepal project manager, Kavita Adhikari, she addressed the problems and challenges Nepal has faced since the spread of the Covid pandemic. “The biggest problem is how the virus has disrupted the lives and livelihoods of many of Nepalese people, says Kavita Adhikari. “It has been extremely challenging mainly for the people who are involved in tourism, people who rely on labor work, poor families, children and the health sector. Due to the pandemic, there’s no international tourists thus many people have lost their jobs and businesses.” The Nepal tourism sector has been hit hard by the pandemic, largely due to the decision of the Nepali government promoting the year 2020 as “The Tourism Year.” Before 2020, the government began promoting the upcoming year as “2020 Tourism Year,” “People took out loans and invested to renovate their hotel and restaurants,” said Kavita. We were told to prepare for a “tourism tsunami” that the government would promote world-wide. When Covid invaded many people had to shut down their business permanently because they could not pay back the loans without the tourism dollars. Then there is the effect Covid has had on the daily labor force. Due to the lockdown, everything was closed and people were unable to earn money for food for themselves and their family. "These people are fully dependent on daily labor work to survive,” says Kavita. “They live hand to mouth. We do not have unemployment and stimulus money like rich nations. This has increased food insecurity, as food prices have risen at the same time as unemployment. It has further added stress to so many people,” said Kavita. “There’s been an increase in malnutrition among children and domestic violence. Due to the pandemic, rural schools are closed and unable to open yet.” Then there’s the health sector. “There are more private hospitals than the government run hospitals. Once you are infected from Covid, it is very difficult to find beds in government hospitals. Private hospitals are expensive. Sometimes people have to lose all their property for the treatment.” Unlike the United States, the government of Nepal is not helping the private sector in Nepal. “Government employees are getting salaries even in lockdown,” says Kavita, “but even though people in the private sector are paying taxes, they are getting no help from the government.” Another complication in Nepal is distribution of the vaccine. Kavita says the vaccine is available only to the senior citizens, health workers, teachers and government employees, drivers and political leaders. It differs according to different places and cities. “We still don’t know when the turn will come for people like us who are involved in the tourism sector,” said Kavita, who with her family runs an Eco Lodge that is dependent on international tourists. “People who do hard labor and the poor have no access to vaccines yet.” When asked if people in Nepal have vaccine hesitancy like some in America and Europe do, she emphatically said “No!” “Whoever gets a chance, they are happy to get the vaccine,” She said, “there’s no fear of it or suspicions about it-people are literally dying while waiting for the vaccine, and they see the vaccine as the only hope for Nepal to recover from Covid.” So how can rich countries help countries like Nepal? Kavita feels the food distribution HANDS has set up and helping provide people with PPE is the best way to help Nepal right now, short of being able to provide vaccines for everyone. “I’ve been helping HANDS with food distribution this year, and we have served over 115 families who were doing labor work. These are poor and differently abled people in very remote areas.” One family receives a 30 day package that includes lentils, cooking oil, beaten rice, soybean, salt, soap and masks. “Everyone has been delighted to receive the food package supported by HANDS in Nepal. It helped these people to get food at least for a month, and assisted them to lower their stress when there was no food to eat in the lockdown.” So far, HANDS has been able to send $6,000 to purchase the items for family food relief. In addition to helping distribute food packages provided by HANDS in Nepal, Kavita helps her family run the Eco Lodge. “Our family has opened the lodge with all the safety measures for national and international tourists. We currently have no international tourists, but we have a few domestic tourists at the Eco Lodge. Besides this, our family is more involved in subsistence agriculture as well. We have planted rice, millet and corn.” Even though the family has quarantined in their small village, three family members (Bendidhi, Malati and Bidhan) are suffering from Covid 19. “We are trying our best to cure them at home by feeding them warm and organic food, and with medicinal herbs, because there is no proper treatment in the over-crowded hospitals. Some of our friends, all young people, have lost their lives after they were admitted to the hospital, so we feel home-care is a better alternative.” Kavita said the family has hope things will slowly get better. Nepal is a country of strong people who have had to overcome many obstacles, natural disasters and political turmoil. “We have only hope, so we try to keep a positive mind that we can surmount Covid 19 too. We are truly grateful for organizations like HANDS in Nepal who have stayed by our sides to help the people of Nepal, especially those who are in remote, rural areas that are often over-looked. We hope someday soon tourists will be back to see the beauty in our country and we will be able to greet them with open arms, and many Namastes!"