Israeli volunteers help Nepalese extend life expectancy

Tuesday, August 13, 2013 |  Yossi Aloni  

Dozens of Israeli volunteers, including Israeli Ambassador in Kathmandu Hanan Goder (pictured left), recently visited a remote village in Nepal where inhabitants typically die at a young age and found an original way to instead give them long and healthy lives.

Behind the project is the Israeli humanitarian organization Tevel b'Tzedek (The Earth - In Justice), which every years picks about 100 Israeli and Jewish volunteers from around the world to come to Nepal for educational programs and humanitarian work.

The organization has been operating for the past four years in the impoverished village of Mahda Besi, providing training in the fields of agriculture, women’s empowerment, youth and education, and health and sanitation.

Residents of rural villages in Nepal such as Mahda Besi suffer from low life expectancy, with average life spans as much as 20 years below the Israeli average.

The main reason for this low life expectancy, according to the Israeli volunteers, is the traditional widespread use of local forest trees for cooking. Besides the obvious environmental damage, the smoke created by burning these trees in villages and homes harms both the mothers who are cooking and the children in their care.

But the Jewish mind immediately came up with an original solution for these villagers. Lead by group founder Rabbi Micha Odenheimer, the volunteers installed in several villages dozens of facilities for the production of cooking gas made from...cattle dung. The use of bio gas enables residents to cook without creating pollution harmful to both the environment and themselves.

Another quick fix was the installation of chimneys so that the smoke from cooking does not collect in residential areas. The villagers and the volunteers were surprised that such a simple and cost effective solution could so dramatically improve the quality of life in the village.

When Israeli Ambassador Hanan Goder heard about the operation, he personally joined the volunteers. Godel's primary interests are in agriculture and community projects aimed at examining and improving the means of transportation used by the villagers. A joint Israeli-Nepalese think tank is continuing to develop additional ways to improve life in the villages. For example, through the use of Israeli technology, many villages have already doubled their agricultural output, and are now able to invest the increased income in further bettering their lot.

The local Israeli embassy and MASHAV - the Israeli Foreign Ministry's Agency for International Development Cooperation - have for years worked in close connection with Tevel b'Tzedek in Nepal and other countries. As noted, the organizations hosts 100 Israeli and Jewish volunteers every yeas. Some come to participate in particular projects. Others combine a time of volunteering with a hiking trip to the East, a very popular post-army ritual for most young Israelis.

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