Text: Sujan Tiwari
Photos : Indepth Photography
“Development and ecology must go hand in hand. If we engage in economic activities without regard to ecology, it causes conflict and imbalance, and this is what is happening around the world,” says Krishna Kumar Gurung, Founding President and Director of Kevin Rohan Memorial Eco Foundation. The Foundation works for sustainable social development through eco-friendly practices in areas of agriculture, health, education, empowerment and commerce.
Krishna Kumar Gurung is an expert in ecology, economy and social inclusion and on the path to finding prosperity in sync with environment and social harmony. He has over 20 years of experience working with impoverished communities and is recognised as a leader in sustainable development projects in Nepal. He is also the visiting professor in University of Virginia, University of San Diego and Johnson and Wales University where he teaches Sustainable Community Development and relationship between agriculture and human health.
The Foundation that is now working for the wellbeing of the local community has a tragic background behind its inception. In 2008, Gurung’s son Kevin passed away at the tender age of seven in a mishap. Heartbroken, Gurung and his wife Leela left the country and went to the USA. Prior to that, Gurung was working with an NGO called Shanti Sewa Griha.
While there, Gurung learnt a great deal about ecology and nature, attended green festivals and met many likeminded people. “I wanted to do something that would help the environment and ecology and benefit the community too,” he shares. With this thought, Gurung returned to his ancestral home in Chalnakhel and started the Foundation in 2010. “I have always believed a lot can be done in Nepal. We have immense resources and these can be mobilised in a way that benefits the community, creates jobs and yet does not harm the ecology”.
To begin with, Gurung started a clinic in Chalnakhel where he owned some land. The clinic, providing basic health services for free, was welcomed by the entire community. After that, Gurung went on to establish a school, an organic café, a guest house, biodynamic farming and much more.
The Foundation originally started as a clinic. “I first opened the clinic as the locals of the area had to go to Kathmandu for the most basic treatment,” reminiscences Gurung. Today, it provides basic health care through free checkups and medicines and also refers patients to low cost or free hospitals in Kathmandu.
Gurung then trained the locals in biodynamic farming, a technique that he claims to be better than organic farming and which provides better yield and revitalises the soil. “Biodynamic farming promotes ecological and social sustainability and also focuses on the wellbeing of the community. It is not only a holistic agricultural system, it also creates positive social impact,” says Gurung.
Gurung had received the training from India and the USA. The same technique is practiced in the farms of the Foundation. “We grow tomatoes, seasonal vegetables and fruits and we consume all of the produce in the school and the café. Now we are expanding on agriculture and plan to sell the products too,” he says.
Mahila Shakti is a handicraft workshop led as a local women’s initiative. The workshop first started using locally available soapnut (reetha) to produce handmade soaps. Shiny black seeds were also designed into beautiful jewelry which are now sold at farmer’s markets and other places in Kathmandu. The profits from these sales go to replenishing handicraft supplies as well as supporting other programs of the Foundation.
Many foreign students work as volunteers at the Foundation. They come from universities that Gurung teaches in, and some are random volunteers from around the world. The Foundation runs a guest house and a home-stay for volunteers. The Foundation is growing every year and has welcomed volunteers and students from 47 different countries. 1300 volunteers and interns have been here till date.
The café, the guest house and the school generate revenue that goes into the Foundation itself. There are also a few donors and partners who help Gurung in his works.
According to Gurung, what he has achieved till date is only 10 percent of his plan. “I plan to make this foundation an ecological and sustainable development hub. It will serve as a prototype to many others. I want to start an institute to train people in sustainable practices while financially empowering them. I want to work for meaningful social causes throughout Nepal,” says Gurung.
Gurung was born and raised in Kathmandu and received his higher education from India. He worked as a physiotherapist for many years with Patan Hospital. He did his post-graduation in Anthroposophic Medicine. He has worked for more than 20 years as a leader in sustainable development projects in the country and is a visiting professor at several international universities.
His wife Leela helps him with all his work. She looks after housekeeping, volunteer management and the café. Gurung himself maintains international connections, and the administration is looked after by staff who are members of the community too.
Gurung says that we should understand the local community before making plans for their betterment. “A lot of NGOs and INGOs are working and spending a lot of money and resources, but it hasn’t helped a lot. That is not sustainable. The way we work is by understanding the community, looking for available resources and promoting them. We try to empower the community by utilising local knowledge, skills and money in a proper way, and these result in sustainable community development,” he says.
About his school, Gurung opines that we haven’t been able to provide good education to our children. “There are numerous educational institutes, but none of them are providing holistic education that is useful for the world. Through Ankuran, I am providing a different type of education that supports physical and mental growth of children,” he shares. The school offers Waldorf Education to nearly a hundred local children till grade 3. The school also serves as a kindergarten. According to Gurung, through this education system, children develop into healthy, happy and wholesome human beings, and it also prepares them to meet society with self-confidence, critical thinking skills and a sense of social responsibility. The Foundation is also providing scholarships to the poor and needy. Gurung plans on adding classes every year and turning it into a secondary school soon.
According to Gurung, we all should do what we can for the development of our country rather than blaming politicians for their inefficacies. “Something good can come out of bad too; we should transform our weakness into our strength. My tragedy became my turning point. We should look for positivity even in the face of our greatest tragedy”, says Gurung.