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Seeking Discernment

One of the central characteristics of our work is the role of discernment in our decision making process. As a part of our work after the April 2015 earthquakes in Nepal, we have a real-time account of this process. We would like to share this process with you as an illustration of the care and work that goes into spending every dollar you may wish to share with us. This is a raw and unedited account but we feel it tells our story well. 

From: Subhash Kattel
Subject: discernment for solar panel set
Date: July 29, 2015 at 5:35:06 AM EDT


I need your discernment to spend about US$150 for a solar panel set to be provided to a women’s group in Lapilang Village. Pabi Maya Thami- the coordinator of the group will take care of the solar and will be used for two purpose:

1. To light a bulb in Pabi Maya’s temporary shelter; they are living almost in dark at night.

When I visited their shelter and spent two nights in there, they were using low quality Chinese torch light at night. Pabi Maya and her husband Tirtha are also spending time to take care people in community. But they are also in serious distress as they lost their newly built house and are in debt.  Me, Pabi Maya and Tirtha spent few hours together sharing their sadness, frustration and darkness they see ahead of them. They were lost about what to do. We mostly discussed what could be the best possible road-map for their life for sometime. How to rebuild their hope and settlement? We had a very personal sharing. They have a 4 years daughter and Pabi Maya’s mother living in a tiny temporary shelter. At the end of sharing, Mr. Tirtha said- ‘I am so light and feel relieved now after talking with you, I have received some very helpful advice from you which I even had not received from my parents.’

2. The solar will mainly used to recharge mobile sets in the community. There is another such a facility in the village but the owner is charging at least 40 Rupees (40 cents US) per mobile set for full recharge; which is very expensive. With a new solar set, Pabi Maya and her women’s group will charge 10 Rupees (10 cents US) for proving mobile recharge facility to the villagers. And, the collected money will go to their women’s group fund. Possibly, at some point they will be able to collect the cost of solar panel set in their group. The solar set we are thinking about will be enough to recharge about 4 mobile sets a day.

your input, please

in friendship



On 29 Jul 2015, at 8:58 pm, Nadine wrote:

Dear Subhash,

Thank you for the news. Clearly a wonderful plan.

Especially expenditures under +US$400, if well-discerned there, given a night to sleep on it and clearly needed immediately, you should feel free to just make the decision on your own. We will not have a lot to add from our distance from the work. We need detailed news and photos and might give you some feedback retrospectively for future decisions, but under these conditions, I hope you know you have some latitude to act when that is appropriate.

Thanks for the news,



On Jul 29, 2015, at 11:53 AM, Vidya wrote:

Hi Nadine
I didn’t know how to reply to this suggestion.
Clearly the family would benefit from light at night … but so would a vast number of families in small rural villages across the country.
How do we choose who we help a bit more?


On Thu, Jul 30, 2015 at 2:20 AM, Nadine wrote:
Dear Vidya,

Thank you for your question for discernment. I responded positively to Subhash because I do believe he has some latitude to make decisions locally. Also, although you’re correct there are many, many people in need, not all those people help others, as he noted they did, or connect with someone like Subhash, etc…

Which means one or both of two things:
Relief helps individuals regardless of if you can ‘get to them all’, we help as many as we can. If all it does is help one family, that’s what we do. That’s what many of the donors gave their funds for.
This family has some developmental strengths that may make them successful at a small, local cooperative or at supporting other poor local people. Helping them get one step up then helps them help more people, reinforcing and respecting the local capacity to struggle.

His email did read a bit as if Subhash’s heart strings were being being pulled, which can lead to poor decision-making especially when combined with physical and compassion fatigue, which is why I encouraged giving ‘a night to sleep on it’. On the other hand, our educated desire or preference for leverage is actually beyond the scope of relief and often an artifact of our privilege that fails as frequently as heart-strings do, so not necessarily a better gauge or justification.

The other factors mentioned above do set this family apart from others, if only in small, tenuous ways. It’s not that I feel they’re worth a risk, like just helping them, if only temporarily is not enough; it is. But my experience is that we are like Johnny Appleseed, who just went around pouring out seeds—some seeds took, some seeds didn’t but everywhere he passed by apples flourished! We can be somewhat discriminating, but don’t want to hold to discrimination too rigidly.

It is an extremely good question to ask — Can the local discernment group briefly describe how you choose who to help? I’d appreciate a reflection on this in the 90-day summary, so I’m copying Subhash and the discernment group into this email.

It’s a perennial question to hold ourselves to reflecting on and articulating. I have done so and continue to do so for Indonesia. Doing so regularly greatly shapes our work.

Thanks for your persistent good reflection,


On Aug 1, 2015, at 10:54 AM, Vidya wrote:

Dear Everyone

Thank you Nadine for your perspective on who gets relief.

I’ve had a chance to discuss the solar panel with Subhash and hear of improvements in his plan, and I am now at ease with the purchase.

Subhash tells me that he has sourced a solar panel with a higher output so that it can re-charge 8 mobile phones at the same time. He says it will be located in a part of the village with only about 200 families. My sense is that the increased output will make the solar panel a far more useful community asset, with a higher proportion of the people nearby able to share in its benefits. At the modest cost of 10 rupees per recharge, it has the potential to be a source of income for the village women’s group giving them an opportunity to discern how to use the funds.



On Wed, 5 Aug 2015 08:51:37 +0000, subhash kattel  wrote:

Namaste Friends Peace Team discerners

The situation in Lapilang village is more complex than we first thought and we are now seeking your discernment for about US $43,000 for at least 751 bundles of good quality corrugated metal roofing and the cost of transport to the village (est US$72+$3 per bundle) plus transporting another 200 donated bundles (est US$600). This would mean, in addition to the $25,000 already held in Nepal, transferring about US $18,000 extra.

Explaining the situation in the Lapilang village is a story of good intentions creating inequities and conflicts.

It also helps if you understand that one bundle of metal roofing covers a medium size room with 5 narrow beds placed very close to each other. This is enough for immediate shelter for a family of 5-7 for a few weeks. Families often include grandparents, school students and babies. For more normal life to resume, every family needs another roofing bundle to cover a kitchen and living area.

Lapilang village had about 1450 houses in clusters. Almost every home collapsed in the earthquake.

The NGO Educate the Children (ETC) were the first to provide roofing for some families. Poor quality metal roofing was easier to get quickly after the quake. Concerned for the marginalized people, they gave one bundle each to 551 families that are Dalit (so called untouchable) and Indigenous.

Understandably, providing roofing for some clusters of families and not others led to conflict in the village.

The conflict in the village led to the government holding back on providing the standard relief payment of 15,000 rupees (about US$150) to each and every family that had lost a home.

Namsaling Community Development Centre (NCDC), an organisation based in east Nepal, recently managed to source good quality metal roofing. They raised the funds for about 1800 bundles and delivered these in the last few days giving two bundles each to 900 families.

This is exactly what those 900 families needed. The roofing is strong enough to be put on a temporary shelter and later taken off and put on the first part of their rebuilt house where it will last 15-20 years.

When they delivered the bundles, NCDC discovered there are still 200 or so families needing roofing. These are families no longer living with the owner of the collapsed home counted by the government. Some of these people would have been extended family from large houses who prefer to have a separate kitchen from the official home owner.

Understandably, providing two bundles of good quality roofing to some clusters of families, while the marginalized communities have only one bundle of poor quality roofing, and about 200 families still have none has not helped the conflict in the village.

Child Welfare Nepal (CWN) has offered to pay for 200 bundles of roofing for the “uncounted” families, as long as Subhash arranges and pays for delivery (about US$600)

So we are asking for discernment on US$42,000 or so for purchase and delivery of over 751 bundles of good quality corrugated metal roofing plus US$600 for delivery of the CWN 200 bundles. This will mean the 551 Dalit and Indigenous families and the 200 or so “uncounted” families will get a second bundle to cover a kitchen-living area so they can get on with their lives.

If Friend Peace Teams can provide the second bundle of roofing, the villagers will be able to rebuild their homes. They will harvest materials from the collapsed houses, source local materials and use local labour to build roof beams, walls, doors, windows, earthen ovens and shelters for their animals and gradually rebuild their lives.

Over time, we hope that more FPT volunteers will be able to visit and make friends with the people on the village. There might be opportunities to do AVP and build conflict resolution skills.

in friendship
Nepal discernment group- Subhash, Vidya, Judith, Tshering
(includes consultation from Secretary of Lapilang Village Development Committee, local school teachers, ETC representative, NCDC representative)


On 12 Aug 2015, at 6:49 pm, Nadine wrote:

Dear Subhash, Vidya, Judith and Tshering,

I trust your discernment on this matter. The donors wished to help individual families who would otherwise might be forgotten and your plan does so.

I also trust your caution in carrying this out. Direct, personal attention protects the best: to the quality of the product, the actual transportation and delivery, who receives the roofing, etc. For your consideration, I will share the problems I have seen in the past. Some people may:
• Get support from multiple sources and end up with three houses or sell the products.
• Get houses who didn’t have them before the disaster and don’t keep them up or stay.
• Get less than reported and pocket the difference (especially when there’s volume).
• Don’t get the other supplies they need to build the house, so the roofing just sits and rusts.
We are grateful for the opportunity to share, but also understand that sharing is not as easy as it appears, and can quickly erode confidence, respect and integrity when done poorly. So the manner in which the sharing occurs is as critical as what is shared.

You might want to consider how to document not only your part and our part, but their part in a collaborative success.

Also, I am a bit behind, but I have not seen any description of how you are supporting yourself from these funds. Did you send that before and I miss it? As I noted before, I would not like to see you or your family depleted through this time.

Finally, transferring an additional US$18,000 would leave the approximately US$7,000 you wanted for long-term recovery through workshops and training. Please send a clear “Request of Disbursement” that includes exactly how much should be transferred, to exactly what account, for exactly what purpose.

Please specify if all remaining Nepal Relief Funds should be transferred to Nepal for on-going training in disaster areas. That would put the remaining funds in Nepal and complete the work of the Discernment Group. Subhash and John would then be responsible for final reporting of expenditures and accomplishments.



On 14 Aug 2015, at 10:52 am, subhash kattel  wrote:

Namaste Vidya and friends,

I think Nadine’s points are very clear and we should make sure that we will not be adding to the conflict as much as possible bearing on mind that we may not be able to make everyone happy at the end at it is possible in this kind of situations.

We will have to work with local higher secondary school teachers, Secretary of Village Development Committee, representative of ETC Nepal and NCDC.

Steps we can follow:
1. We will ask again for the exact data from school teachers, and village secretary about who has got nothing and who has got one bundle in the village.
2. ETC- an NGO which has distributed one bundle for few hundred families in the village- has record of those families who have received one bundle.
3. We can find out by asking our local contacts if the families in the village have received any further support for housing.
4. The corrugated sheets we will provide will be used for temporary roofing of the temporary shelter. Later on, that will be used for permanent housing to the respective families. We will be in contact and followup what happens with their permanent housing for which the government is responsible and working towards.
5. To manage the distribution process, we will ask our local collaborators to provide coupon for the families who will be receiving corrugated sheets from us. All those families will come together to collect the corrugated sheets at one place.
6. We will have bills/receipts for major expenses and we will travel to the village at the time of distribution. So there is less chance of pocketing the difference.

So, from my perspective, we do not need to discuss this with Nadine further. But, we must be careful to the points Nadine has made.

Vidya, if you feel like talking with Nadine, please do so.

in friendship