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MATT IRVING

Wearing bee suits and covered in static rope, Renan Ozturk (left) and Ben Ayers ’99 prepare to descend a cliff in Nepal’s Hongu River Valley to film Mauli Dhan Rai as he harvests valuable hallucinogenic honey.

Foundation, whose focus on long-term, communitydriven development — including education, sanitation projects, and infrastructure — has made the nonprofit one of the most effective in Nepal. The approach is to “trust the people who need help,” says Ayers, who first came to Nepal for a studyabroad trip and has lived there for most of his working life. “We’ve created different systems of helping people overcome poverty through their own intelligence and through their own methodology.” When Ayers first visited Saddi, the Hongu River Valley village where Rai lived, it was a week away from the nearest road. Mad honey, known for its hallucinogenic properties, was an important source of income for Rai. Though Rai went on honey hunts with a team of helpers, only he had permission to do the actual harvesting — it was granted to him as a teenager by the forest spirit Rangkemi, who came to him in a dream. Ayers first floated the idea of making a film to Rai years ago, but “he didn’t think I could do it,” Ayers says. “He didn’t think we could get ropes up there, that we were weak.” The people in the village, meanwhile, were afraid of disturbing the spirits in the forest. But whenever Ayers returned to Saddi to check on dZi’s projects, “I’d meet him and talk to him again.” They became friends.

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Ayers’ frequent returns to Saddi reflect how dZi does business. The foundation usually starts out with one project — sanitary toilets, a school building — and “solving” one problem tends to reveal many more. And one project cascades into others. For example: “We do a lot of sanitation programs, building toilets,” Ayers said. “We’ve also pioneered a lot of this technology called ecosan, which is when the toilets recycle urine. You separate the urine out, and that acts as an organic fertilizer. Super cool. “Then we have all this fertilizer, and now the communities are interested in agriculture. Agriculture leads to cash-crop farming, and cash-crop farming leads to the need to have savings and loan cooperatives. “For us, by spending 10 years partnering with communities, you start to do these figure-eights, with one project morphing into another.” That, Ayers said, is how you make a sustainable difference in rural communities while empowering the communities themselves. And for Ayers, those repeated visits to Saddi gave him time to persuade a hunter of hallucinogenic honey to approve a documentary film. By 2017, Rai and the villagers had warmed to the idea of a film, and The Last Honey Hunter was a go.

Profile for Bates College

Bates Magazine, Fall 2018  

The issue's cover story looks at Bates alumni and their cool Antarctic doings. The photo, by Billy Collins ’14, shows an equipment operator...

Bates Magazine, Fall 2018  

The issue's cover story looks at Bates alumni and their cool Antarctic doings. The photo, by Billy Collins ’14, shows an equipment operator...