No Mountain Too High
Set over a 20-year period in the hilly region of Nepal, No Mountain Too High tells the story of the Tamang people living in Tawal. It gives them a voice in a development partnership that helped them triumph over social and economic disadvantage, and a devastating earthquake.
In the late 1990s, Lloyd Magalinski was Vice-President of a volunteer-run charity in Brisbane⎯the Nepal Australia Friendship Association (NAFA). On being persuaded by Tawal native, Chandra Tamang, to visit his village, the evolution of a development partnership with NAFA began.
Although a Maoist insurgency then made local travel too dangerous, a peace declaration in 2006 allowed NAFA members, Rod and Deborah Setterlund, to revive the relationship. Using a community-development approach, the education, health, environmental, and economic outcomes were significantly improved over the ensuing years.
Then, on 25 April 2015, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck Nepal, its epicentre just 25 km west of Tawal. In minutes, 78 lives were lost and infrastructure destroyed. The villagers’ determination to survive and rebuild is truly inspirational. A second, market-system focused development framework, guides the economic recovery phase.
If you are a curious traveller, community-development practitioner, have an interest in Nepal, remote village life, or the experiences of communities recovering from disaster, No Mountain Too High will impact, educate and inspire readers.
No Mountain Too High was officially launched in Kathmandu on 9 December.2022. Thirteen villagers, including Bhakta Bahadur Lama, Chairperson of the Ganga Jamuna Rural Municipality, made the full-day trip from Tawal to attend. Bijaya Rajbhandari, in-country adviser to No Mountain Too High and Chandra Tamang, who initiated contact between the villagers and outside donors in 1998, also attended. Raju Shrestha hosted the launch at his beautiful hotel – the Nepali Ghar. It was a very special occasion for all who attended.
The highlight of the night was a heartfelt speech by Mr Kanchha Tamang, made on behalf of all the Tawal area villagers. Kanchha gave an overview of the development partnership with the Nepal Australia Friendship Association and the profound impact this has had on the lives of villagers in the Tawal area. Over fifty books were sold at the launch.
No Mountain Too High Book Endorsements
This beautifully reflective, well-crafted and detailed account takes us into the mountainous terrain of the Tawal area and interweaves stories and voices of hope, hardship, determination and transformation through the processes of community development. In community development, We 'hold our agenda lightly' and as we trek with Rod and Deb along narrow mountain tracks, we see such a soft tread. We see cultural humility, deep connection and commitment to this process in the way Rod gently reminds himself in these pages of who is at the centre of this process and what this journey is.
We travel higher and higher as history and stories unfold in the voices and actions of so many: local community leaders, the villagers, the Hilly Region Development Club (HRDC), Nepal Australian Friendship Association (NAFA) and members of the international donor community. The rocky terrain of donor networks is explored, and we gain insights into how these contributions can be most effective and sustainable.
We see connections form from the inside out through and recognise the 'spiralling' shape that we conceptualise as community development. It is a process that starts from within and stretches, winds and extends outwards and upwards like the mountain tracks - gathering momentum as it moves in a spiralled formation forging partnerships and collectivities and drawing in resources (human and material) as it progresses. In the book we see this process in action. Review and evaluation are in-built elements of this community development 'learning and action' spiral.
'No Mountain Too High’ illuminates community development processes in the face of extraordinary challenges, the forging of robust and active sustained partnerships that galvanise and connect committed people across the globe. The community development framework in the book comes alive effectively in relationships and actions. It is a slow process of learning by sharing, building capacity, doing and joining in the spirit of collectivity and participation broadening to encompass multiple sectors and strategies and the goals of human development, empowerment and sustainability. We see that it is strengths-based and an approach that is wholly practical, needs-based and solution-focused.
From the book's dedication to "all the ‘can do’ villagers this book propels the reader from a 'dream' in the first chapter to building and rebuilding hope, infrastructure, health, education and livelihoods in the aftermath of the Gorkha 2015 earthquake. In the list of contents we can hear the stories and voices of the villagers and Nepalese people who are always at the heart of this process.
In the concluding chapter, this book offers insights into international community development by illuminating critical success factors, complexities and ongoing challenges drawing on the work in Nepal. 'No Mountain Too High' is therefore essential reading for social workers, community development and international development practitioners, aid organisations, politicians, policy makers, administrators, researchers and students in social work and community development, as well as educators and practitioners in related disciplines.
—Dr Debby Lynch, PhD
School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work
University of Queensland
Your gift is your voice: clear, welcoming, and uncomplicated. You've created inviting images and those images are strengthened using narratives from locals like Chandra. Your framing narrative gives life and deeper meaning to your informants' words. It’s a great read! Congratulations on your service and on the publication of No Mountain Too High.
—Richard Kent, Professor Emeritus, University of Maine, author of Writing on the Bus
No Mountain Too High is a fascinating and easy-to-read account of the realities of communities looking to improve their livelihoods, and the commitment of people and organisations helping them to do so. Social development practitioners will appreciate and relate to the narratives around the application of community development frameworks, especially the deep understanding of context, building relationships based on mutual trust, the importance of partnerships and being in there for the long haul.
The honest identification of challenges encountered and expectations on outcomes, and how these are managed, underscore the realities of implementing international development projects from Rod and Deb’s genuine on the ground experiences.
Regional Technical Adviser
Commonwealth Local Government Forum.
Rod Setterlund provides a comprehensive insight into both his own journey in international development in Nepal as well as that of local communities, through the work of the Nepal Australia Friendship Association (NAFA).
No Mountain Too High brings together a range of ideas, centred around the over-arching principle of a community development framework. As communities in Nepal progressed on their development path, so too did Rod, and by extension NAFA. Rod’s frank admissions of the challenges faced by a group of ordinary people in Australia with limited professional experience of international development programs, but a steadfast desire to learn and help those located far away, is also a window to his philosophy of self-improvement.
Education, healthcare, hydroelectricity, buffalo, pigs, chickens, the fall of monarchs, a Maoist insurgency, earthquakes, landslides, and a love affair on a national scale. A fiction writer’s dream, yet this is all too true. For those interested in grass roots community development, either at home or internationally, this a page turner to getting it right. Rod shows how a community can understand its own needs for development, and when the community is placed at the centre of the development process, amazing things can happen.
—Dr Paul Halman
Honorary Research Fellow specialising in international development and humanitarian disasters
University of Queensland
No Mountain Too High is a mini handbook on successful community development. It is a compelling story of the strength of the human spirit and the story is told with compassion and humour. Individual personal experiences are recounted and the character of these people shines through. To the author’s great credit, the book is imbued with honesty and self-reflection.
This book deserves to be read, not only by those interested in community development but by anyone interested in the inequalities in our world and how a small organisation can work in partnership with a community to reduce and overcome these inequalities.
Partners in International Collaborative Community Aid
No Mountain too High is an absorbing story of the outstanding positive difference a small Australian aid organisation is making to the long-term welfare of a Tamang community hidden in a remote area of the Nepal Himalaya.
The story follows a 15+-year timeline of Rod and Deborah’s involvement and throughout celebrates the good times but also acknowledges challenges faced along the way. These challenges include the 7.8 magnitude earthquake in 2015, centred near the main Tamang village, that devasted the community physically and mentally. The initial survival and then rebuilding of infrastructure and livelihoods after the earthquake is an emotionally uplifting outcome driven by determination and compassion.
No Mountain Too High is an inspiration for all. Rod and Deb, with their NAFA members, supporters and donors have proved you can make a difference.
Back Track Adventures
Besides being a heart-warming story of sheer hard work, persistence, and charitable endeavours, No Mountain Too High is a valuable blueprint for any organisation wanting to improve and enrich the lives of people in rural communities. Congratulations.
My first impression was Wow! What a nice-looking book! Great feel in the hands; perfect size; great cover; and the inside pages have clear print and are beautifully set-out on nice paper . . . AND there are photos! What more could you ask for - such an inviting book!!! Then I started reading… it’s a GREAT book!!! I have been absolutely engrossed. I didn’t realise the amount of suffering the people had endured; nor did I realise the devastation of the earthquake in 2015. Your book is an important one, not only in informing the public, but also because your experiences can act as a guide for future community builders all over the world.
I find it remarkable that you must have kept records of every trip with dates, names, quotes and other details which is evident in the book. What you found along the way is the importance of listening to people about what they want, which may be different from what you think they should have. And then it needs the single-mindedness of both of you to pull the projects through. Deb, I commend your efforts to involve the women in many ways. I was witness to a meeting which you had organised in 2011. Well done Rod and Deb.
—Eb Moll - 13 times trekker in Nepal and Tibet, NAFA member of 30 years
I congratulate you both, not only for the extraordinary commitment you have made, and your selfless dedication over the years, but your awesomely dogged determination in pressing on through wide ranging difficulties, conflicts & frustrations. It's testimony to the depth & quality of your relationship that you have been committed, side by side, as you have over the years. From memory, I joined NAFA in late 1995. I look back on the growth of NAFA'S influence and achievements, summarised so well in your book, with total awe!! You are both inspirational & extraordinary human beings Rod & Deb!!.
—Lynne Marsh – long-time NAFA member who returned from a trek in Nepal “wanting so
much to do something, anything, to help the amazing people I'd met there”
“I started to dream. I must change my village and area by educating people there.” These were Chandra’s words, reflecting his commitment to helping his home community in the hilly Tawal area of Nepal, just northwest of Kathmandu. In No Mountain Too High: Village Development in Nepal, Rod Setterlund records how, with the help of devoted volunteers from Brisbane, Australia - the Nepal Australia Friendship Association (NAFA) - Chandra began a twenty-year journey that followed his vision and determination. Nothing would stand in the way of his dream of educating his people so they could have a better life, including the 2015 earthquake that killed thousands and devastated the infrastructure that Chandra and his people had built. Even the 2020 global pandemic, political unrest, and social discrimination would dampen neither his spirit nor his resolve.
Rod Setterlund’s book No Mountain Too High follows Chandra’s dream and the commitment of NAFA and other dedicated volunteers. This is a personal story, one that began on a tourist trek in 1999 when the author first visited Nepal. Part memoir, part travel story, the author leads the reader through his journey of discovery and care, along with many others who dedicated their lives to helping people in this remote area. With in-depth coverage of the plans made and executed, setbacks confronted and new friends encountered with each step of the way, this story will open the hearts of people from around the world to the much-needed work being done in this region. Photographs and snapshot stories add a personal element to the narration. The author is a gifted storyteller and this is an engaging and informative read.
—Emily-Jane Hills Orford, Readers Favorite
No Mountain Too High: Village Development in Nepal by Rod Setterlund is a non-fiction memoir in which the author details the life of himself and his wife Deb, working alongside the residents of a remote Nepalese village called Tawal. The Tamang people had for 300 years sustained life in the village through traditional and cultural rites, growing in the most recent generations by introducing schools and sending some children outside the village for higher education. Later and in partnership with the organization Nepal Australia Friendship Association, better known as NAFA, Setterlund introduces the prior work in the village before his involvement and the focus on clean water and health initiatives. As the Setterlunds begin working themselves in the village, the people and welfare of the village become a lifelong mission in whose development they share, and in turn, has changed their own lives in intangible ways.
I am always extremely cautious in how I approach books written about those who live in third-world countries by those who were raised in the first world, are not of the same ethnicity, and return home after a couple of weeks per year to their cozy lives in first-world comfort. I was born and raised in a third-world country and so No Mountain Too High was a memoir I passed over multiple times. I'm glad I decided to read it because what has transpired in Tawal is incredible. Rod Setterlund is the author and this is a story of the Setterlunds' experiences, but this is really a story of collaboration with the Tamang people and how they are the ones who are doing the heavy lifting within their own village. From a literary standpoint, the writing is clean and straightforward, and I think those with a very specific interest in transformative work in rural Nepal will enjoy it. That said, there is no question in my mind that this memoir will be a treasured piece of family history for generations of Setterlunds to come. Recommended.
—Asher Syed , Readers Favorite
No Mountain Too High: Village Development in Nepal by Rod Setterlund is an inspiring travel memoir that recollects the triumphs and dedication that went into helping a whole community develop over a span of 20 years. In 1999, Setterlund met Chandra while on a trek, and that was the beginning of his love affair with a small village named Tawal on the hilly edge of Kathmandu. The more he visited the area, the more he realized how bad living conditions were in Tawal. Political tension, pressure from the Maoist rebellion and the Nepalese Army, and the lack of clean water were just the tip of the iceberg. Even with AusAID to support the projects, Setterlund had a hard time introducing modern medicine, creating opportunities for the locals, and convincing them to accept development. However, Setterlund and the other people who believed in the project did everything they could to help the little village of Tawal.
It was hard to imagine people living in such conditions. As someone born and raised in a big city, I had only heard of such issues faced by people who lived far away from cities and modern life. Reading this story inspired me. The narrative had a simple, cohesive, and direct approach. Rod Setterlund went right to the point and shared his 20 years of hard work integrating himself into a foreign community to help improve their lives. He showed how hard it was to help Tawal and its people; the last chapter is a handbook for readers who want to make a difference in the world. It reminded me of Three Cups of Tea by David Oliver Relin and Greg Mortenson in the best way possible. I highly recommend this book because it deserves just as many awards, if not more.
— Rabia Tanveer, Readers Favorite
No Mountain Too High by Rod Setterlund is an inspirational story about the Nepal village development program in Tawal, a land occupied by the Tamang people. The Tamang developed with assistance from volunteers like Rod and Deborah Setterlund, the Nepal Australia Friendship Association (NAFA), Chandra, a passionate resident, and many more. The development projects included: schools; health posts; a mini-hydro power station; the introduction of agricultural cooperatives; and improved cooking stoves. Despite the language, religious and cultural barriers between the volunteers and the Tamang, the program succeeded. Unfortunately, the area faced a civil war, social class discrimination, a lack of local government assistance, and an earthquake that destroyed most of their progress. Despite these calamities, the Tamang people were even more determined to continue developing their community.
The story of the Tawal development is heartwarming and an emotional tale of determination and survival. A village in Nepal striving amid affliction and disaster shows the power of togetherness, humanity, and love. Rod Setterlund describes the people of Tawal with so much love and respect. He acknowledges their shortcomings, treats them as equals, listens to their suggestions, and does not impose his desires on them. I loved how the community members discussed every decision and always worked together to achieve their goals. They were considerate of each others' limitations and made room for all those who could not meet the required standards. One example is the decisions community members made to accommodate those who could not afford the electricity connection fees. No Mountain Too High took me on a life-changing adventure to Nepal and made me fall in love with the scenery, culture, food, and the Tamang people. Read this book today, and I promise you will enjoy the journey.
—Luwi Nyakansaila, Readers Favorite
No Mountain Too High by Rod Setterlund is the story of the development of a remote area in Nepal. The hilly area around Tawal is home to villagers belonging to the Tamang ethnic group. Setterlund describes how a small volunteer organization and a determined group of villagers slowly and steadily improved this community. It details how natural disasters, language barriers, a pandemic, and several logistic hurdles were overcome. When they made progress, new problems arose that undid some or most of the achieved work. For example, a massive earthquake and its aftermath destroyed much of the painstakingly built infrastructure. The volunteer team and villagers persevered, rebuilding the area to even higher standards.
No Mountain Too High offers a master class in providing foreign aid. Rod Setterlund and his colleagues made regular and frequent visits to the Tawal region of Nepal to understand the prevailing conditions and to keep track of progress. The informed support provided was gleaned from frequent meetings with the villagers. Setterlund’s writing displays great respect for the opinions and contributions of the people of the Tawal region. Progress brought about by foreign aid was meticulously measured. Every effort improved systems that worked and removed those that didn’t. No Mountain Too High demonstrates a unique blend of kindness, perseverance, and pragmatism necessary to make a real difference in the life of a community.
—Meenakshi Bhatt, Readers Favorite
Hello Rod and Deb, have finished the book and I am truly impressed with all of it. Your accomplishments, your tenacity and your passion and love of this community. The book should serve as a great blueprint for anyone or group that has a goal to assist in making transformative change. You have been able to do this in a systematic way by creating the foundation to build on and use the tools to keep plugging away when things do not go according to plan.
You have included so many personal stories, your frustrations, challenges and accomplishments by giving credit to all around you recognizing you cannot do this alone. Loved your storytelling abilities combined with explaining the process.
'No Mountain Too High' was captivating as it steered through the needs, strategies and fluidity of an adventure that has evolved and changed over the course of 20 plus years to allow meaningful successful community self-actualization to occur. The descriptions of the small and large issues, especially the catastrophic earthquake make it real. At the same time your leadership and engagement that adhered to the basic community development framework was not just admirable but remarkably effective. I admire your commitment and perseverance to make the differences that have occurred. Thanks again for reaching out and sharing this wonderful journey Rod.