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Shramadana Without Dana

Sharama is a Sanskrit word for labor
Dana is to donate or to give

“Bhai (brother), why take trouble and bring your students and friends here?” Said Min Bahadur. “Just give us 50,000 rupees and we will perform the work that of 100,00 rupees,” he added.

Min Bahadur lives in Bulaki Chaur where we have been visiting for several months now to organize. The village on the hills that surround Kathmandu valley is inaccessible by transportation. The only trail that reaches to the village needed some work, especially at the point where the village begins.

Last week on our visit, we proposed that we fix the trail through shramadana (gift of labor). Villagers agreed, with some hesitation. Several days earlier they had asked whether Sarvodaya Nepal will provide khaja (snacks or food) for the work? We were non-committal but were planning that we would just go to village and beg for a handful of rice or whatever they would offer so we could cook on the spot.

We had also proposed that we would bring several students from Jyotidaya School and some of our friends. So, we can work together.

We had hoped that our action would motivate villagers to come together.

Shramadana isn’t a new word in Nepalese villages, nor is it novel any more.

All development funding either through non-government organizations or government comes with requirement of “community participation.” This basically means that the idea of shramadana is associated with “major funding”. People believe that shramadana is done if some outsiders provide say 75% of funding, rest is a requirement.

Here, we are telling that we have no money. Only thing we offer is our own labor. It sounds both counterintuitive and ‘unbelievable.’ I wonder if villagers think whether we were pocketing tons of money from ‘foreigners’ and using villagers for shramadana for reports.

People are more suspicious of ‘others’ either outsiders or insiders. The one who talks about shramadana must definitely be hiding some funds, they think.

In some ways it’s sad to see thousands of years of wisdom and practice been reduced to ‘volunteer contribution of labor’ to development projects. Practices that brought communities together for years has now been part of development paradigm that leaves community suspicious of each other and reduces a concept of sharing into exchange of labor for funds.

Through Sarvodaya Nepal, we hope to at least bring a sense of ownership of the age old ideas into community themselves.

For now, Shramadana has been postponed for 10 days. Perhaps, fixing of a trail will revive the core of shramadana.

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