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In Nepali Village No Money? Beat 'em and Chase Them Away...

July 17, 2009
Braving monsoon rain, slippery muddy road, we went to Bulaki Chaur yesterday. It had been a while since we had actually visited the village. Min Bahadur dai, a villager, had sought our help with local school, which only has class upto 2nd grade. He and several other villagers had told us that the teacher at the school never shows up. So, the children don’t get education.

We had found teacher’s, who lives in the city, phone number from District Education office, contacted the teacher. And, we requested that we go up to village together. Teachers agreed, with some reservations.

We had never been to the village during monsoon. On slipper muddy road with Shafia, my friend from Madison, riding on her first real bike ride as an adult, we left for two hours of bike ride and almost an hour of hike. Rain had slipped some parts of the trail to the village, at times, making it more narrower than I had seen in the past. Most of the green hills were covered in clouds, cloaking everything. Half way into our trek, downpour began. We took shelter at a house nearby. When the rain stopped, after almost half an hour, and the clouds cleared, beautiful green hills emerged, more greener than I have ever seen, beautiful …splendid. In the distance between the rising clouds villages emerged. We continued to Bulaki Chaur.

After our shramadana back in February, I was often asked, whether the trail we constructed would survive the monsoon. I approached the village worrying whether it did survive. I was relieved to see our sweat had not gone in vain. Trail remained intact and I walked into the village much more comfortably than I had ever done in the past.

We had arrived late in the village, so Min Bahadur dai asked whether we would walk all the way to the top of the village and walk down, getting to each house and asking people to come for the meeting.

Meeting began with us as a mediator, the teacher and villagers sitting in a circle. Villagers complained that teachers don’t come every day and the children aren’t learning. The teacher said that the students never show up to class. Why should he come all the way from the city if no student shows up? Villagers challenged if he came everyday, children would come. Teacher mentioned that the children don’t even have enough to eat and come to school hungry. So, no one is interested in learning.

After hours of discussion it became a chicken and egg issue, with the teacher saying that no one comes to the school and the villagers insisting that if teacher came to the school everything would be alright. They would often agree that not every parent in the village was keen on sending their children to the school. In government run schools, teachers are appointed by the Education Department and there is very little that either the villagers themselves or we could do.

At points, they would come to discussions about what Sarvodaya might do. Will Sarvodaya feed children so no one goes to school hungry? Will Sarvodaya pay to hire another teacher? That’s the solution the teacher would continue to point to the villagers and villagers would often agree with him. Expecting us pay for one or the other thing.

We continued to insist on finding more sustainable solutions. I would ask if there really was a problem of hunger ? Were there people in the village who couldn’t really afford feed the children? Would villagers contribute, if infact we needed to hire another teacher? And, I would also point out that Sarvodaya doesn’t have money nor were we there to provide meal or teacher’s salary without really feeling the need.

My personal position was that the teacher who would only come to school 3 days (of 6 working days) and still take full teacher’s salary and the lack of motivation in parents part to send their children to school or use some of their limited rights to make sure that teacher came to school (most adults have very limited or no education, so they are easily manipulated) were the main problem.

When we continued to insist that we had no money that Min Bahadur dai began:
He said, “We have been told by a person at another NGO, which is active in the village, that how can there be an organization with no money? It sounds fishy.” Min Bahadur continued, “people who are asking you to do shramadana but give nothing must be beaten up and chased away from the village. They must be crooks, who will take picture of your work and rack billions of rupees for their personal benefit.”

Unfortunately, NGOs have gotten pretty bad rapport in Nepal. There are organizations, and many of them, which are solely been establish to enrich the founders. However, I felt that I just needed to be straight and I flatly said, “if you really think that’s what we are doing or believe that our presence is not needed, please feel free to say so. We will never come back.”

After trying and not really finding a common ground between the villagers and the teacher, we decided that we will meet again to consider our options when the school reopens after summer vacation in 3 weeks.

It was getting late and we still had a treacherous walk and rough ride home.
Back on the trail, I wondered whether what we are trying to do with Sarvodaya, without being project driven and volunteering our time and spending personal money will ever find its own ways in Nepal.
Photos here: http://picasaweb.google.com/skhanal/Monsson_BulakiChaur#
Shramadana Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38Fd1g2PXLE

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