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Impressions of MS and Nepal
One intensive week visiting a selection of partners from MS Nepal. Writing daily blogs and articles for a Danish paper. Mette Vibe Utzon had a hectic but interesting time in Nepal.
Mette watches forum theatre i Ratnapark - Kathmandu Photo: Nikolaj Kilsmark
Day 1 – City of happiness
After passing customs and quit jetlagged I have landed in ‘the City of Happiness’ – Kathmandu. A major part of MS’ work is about helping the Nepalese to help themselves and there are much justification that self help is needed on the long journey to justice for the individual and democracy for all. Now I am trying to assist MS by going to out to see the projects of MS around the country and write home about them.
To buy a goat for someone seems like an easy way to give development aid. But how do you give democracy? This is a thing I hope to find out during the coming week.
Burning tires in Bairahawa Photo: Nikolaj Kilsmark
Day 2 – Burning tires and a Banda
We have landed in the city of Bhairahawa, in maoist country. The Nepalese are possibly the only people in the world who have not discovered that Mao is not super cool anymore. Therefore a group of rebels calling themselves maoist have for ten years fought against the government army, for the rights of the poor and oppressed. The fact that they have also dragged along some poor young men involuntarily, that they have burned down schools and treated local people very badly, means that the sympathy they had for their case among locals has to large extent been lost.
But especially in the first years the maoist war attracted many youngsters from the mid and far western Nepal, the mountain people from the isolated areas of Nepal that no one else, not even the king, had ever shown any interest in. It was easy to recruit young men who did not have much else to do and also women, as the maoist to some extent would give room to their voices also.
Here in the lowland of Nepal unrest is just under the surface, due to the maoists though they have layed down weapons and agreed to a peace treaty last year in November, but who are still behind violent attacks, but also because the relatively well of people in the area are tired of not being heard or taken serious in Kathmandu.
As we go to pick up the car that is going to take us from the low land to the mountains. Noise from an intersection and the unmistakable smell and black smoke from burning care tires meet us. A large group of men a marching and yelling. Several start running towards our taxi to make us stop.
Insecurity is spreading in our car especially to our Nepalese representative Renuka. She has visited this town many towns and has been stuck for days before due to the countless bandas, strikes that stuns all traffic. Our driver turns the car around and takes another route. But the curiosity of the photographer wins and we return to find out what the protests are about. A group of business men have been abducted and beaten up by the maoist youth league YCL, who still uses violence as a political weapon. The men have been released, and are now protesting to point out that they cannot walk safely on the streets.
Mette is welcomed by SRDC's eastern area commitee Photo: Nikolaj Kilsmark
Day 3, visiting SRDCs eastern area committee
“If you could yell loud enough to be heard across the mountains in the parliament in Kathmandu, what would be the most important issue to convey to the people in power here in Nepal?”, I am asking the crowd of villagers dressed in saris who are gathered around me outside the community building on a mountain slope in the eastern part of Palpa.
”I would ask them why there are no Kumals in parliament? We are poor, therefore no one listens to us, and we always have to obey the Brahmins (high casts)” a young woman in a red sari replies.
People around her are nodding. They have all showed up because of this meeting in the local group that MS and its local partner SRDC has trained the villagers to form, in order to increase their influence on the decisions made in their area.
We crossed the river on a narrow bridge to come here. From here we walked along steep trails up hill along ginger fields, banana trees and bamboo as thick as a sailors arm. The minority group Kumal live here.
The chairperson of the groups have been on a democracy course and the results are already visible. Higher wages for women, the right to use the local forest, 40 toilets have come from money given to the local society from the central government which previously never reached the Kumal community. ”Before we didn’t know what a meeting was. Now we have learned to demand our rights”, the area committee chairperson says as we say good bye.
Day 4 – Radio Madan Pokhara
In the mountains of Nepal, in the beautiful Palpa region little cheap radios are broadcasting from the windows of old and poor houses. Many are tuned in to FM 106,9 mhz – Radio Madan Pokhara. Poor Nepalese, the farmers and the women are listening to the voice of the radio station who speaks of their lives interrupted by folk music, English teaching and debate programmes, where politicians and local citizens discuss, what to do to get the democratic elections that is going to pave the way for a new beginning for the Nepalese people.
Radio Madan Pokhara is the bare foot radio for 1 million listeners. The station manager Gunakar Aryal and I climb up a worn out ladder to the top of the building. In the distance we can see the new transmitter, that shines in the sun on a hill top with the snow covered Himalayas in the back ground
The transmitter that MS has recently donated give more listeners the possibility to hear the programmes og the station. 17 hours a day on non-commercial radio. “Everything that our listeners hear should affect them positively, advertisements for Peps and junk food doesn’t”, says Gunakar Aryal.
Public hearings, 152 listeners clubs and thematic groups around the region ascertains that the voices of minorities are also heard. The focus point is the life of the poor, the topics are everything from female suppression and poverty alleviation to superstition.
A roof top discussion Photo: Nikolaj Kilsmark
Day 5 – a public hearing
We are attending a public hearing. The setting is a hill top and local men and women are participating along with guests like local state administrators, headmasters, doctors and others with power and responsibility.
A man with a loud speaker explains the rules: “Don’t speak to long and apologize if you have made a mistake, and argue the reasons if you think you did the right thing.
The first question comes from a farmer with the classical nepali topi: “Why do we have to pay for the vet to come when others get this service for free”, he inquires. The local vet gets up and explains that the price depend on the time of the day.
The next question comes from a woman, who complains that a new mother did not receive the 1000 rupees she was eligible to get after giving birth at the local health post
The doctors stands up, he has no explanation but promises to look in to the case.
The hearing goes on for a long time, because the villagers in the palpa district have a lot to say and the hearing on this hill top an exceptional way to be heard.
Public hearing Photo: Nikolaj Kilsmark