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The Advocacy Project (AP) recruits students to help marginalized communities tell their story and claim their rights.

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Posts tagged Nepal

Nepalgunj: the paradox of success

Chantal Uwizera | Posted July 8th, 2011 | Asia

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The difficulty of regulating child labor in Nepal becomes obvious as one travels across the country. While in Nepalgunj, we were served by a waiter who was probably around the age of 12. He cleaned our tables, cleared away the dirty dishes, brought us water and took our orders, tasks that he performs many times throughout the day and into the night. His piercing eyes seemed to silently condemn us for enjoying the naan that was served to us. I couldn’t help but noticed how many children were working in teashops and restaurants in Nepalgunj. These children were not the ones we saw in the villages, playing and interacting with us. They were not Birendra, Samita, the children who shared with us their homes and their future aspirations of becoming engineers. These children working in Nepalgunj are no more than 14 years old.  Yet, the harsh conditions in which they are compelled to work in have prematurely aged them. I take this moment to contrast what the government has legally pledged to do and what I experienced while in Nepalgunj.

It is worth nothing that BASE and other nongovernment organizations, recognized that one of the leading causes of child labor is poverty and to that end have implemented many programs aimed at boosting the literacy rate and at providing economic development to many at risk communities. Additionally, the government has implemented many laws and amended other rules providing free education, prohibiting the use of child labor and, establishing the minimum age for work and employment.

Children free of child labor, Banke District
Children free of child labor, Banke District

Children free of child labor, Banke District

After a week traveling through the western part of Nepal, in mostly rural areas, I had for one moment forgotten about the pollution, the animals, the traffic, etc.  My scenery was instead replaced by mountains, rice fields, cows, buffalos and of course goats. I became inspired with the development that BASE is doing in the districts I visited. The child friendly village model is definitely working and I was fortunate enough to interact with rescued children and as stated in my previous blog, we collected paintings that will be assembled into a love blanket.  I returned to the city of Nepalgunj, a city with the record for the hottest place in Nepal (reaching above 104 degrees). Close to the Indian border, the city receives many visitors from both India and other Nepal cities, for business and touristic purposes.

Many international organizations (UN) and other NGO’s have their offices located in Nepalgunj. It definitely has a vibrant society, retail shops, restaurants, factories and hotels. If you are in Nepalgunj, you have to try the samosas, the best in Nepal.  There is the constant traffic and it has currently been exacerbated by the raining season which makes it almost impossible for travel. As typical of other Nepalese cities, the presence of the respect of all life that the Buddhist and Hindu religions inculcated in their followers is well and alive in Nepalgunj: all animals, I mean all animals, roam the street untouched. It is amazing to see the very narrow streets being shared by goats, donkeys, cows, dogs, and pedestrians, small and big cars in a somehow organized chaos!

I got a chance to talk to Dilli Raj Dhital, a member of the Nepal Bar Association and an expert on Nepal Human Rights. According to him, there are provisions in the National Constitution (1990 and 2000) and the interim Constitution that all pledge for the advancement of children and the right against exploitation with a specific clause that state that “no minor shall be employed to work in any factory or mine, or be engaged in any other hazardous work.” Additionally, the Nepalese government endorsed many international laws that indicate the government’s commitment to eradicate child labor. One of the international agreements is based on the Convention on the Rights of Child (CRC) ratified by Nepal in 1990. Under Article 32, state members “recognize the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely […] to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.

In 2000, the government even went further by raising the minimum age for hazardous work from 14 to 16 years old.  However, children under the age 14 are still prohibited from working and only those between 14-16 years can engage in light duty work or work that may not hinder their development.  Nepal is also one of the first countries to sign the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention Number 138. As per Article 1, by being a signatory to this convention, Nepal has the duty to “pursue a national policy designed to ensure the effective abolition of child labour and to raise progressively the minimum age for admission to employment or work to a level consistent with the fullest physical and mental development of young persons.

The government legally committed itself to end child labor; however the progress has been delayed with the lack of the implementation of those laws into practice. The very fact that child labor issues are handled by three different ministries:  the ministry of Labor and Transportation, the Ministry of Women and Child and the Ministry of Land and Property should be of concern.

If it is not the lack of available laws, then what needs to happen to save these kids from further exploitation?

The sad reality is that everywhere I went, even where I was staying, I contributed to further exploitation of children. At my hotel, I was served by a boy who was probably 10 years old. He was still working when I went to bed and woke me up in the morning with chiya (tea) at my door step.  With every dollar that I spent in a restaurant in Nepalgunj, I reluctantly accepted the normalcy of employing children. These children, according to the law are prohibited from working. Yet, Nepalgunj, a fast growing city in Nepal, thrives on the exploitation of these children, crippling the next generation. I left the city wondering  about the  factories I passed, and if there are any children working there and what the likely consequence of those chemical exposures can do to their bodies…

Nepalgunj may be a flourishing business center, but at what cost?

Drawing my childhood..( the process of making a love blanket)

Chantal Uwizera | Posted July 4th, 2011 | Asia

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What would my childhood drawings look like? When I was little, my father used to ask me to draw him and his friends. He would beam with pride as he shows off my drawings, which I was told were nothing more than just four lines to make legs and arms and an oval shape for the head! My childhood upbringing was fortunately free of forced labor of any kind and I was left to use my imagination in drawing all sorts of images. I am returning from a week visiting four child friendly villages in Banke and Bardiya districts. The experience brought back good childhood memories although I am sure my attempt at drawing will be as mediocre as it was in the past!

Sunita Chaudary, 16 years old. child laborer at age 12. Rescued by BASE.
Sunita Chaudary, 16 years old. child laborer at age 12. Rescued by BASE.

Sunita Chaudary, 16 years old. child laborer at age 12. Rescued by BASE.

The process of making a love blanket:

A child transferring the image onto the cloth.
A child transferring the image onto the cloth.

A child transferring the image onto the cloth.

The project involves giving each child a piece of cloth with the hope that they would visually depict their lives: whether as a child right now or as a former child laborer. The pieces will be assembled into a blanket: the love blanket. Past fellows have created amazing blankets from Nepal, Congo, Peru and Bosnia. The concept of child friendly villages is a blanket itself, a place where the children are surrounded by love and protection and free to have a normal childhood and attend school. The blanket once wrapped around us gives us a source of comfort and protection. The same concept is used for the love blanket. The purpose of the blanket is to compile the stories of the children, including former child laborers, who all live in these child friendly villages.  The paintings show a certain level of innocence, imagination, hope and fear as they draw not only what they see on a regular basis but also improvise with the use of bright colors (yellow cows, red goats) which make the pieces more interesting.

The children fist practice on a piece of paper and then paint those images on a piece of cloth.  I suspect that this concept of drawing their experiences on a piece of cloth, relying on their imagination is a foreign concept. But the children never shy away from participating and you can see their excitement the moment that the BASE staff translates into Nepali our instructions and the purpose of our visit. The children giggle, laugh at each other’s attempt at drawing a person and copy each other’s concept. The innocence of the children is undeniably the same everywhere and transcends cultural boundaries. I myself used to rely on the school textbooks for inspiration on how to draw a dog or a house. Some children look with a blank face while others chew on their pencils, their mind pacing hoping to eventually land on an inspiration thought enough to translate into a picture.

The thoughts finally come together into pictures on their piece of paper and their mind goes somewhere else, a world they would like to imagine or for the former child laborers a world they would rather forget. Some of the children manage to draw their experiences; others draw obscure and dark images and others imagine trees being blue or yellow.

Birendra Chaudhary, 12 years old. was a child laborer from age 8. until he was rescued last year.
Birendra Chaudhary, 12 years old. was a child laborer from age 8. until he was rescued last year.

Birendra Chaudhary, 12 years old. was a child laborer from age 8. until he was rescued last year.

Ram Prasad Tharu and Berandra Chaudhary copying each other!
Ram Prasad Tharu and Berandra Chaudhary copying each other!

Ram Prasad Tharu and Berandra Chaudhary copying each other!

The most reoccurring images are the Nepali flag, a house, water pumps, things all too familiar to them. As the images start to take form, from a paper to a cloth and added colors, the children’ faces bloom with joy and excitement in anticipation for the final product. The pieces that they produce all tell a different childhood experience. They are all colorful with the popular color being yellow and pink. I am excited to see the final product. My hope is that the blanket will tell the stories of Nepali children, and serve them justice in explaining their daily lives, their struggles, their experiences and most importantly their longing to have a normal childhood.

First week in the field

Chantal Uwizera | Posted June 26th, 2011 | Asia

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A week has passed since I have been in Nepal. I am now in Tulsipur where I will be living for the remainder of my time here. The organization that I am working with is called BASE (Backward Society Education). It is a grassroots people’s movement involving around 200,000 members. It is an organization that is ever growing in order to include other programs, all with the aim of promoting the education to marginalized communities. Their major focus and one of the programs that I will be closely working on is on the issue of spreading awareness and advocating for the ratification of child rights laws, especially in the movement to end child labor.

One of the most stellar attributes of BASE is that they advocate for a community-based approach to development and problem solving. For example, for their movement against child labor, they have recognized Child Friendly Villages (CFV) and BASE works with the families and children in those communities. This Child Friendly Villages model is a tool of changing communities into child laborer free societies by working to eliminate child labour practices and working towards having all the children attend school. It is quite an impressive program and in my opinion a way to empower the communities themselves in effecting change.

There are about 244 child friendly villages located in five districts: Dang, Banke, Bardiya, Kailali, Kanchapur.  BASE is involved in educating the parents about the children’s rights and the need for them to go to school. The model has been successful and in 2010, BASE annual report found that in those child friendly villages, school attendance increased by 64% (the number of children going to school in 2007 was 12,111 and in 2010 it was 22,269). The number of child laborers decreased by 59% in those villages (from 2093 in 2007 to 771 in 2010). One of BASE staff shared with me that in those villages, the communities (families and children) have agreed to all work together in order to end child laborer.

This week, I am joining another AP fellow, Maelanny Purwaningrum as we travel to Bardiya and Banke. The purpose for this visit is to further our work in producing love quilts with the children in those CFV as well a chance to interview some of the former child laborers. BASE is an amazing organization and all the staff have been very welcoming and willing to show us around and to explain to us all the different programs that they are working on. I hope to highlight in future blogs other programs that they are involved in.

The Big Sacrifice in South Asia

Corey Black | Posted June 26th, 2011 | Asia

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Over a dinner of naan and curried vegetables in a small, hole in the wall restaurant in Kathmandu’s Jawalakhel neighbourhood, exiled Bangladeshi journalist William Gomes once told me, “I feel like a prisoner here, in my room, in Nepal… I cannot go home. I don’t have my own money, or anything. I have enough to cover food every day, but that is it. Once my allowance runs out, then what? Then where?”

William and his legion of other exiled South Asian journalists are paying the ultimate sacrifice for being critical, and speaking up for injustice. They are from countries where reporting and researching abuses inflicted by the state can get one imprisoned, tortured, and even killed. They are from regions where those fighting for their countrymen’s rights in burgeoning young democracies are risking their lives, or at least lives as they knew it – forced into perpetual exile from family, friends, colleagues, and country, never to return home. They’re forced to live in countries of foreign customs, language, food, and people.

William, and later Dipal Baruwa, both from Bangladesh, have crossed my path recently. William first arrived at my guesthouse four weeks ago, shipped out of Bangladesh courtesy of the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC). While working with the AHRC as a journalist, documenting cases of human rights abuses and disappearances in Bangladesh, he was picked up by the Bangladeshi military in a black jeep near his home, shuttled to a government prison facility. Stripped, blindfolded, submitted to cold temperatures, drugged, threatened, and verbally abused, a clear warning was made by the Bangladeshi authorities to cease his activities, or else retribution. He was dumped in the same place of his abduction near his home.

(Dipal on the left, William on the right)

Two weeks later, Dipal, a Buddhist monk, arrived in Kathmandu at my guesthouse, courtesy of the AHRC again. His story was similar to William’s – a Bangladeshi human rights activist tortured and threatened by the Bangladeshi authorities, warning him of serious personal harm if his activities continued.

Two weeks ago, William rushed into my room in the morning, “Corey, hurry upstairs, there is an emergency with Dipal.” And there was Dipal, lying beside his bed, not talking or answering to us. He had tried to hang himself during the night, and William had found him just in time, returning from the bathroom.

My colleague Prakash Mohara from the Jagaran Media Center (JMC), who also works with the AHRC, soon came over. We agreed to not leave Dipal alone, and would get him to a hospital. As Prakash and I were downstairs, making coffee and discussing the situation, William joined us to quickly grab a coffee. We rushed upstairs, as Dipal was left alone. He had bolted the door shut, and wouldn’t answer our calls. Three strikes with my shoulder, and the door fell, to Dipal again trying to hang himself. Medical staff soon came, and Dipal received the treatment that he needed. He has since been released, doing much better, and smiling again.

And that is the plight of some of those who are sacrificing their lives for the rights and dignities of their compatriots. Some are suffering the same traumas of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as war veterans – depressed and disturbed by what they have experienced, and traumatized from their terrible treatment inflicted on them by state officials.

In South Asia, independent and critical journalism is a precarious enterprise, with those questioning governments’ official narrative risking persecution and personal safety. Over the past several years, numerous South Asian journalists have disappeared, been killed, or forced into exile – most reporting on national security issues. Most recently, William’s friend Saleem Shahzad was found dead in Pakistan – a journalist researching the Pakistani military’s links to Al Qaeda.

In Karachi, only weeks ago, captured by video and widely circulated on YouTube, a young man was shot and left for dead by the Pakistani military, in broad daylight. Clearly, parts of the state apparatus have different ideas when it comes to meting out justice and valuing life. Reforms towards more respectable democracies have ways to go in some countries, but publicizing these instances of injustice are an important part of the reformation.

William and Dipal want to continue their advocacy work, but are now unsure where they’ll land, to continue their lives. Visa applications to foreign countries are pending, and scholarship applications for postgraduate work have been submitted, and their waiting games continue.

In the meantime, William and his friends in Bangladesh have started a Facebook campaign, “Demand justice for journalist and human rights activist William Gomes” . It now has over 1600 members, and Bangladeshi journalists and law students have been spreading posters throughout the country, and have marched in Dhaka, demanding accountability and transparency for what happened.

It is clear that William and Dipal’s lives are fractured, and their consciences tormented by what happened. They’ve paid the ultimate sacrifice in standing up, and have to begin their lives anew. But I suspect that William and Dipal and his fellow exiled colleagues would not change the past, and would continue on in their fight knowing the risks involved.

I do (not) like Sunday – Mingling with the Children

Maelanny Purwaningrum | Posted June 17th, 2011 | Asia

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I don’t like Sunday. I know this might sound anti-mainstream, but, trust me, it’s not. While in most countries people work from Monday to Friday, in Nepal people work from Sunday to Friday. Yeah, Sunday turned out to be my first day of working days. It always be more difficult to start the routine after a day of hanging-out-doing-nothing. But, last Sunday was different. I finally started my field visit to produce “Love Blanket” with the children.

Last Sunday, I visited nearby villages with two BASE staffs and a local artist. We planned to leave at 4 p.m, around 3 o’clock the sky covered with dark cloud. A sign of heavy rain to come. Then, strong wind came and rain showered. I was a bit worry to continue. But, we did continue after waiting for about 15 minutes. By the time we arrived, the sky was clear, wet green grasses and muddy road left out by the rain. Along the road, I was amazed, the nature rapidly changed. It was no longer arid as I crossed in early May, but fresh and green. The rain is a blessing.

Lalpur road, Dang District.  Photo by: Maelanny P
Lalpur road, Dang District. Photo by: Maelanny P

Lalpur road, Dang District. Photo by: Maelanny P

My first encounter with children turned out to be beyond my expectation. I didn’t expect too high on this first field visit. I understood if children might feel tired after their whole day at school. Then, I was stunned by their enthusiasm and excitement to produce love blanket. Everyone wanted to participate and contribute something, even some youngest children. It was exhausting as well as exciting. I believe, it’s the joy of childhood to see things purely, to try out new things, to do everything in their fun way.

While waiting for the children to gather, I chatted and took some photos. Then, a boy came around, he looked like someone who has just arrived from fields with muddy spots all over his clothes. He peeped on us, then slowly joined us into the room. He was shy. He introduced himself as Onil, but later on he told us his real name as Arjun Chaudary. We asked Arjun to call his friends, he ran out, then I heard he shouted. I guess he was calling his friends. He came along with some friends. BASE local member told me that his father has passed away and his mother works as domestic worker, he has just joined schooling facilitated by BASE. I know he has this unique talent. He didn’t seems to really enjoy drawing or painting as other children did, but he helped us to collect pencils and books from his friends without even asked to do so.

A boy peeping into the room, he is Arjun Chaudary. Photo by: Maelanny P
A boy peeping into the room, he is Arjun Chaudary. Photo by: Maelanny P

A boy peeping into the room, he is Arjun Chaudary. Photo by: Maelanny P

The next day, I visited further village. The car crossed two fair size rivers, passed very bumpy roads, and stopped for several times to let cows, goats, lambs, or pigs cross over. In this village, I was able to meet some rescued kamalaris and produced ‘Love Blanket’ with them. They shared their story as child domestic servants to me. Most of them mentioned that they experienced beating and scolding while working as kamalari and none of them was sent to school.

Girls of Kothari Village, some of them are rescued kamalari. Photo by: Maelanny P
Girls of Kothari Village, some of them are rescued kamalari. Photo by: Maelanny P

Girls of Kothari Village, some of them are rescued kamalari. Photo by: Maelanny P

I saw strength in their innocent eyes. I’m proud of them. I can hardly wait to meet other children and find out more surprise from them. Thank you Arjun, thank you all!

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Last Sunday, 12 June 2011, was also the ‘world day against child labor’. ILO issued a new report on children in hazardous work. The report tells that 115 of 215 million child laborers worldwide engaged in hazardous work. The biggest number is found in Asia & Pacific, followed by sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, Nepal is one of few countries where slavery—a type of ‘worst forms of child labor’—are extensively practiced. Apparently, kamalari is one of them, as thousands of kamalari still exist in western tarai (from various surveys conducted by I/NGOs).

The elephant in the room, screaming for attention: South Asia’s environmental problem

Corey Black | Posted June 15th, 2011 | Asia

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You can see it in Kathmandu’s rivers, clogged of garbage and the occasional carcass. Slum kids play and bathe in these waters, sometimes directly below riverside pastures of buffalo, with their leaching refuse and all. If lucky, you can sometimes read it in the papers and hear it on the radio, with word of increasingly erratic monsoons, flash floods, and breached glacial lakes. You can also see it on these river embankments, where marginalized communities and castes are ghettoized into slums – forced to live at nature’s mercy, borrowed time, and within humanity’s excrement. The Dalits, and other untouchable castes, ghettoized to the margins of Kathmandu’s rivers, where nobody else dares to venture – a guaranteed location of untouchability.

What you can see is the environmental crisis hitting Nepal and South Asia, and the pressures of economic development. Development begets consumption, and consumption begets pollution. As Asia’s population rises, so goes its pollution levels. And with an atmosphere being pumped full of greenhouse gas emissions without restraint by the global community, despite the dire warnings, an unfolding climate crisis is emerging. Social, political, economic, and environmental troubles await, requiring creative thinking by analysts and policy makers of every stripe.

Bagmati Slum
Bagmati Slum

And that is the unfortunate part of articles like David Malone’s recent piece in The Globe and Mail, “India’s and China’s uncomfortable dance.” It neatly summarizes the usual issues of South Asian development, along with the security and political implications of two regional powers located in a volatile region full of nukes. Economic interests bind China and India’s foreign policy, so co-operation will likely emerge, albeit with some degree of competition. A demographic bulge is helping to fuel each country’s growth, which is helping them ease past this global recession. Malone concludes optimistically that, “[t]he continent and the rest of the globe are large enough to accommodate the peaceful rise of both.” Optimism and simplicity are always cherished in political analysis, but they cannot be stuck in a politico-social-economic and ecological environment of yesteryear, uninterested in thinking outside of the “International Relations 101” box. The huge elephant in the room that Malone ignores is the region’s environmental pressures.

A quick 60-second Google search, or any two-minute phone conversation with an expert on the Asian or global environment will throw ones typical political and economic thinking into the dustbin. In Thomas Friedman’s recent piece “The Earth is Full,” he cites how civilisation’s consumption patterns are using the resources of 1.5 Earths, and growing. Most of the Himalyan glaciers that feed Asia’s rivers are melting faster than expected with global warming, and a water crisis in the region appears to be inevitable. The region’s water aquifers are also being drained at unprecedented rates due to growing agricultural and commercial demands, and nobody quite knows how much water is left. Sana, Yemen – that revolutionary hotbed and host to many Islamic extremists – could become the first major city in the world to run out of water, which could happen in the next few years.

A recent report by the Norwegian Refugee Council states that 42 million people were displaced by sudden natural disasters in 2010, 90% of which were climate related. Over the past few years, the onslaught of natural disasters has increased substantially, as has the amount of climate refugees. Most of these refugees are unlikely to return home to their devastated and forever changed geographies, and will place their burdens on whichever country they land. And as for the Arab Spring – it’s widely acknowledged that one of the revolutionary sparks were high food prices, in part caused by climate change.

So with the growing economies in India and China, with all their new factories, cars, clothes, television sets, and food, and consuming more water from the increasingly polluted rivers flowing from faster-than-previously-thought melting Himalayan glaciers and the Tibetan plateau, the world cannot accommodate a rise of both at current levels of growth, unless some miracle technologies present themselves. And for the rest of the region, a growing and consuming China and India present many problems. Many South Asian rivers are but a trickle as they reach some Asian country borders, with upstream dams, agriculture, and cities consuming most of the bounty.

Malone is right when he says, “[w]hat happens over the coming decades in Asia, as its geopolitics undergo tectonic shifts, could affect us all, not least by either enhancing or disrupting international trade and hence our prosperity.” He’s right for reasons that his imagination dared not to think. They are the reasons why U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently warned of a creeping “new colonialism” in Africa, warning its people and leaders that foreign investors and governments are taking advantage of its natural resources. She warns of unsustainable projects by the Chinese, pillaging Africa’s natural resources, that will leave behind a scarred and empty environment. It’s a “tectonic shift” of transferring the burdens of ecological limits from one country to another, from one people to another.

Most people in Nepal now talk about it. “Oh yes, climate change and the environment. Big problem in Nepal.” Yet nobody appears to be writing or doing anything seriously about it. In Nepal’s best bookstore, Vajra, I asked the manager if he has anything on the environment and climate change and politics in Nepal or South Asia. “Oh no, nothing has been written. Many people come in, asking about climate change. I know two French researchers are studying it right now, but that’s it.” Books on elephants, Nepali cultural dance, and books on just about anything else can be found at Vajra. But for that elephant in the room, dancing and screaming for attention, whose name dare not be mentioned in certain circles, no such luck in this bookstore. The same goes for most Nepali, and for that matter international, news outlets.

And so it goes. Our inputs for analysis need to expand to include the ever increasingly polluted and abused ecological world.

Out into the field: Surkhet

Chelsea Ament | Posted June 7th, 2011 | Asia

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Upon our (Sunita and I) arrival in Surkhet, I was exhausted. The 18-hour bus ride seemed to have taken the life out of me, as it had been comparable to riding a mechanical bull, due to the consistent potholes. Additionally, I accidently leaked half a bottle of water onto my seat that I had left there during a pit stop. This meant hours of sitting in a soaking wet seat, bumping up and down continuously. When, to my relief we finally arrived at WRRP-West, we were given a room to share above the office with a gas burner to cook on and a pail of water for washing. Thus, our time in Surkhet had begun.

View from our roof in Surkhet

Our mission was as follows:

1. Construct and carry out a reproductive health (RH) school program for adolescents

2. Train community non-governmental organizations (CNGOs) to conduct programs independently to ensure sustainability

After 3 days of planning an adolescent RH school program, and a Saturday of preparing materials, we were ready to give the program a trial run. We travelled at 7:30 am on Sunday to a school approximately 30 minutes from the WRRP-West office to set up for the program. (Yes, schools in Nepal generally run from Sunday-Friday).

The WRRP team of four, myself included, traveled 2 at a time to the school via motorbike.  I arrived last to find a crowd of students swarming around Sunita (program facilitator). The festivities had begun!

Students showing interest

The activities were designed to address the following topics of reproductive health:

  1. Puberty
  2. Menstruation/nightfall/masturbation
  3. HIV/AIDs (and other STIs)
  4. Life skills (ie. Personal ambitions, how to say no to early marriage and unsafe sex)
  5. Uterine prolapse

Girl laughing at picture of female growth stages

We used a variety of games that were adapted to convey lessons on reproductive health.  For example, the group was divided into three teams, and each team was asked to generate the changes experienced during adolescence and write them on a large piece of paper. Team leaders were also selected, who in turn had to present the changes their team had written.  Games that required physical activity were also used to convey the message (video is in process).

Participants describing adolescent changes

All together, there were about 30 participants whose ages ranged from 15-19 years. Among these, some of were married (hence the messages regarding early marriage, which is a contributing factor of uterine prolapse). The group was enthusiastic, and although some had to leave early for their hour-long walk home for lunch, a select group stayed until the very end of the program. All in all, the program was a success. The group was informed, and educational RH materials and books were given to those who stayed until the end, to distribute within their classes.  Afterwards, the facilitators and members of the CNGO stayed behind to evaluate the program and provide feedback.

The next two days will consist of training the Surkhet community NGOs to implement the program within the schools from their respective areas.

To be continued…

Wild Dogs of the Night

Corey Black | Posted June 6th, 2011 | Asia

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(Recorded from my rooftop, June 6)

Oh, these wild dogs. Keeping me up, barking all night long. I’m a light sleeper, and a dripping bathroom faucet is enough to keep me awake. A lot of Kathmandu’s dogs are without an owner or home, and they roam the streets – some in packs, others alone. Sleeping all day in the summer heat, they spend their restless nights barking to one another, cross-city. Just howling. Are they trying to assert some sort of neighbourhood toughness or dominance, a midnight power struggle? Or is it a battle of attrition of who can keep up the loud racket the longest?

Last night, I had enough. With surprisingly little shame or guilt, I took care of my local leading hound in the alley behind my house with my jump rope. He was a white ugly thing, with an accompanying loud ugly bark. My sleep was sound afterwards, and I’m fine with my decision – someone had to do it, for the sanity of us all.

Yikes. That’s been a recurring dream of mine for the past two weeks. I mostly awake from it to barking dogs, ashamed of myself that I could think such things. I’m a dog lover, and once had an annoying dog named Sam, who barked at everyone that came to the door, and would hump their leg most times on their way out. Once he got used to you, he was cool and fun and quieter, but still humped. A good-looking dog too – even modeled for a box of dog cookies. The point being, I shouldn’t be dreaming of strangling dogs in the middle of the night so I can get some rest, no matter how annoying. I’m better than that, I think?

These wild dogs of Kathmandu are killing me… Serenity now. Serenity now.

A Different Media Landscape

Corey Black | Posted June 3rd, 2011 | Asia

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The lead article in yesterday’s (June 2, 2011) Kathmandu Post begins with, “The UCPN (Maoist) on Wednesday unilaterally decided to end the two-layer security being provided to its leaders – a key demand of the main opposition, Nepali Congress (NC) – amid opposition from the party’s hardliners.” It goes on to explain that the security detail’s unregistered vehicles, which were once illegally seized during the Maoist insurgency, will be given up to the main government, that security will now be provided by the country’s established security forces, and concludes by providing details of political negotiations and Maoist meetings.

Another leading article from the same paper, “NC negotiators under CWC scrutiny,” reveals how NC party leaders’ performance in recent constitutional writing negotiations is under review by a NC party committee. Some insiders believe its leaders were too stubborn, while others think they compromised too much. Another, “Yadav in a tight corner in Sunsari,” is about a group of 12 hard-line lawmakers splintering from their once popular Madhesi Janadhikar Forum-Nepal (MJF-N) party. The MJF-N is not as powerful in the Constituent Assembly as it once was, and worries are rising that its leader, Upendra Yadav, is being deserted.

Outside of these political brouhahas, few other stories get ink. One, “Babai valley, once an ‘ideal’ habitat, now a haven for poachers,” states that this valley remains a poaching ground for rhinoceroses and tigers, despite conservation efforts. And in another, “Swelling Saptakoshi still a threat,” the out of control Saptakoshi river is said to be eroding its shores and threatens nearby villages and settlements. Quoting Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister of Bihar district, he’s all over the problem and has instructed people to work harder. Great advice.

Yesterday’s newspaper is not unique, and most Nepali news outlets follow a similar pattern of allegiance to the political hierarchy and pay little attention to on the ground and behind the scene stories. Understanding ordinary Nepalese struggles, concerns, and views is difficult to find in the Nepali press, as is a contextual framework from which to analyze the news and compare contrasting views. What is the social significance of certain political statements and events? How have certain policies affected ordinary Nepalese, and have they been a waste of capital? What of the failing constitution writing process on Nepali society, and how have minorities in a fledgling democracy without a constitution been affected by the ongoing political impasse? What of Nepal’s environmental problem and its social effects? These questions, and others, are rarely posed in Nepali media, let alone answered.

An Al Jazeera commentator was recently quoted in GQ magazine as saying, “If other networks are interested in the politician… Al Jazeera will always be interested in the politician’s driver.” The article goes on to say how Al Jazeera equally irks Middle Eastern, South Asian, and Western leaders. It seeks to find out how lives are lived and affected by national and international events, and intends to provide a voice to most sides. Al Jazeera is not perfect, and has been criticized for editorial bias in the past. The point being is that its journalism’s focus is bottom-up, not top-down.

The role of media is not to present a reality removed from average citizens’ lives and interests. It is to peer behind the social and political curtain and to reveal a social fabric at times uncomfortable with itself, to understand the machinations at work that are shaping society, and to try and understand and explain where society is going, and has been.

For these reasons, advocacy organizations and media centers like the Jagaran Media Center are so vital in weak media markets. They provide a voice for the voiceless, representing marginalized peoples who are under- or unrepresented in political and social hierarchies, businesses, and media. They aim to expose stories of ordinary lives and communities affected by ancient superstitious practices, and the hypocrisies at work within government. Where democracy is but a budding idea and practice, on the ground organizations serve to get unreported stories out, helping the transition, however long, towards a more functioning representative democracy.

In an interview following Arundhati Roy’s Come September speech, she concluded by stating her views on how best to live a life: “To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never, to forget…” For now, power and authority is respected far too much in Nepal, and those excluded from the hierarchy exhibiting strength of character are most often ignored. Affecting change is difficult here, but some dedicated strong few are on the ground, refusing to look away, and not allowing injustices of the past and present to go unreported. With time…

The Girl, The Goat, and The Broker

Maelanny Purwaningrum | Posted June 2nd, 2011 | Asia

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Maghi festival marks the New Year for Tharu people in Nepal. It is celebrated in January during the cold days of the year. Maghi also signs a completely different phase for many Tharu girls in the south-western Tarai. It is during the maghi holiday that many of brokers from different cities throughout Nepal come to Tharu villages to make deal of Tharu girls to be kamalari.

In the previous post, I slightly touched upon kamalari issue. Kamalari has been prevailed since around 60 years ago, when the kamaiya system was on going. Kamaiya system abolished in 2000, but kamalari practice remains. Girls, as early as 5 or 6 year-old, forced to work around 14-16 hours a day as servants in the households of higher-caste families. They are fully responsible for various kinds of work, like cleaning, washing, cooking, babysitting, that far from any standards of proper working condition. They are easily subjected to physical and psychological abuses, even, sexual abuse. They often denied access to education. Yes, some were promised to enjoy schooling, but very little was realized.

What can we get from US$ 75? Not much, I think.

Well, you can buy a goat with those money here. But, kamalaris were sold for similar cost, even lower. The money was given to the family as the sign of contract that will be renewed per year. This means the girls will get nothing at all. They are only entitled to work, work, and work.

These girls, mostly, grew up in destitute former bonded-laborer families. The families have no choice for them and some narrow-minded-employers are taking advantage of their destitution.

A girl selling 'kafal' during holiday in Dang District, will she be kamalari? Photo by: Swarupa
A girl selling 'kafal' during holiday in Dang District, will she be kamalari? Photo by: Swarupa

A girl selling 'kafal' during holiday in Dang District. Will she be kamalari? Photo by: Swarupa

This is not an attempt to negate boys inclusion in such practice. For some reasons, there has been a wave of feminization of bonded labor. The boys might be rarely sold to be domestic worker, but we can find a lot of them in the brick kilns industry. They are all under similar circumstances, bondage, either from loan or some advance payments.

I don’t think there are any other terms best describe this practice except slavery. Maybe, you also know similar practices, but in different terms, in other countries. I suppose, the kamalari in Nepal is similar to the restavék in Haiti and the abd in Mauritania. These are some kind of modern slavery where people are sold like objects, forced to work for little or no pay and are at the mercy of their employers. (Find out more here)

Don’t we have rules to stop those horrible practice?

Apparently, we’ve got a lot of them. I mentioned prohibition of child labor on my earliest post, and we also have the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the 1956 UN Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery which declares forms of child labor and bonded labor are slavery.

But, all those sophisticated international legal instruments will not make any changes unless being adopted into national legislation. In 2008, UN urged Nepal to end the kamalari system. Only recently, the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare of Nepal approved a bill outlining the government’s child-protection policies, which ban the practice of kamalari. However, girls are still being sold. Though it’s a criminal offense to have child slaves, the laws have no teeth, and hardly anyone is arrested or fined.

Obviously, not all children that engaged in domestic labor in Nepal constitutes bonded labor. However, once they involved, it’s difficult to get out, poverty and lack of education trap have been waiting for them. Seems that, law enforcement alone will not be effective to tackle this issue.

Many organizations, local and international, includes BASE, have been actively engaged in combating kamalari practices. They arranged campaigns, advocacy, and rehabilitation programs. BASE implements unique intervention on this matter, I will elaborate it on my another post. Keep in track!

——-

It has been several days after the deadline of Nepal constitutional drafting, on 28 May. Since the Constituent Assembly couldn’t meet its deadline, the parties agreed on 3 months extension. Following the constitutional deadline, there were a lot of tension and bandh (Nepali term for strike). During bandh, offices, shops, and public transports, etc are not allowed to operate. Well, I did some tricky things about this. As I needed the internet (which only be available at the office), I went to the office and stayed with door and window closed. Anyway, we moved to the new office yesterday!

Fellow: Maelanny Purwaningrum

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