Through volunteering at Community Self Reliance Centre (CSRC), a 20 year old Nepali NGO working in the areas of land and agrarian reform, women’s empowerment opportunities and livelihoods, I’m learning about effective development approaches. At CSRC we work with those who are landless and help them advocate for their rights in obtaining land certificates. Most recently I was able to meet with a number of CSRC supported Cooperatives and Village Land Rights Forum (VLRF) members in Mahottari, Saptari and Siraha Districts. VLRF’s are the ground level bodies that are the basis for the land rights movement in Nepal. My objective was to learn and determine how I can facilitate assisting people in rural Nepal with their livelihoods, i.e. connecting corporates, government programmes/schemes and potential collaborating NGOS/INGOs with VLRFs and Cooperatives. The reality is that livelihoods are only one part of a necessary holistic approach to working with villagers.
I need to connect with people experientially, enabling me to be more passionate about my work. I can never truly be in another person’s skin in Nepal, given the fact that I grew up in the US. But first hand experiences do lead me to be much more empathetic.
The meetings mostly took place outdoors, sitting on a covering on the ground. At CSRC we have a strong focus on women and gender and this was evident from the meeting attendees. Owning land in Nepal is at the base of a complicated development process. Some of the members that I met were farming “leased” government fallow land, which is a good modality for providing this basic resource to the landless, especially in an agrarian society. Complementary to this is how to make the best use of forest land through collaboration with Community Forest User Groups (CFUGs), of which some of the VLRF’s are already associated. Many members were performing daily wage labor, e.g. crushing rock and/or agricultural work in order to feed their children, however, men were generally earning more than women, while some payments were made only through six kilograms of rice, approximately NR 90. Others were working as tenant farmers in which case they had to give 50% of what they farmed to the landlord.
Cooperatives are a very effective means for saving money and in turn making micro loans to members. At CSRC we have 2600 VLRF’s, but only approximately 63 cooperatives, presenting a great opportunity. Livestock, goats and buffalo, are extremely important, but I found that some members didn’t own any, putting them at a major disadvantage, in terms of livelihoods and the ability to consistently provide nutritious food for their families.
Government funding and in-kind contributions through such bodies as Ward Development Funds, VDC’s, District Soil Conservation Centres and District Agricultural Offices, is a positive way to connect with civil society organisations. Some of the Cooperatives and VLRFs were taking advantage of these opportunities. Further development of CSRC’s front line leaders/activists needs to occur in order to assist the groups that they’re working with, to collaborate with these government partners.
The reality of village life is that projects needs to be holistic and include health, education and livelihoods components with a focus on gender issues. Homes need to have solar panels, rain water needs to be harvested and stoves that don’t depend on firewood, need to be used. Collecting firewood takes an inordinate amount of time to collect as the forest is usually some walking distance. Access to basic healthcare needs to be provided, along with toilets. Further awareness and practice needs to occur regarding enabling women and men to equally share household responsibilities and to allow women input on all decisions. It is also vital that children have access to positive learning environments and that parents understand the importance of keeping both sons and daughters in school to the point of obtaining an SLC.
The members that I met expressed a need for community shops so that they could get their basic necessities in their village. They also wanted to do poultry, pig, buffalo and goat farming, sewing, leaf plate production, developing a village market place, as well as other ideas.
In order to adequately engage in holistic development it comes down to the government, civil society organisations, including INGOs/NGOs, and corporates working together to assist rural Nepal in obtaining an adequate share of resources and ensuring that children have as much opportunity as those living in urban areas. Organisations with expertise in one area, e.g. health, must work collaboratively and seek out partnerships with those working in, e.g. education, livelihoods, land rights, etc. My field visit has experientially shown me that we cannot work in silos, if people are to be given hope that things will be better for future generations.