Capacity development, learning, change, poverty/power/progress
What is inspiring or unique about the place?
It all started over 50 years ago with a teacher who volunteered his services to the community for 25 years. He is over 90 years old now. His son, who they lovingly refer to as "Guru" (right in the picture), has followed in his footsteps, gradually building a team of likeminded people in the community. They run an amazing nursery, school and college, and many lifelong learning programs - for instance, when we visited an elderly lady was getting private math classes.
Their education programs are not just within the school walls, but everywhere in the community, and way beyond. They spot people with problems or dfficulties and finds solutions together - using an Appreciative Inquiry approach. After the Nepal earthquake 3 years ago, they have build 10 houses for families who lost everything. They find young people in the town, who have come to study but are a bit lost managing on their own and dropped out of school. These youngsters are offered a place to stay in the "bottle house" (yes - literally made of bottles, because the could not afford bricks, it has since been replicated in many other places). It was build out of need, but now it is attrackting others. They have developed a farm there, so the youngster go to school, but also learn many life and entrepreneur skills and farming methods. One of the teenage boys had just been invited 5 days ago. When I asked, what he liked most about the place, he said: friends. This shows the heart of the place: they really care deeply about the community, but it is not just charity, they build these youngsters into people who can take care of themselves, and can go back to their communities with pride and a skill set that will enable them to make a decent living.
The community is actually a municipality with 25,000 people, as well as a district where their learning and training initatives reach (for instance the farming field school). Their aim is to help young people find hope and appreciate and respect local life, because these days they all want to go abroad. It's fine if they do, but it's better if they understand what they will get themselves into, and can also love their communities and country first, before they go out.
What challenges do they currently face?
Actually, they do not seem to think in terms of challenges. Their motto is: stay away from negative people. Link up with people who see possibilities and work together to make things happen. There is still much to do, but they keep going. The business card reads: "If not here, then where? If not now, then when? If not me, than who?
They spoke about one of their new projects - the clinic bus, which would enable the health camps (which they also run) to reach out to remote areas. They have many people thinking along. Some bright minds from the community, who live and work abroad are even exploring working with drones to get medicines to the right location in this mountanous country, etc. The clinic bus would mean importing a vehicle and equipment, which is heavily taxed. So they got the idea into the provincial government plan, because that will enable tax free importantion, so they will be able to afford with a little help from their friends abroad.
They manage with their own minds and resources, but ever since they won first prize in UNESCO's Community Learning Centre challenge several years back, they have had apportunities via government and UN agencies to travel and connect more widely: Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, the Netherlands. Many also come and want to replicate, but "they always see problems, where we always see opportunities". During our visit there were 3 young architects (girls), from India; last week there was a PHD student from JAPAN, working with the farmer field school on composting; next month, a female student from Malasia will facilitate strategic reflection, etc. The challenge is perhaps how to learn from so many insights and sustainable practices of others around the world, and make it matter locally.
Why do these challenges exist?
Nepal is a land-locked country, so everything imported is very costly. The way they put it: buying from abroad makes us poor. Our money should be working in our own country.
There is also a deeper reason why this community learning centre started in the first place: government is not providing affordable education that prepares young people for a meaningful life in Nepal. Quality education is only in private schools, and even there, young people are educated for a life and work that only exists abroad.
The Ministry of education does not have a clear vision: what are we educating our young people for? For the growth economy? For jobs that do not exist in Nepal?
From this perspective, the government is not serving the people very well. Not clear how that happened? They had a civil war about it, but I guess now that there is peace, how do you "live it"? What does it mean to live peaceful, happy lives? Many are drawn by the western lifestyle that is so disruptive to our planet. Considering this, it is amazing how the Community Learning Center has become a way of life for all the hunderd paid staff and many more volunteers working with it. They know that happiness comes from being connected, and serving the people, those less fortunate. Sure, it was also very nice that 6 girls from the school were invited to the robitics competition in the USA, but at the end of the day, it is the life back home that matters. The grandson of the first volunteer is now living and working in the USA - teaching technical classes every Saterday through distance learning in his community in Nepal.
What initiatives or conditions would help them address the deeper root causes of their current challenges?
The country is going through a deep change process, with a new constitution and far reaching levels of local government autonomy. The example of the CLC could inspire local governments in Nepal: how to really serve the people. As they said: the newly elected local governments are establishing their system to benefit from their position (not to say figuring out how to be corrupt), so it will take some time. It is hughly inspiring that there are actualy groups like this in Nepal who show what can be done if people come together and care about their community. Actually make it their life to serve the community.
They take much inspiration from others, eg they just had a waste management expert from another succesful initiative in Nepal stay for a few days, and they learned a lot. They also won a UNESCO prize, which enabled some of the leaders to travel, eg to Japan, where they noticed elderly people maintaining road side gardens, and helping kids to cross busy roads to their school. This made them think about meaningful roles elderly could play in their community.
I think they will further benefit from insights like the doughnut economy, and connections with other CLC type of initaitives in other countries, where people are living and walking the talk. Their example seems to attrackt people with ideas that would help their communities and local economy thrive, without too much dependency on outside assistance (which by the way, they are investing very well indeed: for instance matching grants for young farmers who are showing interesting initiatives and etrepreneurship). The 3 female architects came to share knowledge and experience with the place, but they found so much more than they could ever have imagined. It's a two way street - with both sharing and learning and taking inspiration to do more.
Given this experience, what ideas or practice could you now implement in your own context?
Me: Things will not work if the "heart" is not there. I have known this subconsciously, and tend to go where the energy is, but I guess this is another way of looking at it.
I also find it quite remarkable that this group is actually performing many of the services that we would expect a local government to perform. They could perhaps serve as an example for future local government learning programs in Nepal. Peer-to-peer learning :)...
Tej - one of my team mates on the learning journey: Continuous engagement and long-term commitment without motives for 'personal gains' - are the key to success in bringing changes.
Swasti: I started to think about the problems of my community. I need to support for Urban Poor of my community, explore possibility for income generation activities for women, provide coaching/playing center for their children, cleaning campaign including provide recycle ideas for the area. I should go and talk for support from the ward chair and members to initiate the activities to solve the problems in the longer term.
Finally, what did you learn about yourself during the Learning Journey?
Me: That it would be very nice to serve a community for decades. I travele and move every 4-6 years to another country, but I still have decades to go - so perhaps gradually work towards (early) retirement and settling at our farm in France. You really do not need that much to live a happy and fulfilling life.
Tej - 90% success depends of leadership - remaining 10% is contributed by others. I need to put the time in: the 'self' is what drives everyone to volunteer and be engaged in social work.
Swasti: I felt that as as human being, I need to do some good work for my own society/community. It comes always in my mind, but after this learning visit, I am more inspired that "yes, I also can do it and contribute to my community".
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