Rohema Begum – Nepal and Development: an ICS Volunteer’s Perspective

Our first port of call was the Health post, which we reached after a 2 hour hike over three mountains, past a newly built but vacant hospital (I’ll get back to this later). At the Health post there was a phone mast where I received 101 or so messages, which I had not been able to receive before due to low network coverage. Once we reached the top the view, we looked over the  breath taking Rolwaling Himal mountain range within which the Gaurishaker Mountain acted as the focal point with its snow-capped peak and clear skies. But, we were in for a bigger surprise. Have I got your attention yet?

It’s a little hard to believe, that it’s been over 9 months since I returned from Nepal. Now, when thinking back to my first few weeks of placement, it was all a little overwhelming. I remember my counterpart and I were tasked with completing research on livelihoods on our community. We had to compile data and statistics from different local institutions such as the local school, mothers’ group, the health post and so on.

Now back to the mountain top and lots of huffing and puffing. Once we made it to the top the members of staff at the health post were enormously welcoming and more than willing to help us with our research. They wanted to show us around the post and we were lead up a small rickety flight of steps to a small room, where we were greeted by the curious gazes of at least 20 women in light blue sarees with a dark blue boarder. At first glance I thought it was a meeting of some sort, but they were in fact running one of many midwife/healthcare training sessions for the women. Let’s not forget that they were women, and women of all ages at that. They were being trained to go back to their respective communities and be the first point of contact in cases of medical emergencies.

Now remember that vacant hospital I mentioned before? Well the health workers explained that the ‘Indian Embassy’ as the hospital was known as, was built with the capital provided by the Indian Embassy and had been vacant since it was completed more than five years ago, even though there was a huge needed for it in the area. This, they explained was due to bureaucracy and they did not expect it to be sorted anytime soon. This explanation made their story infinitely more amazing. This community was not sitting around waiting for things to get better but were instigating change themselves. One of the health workers had training in basic health care and with the permission of the local government had acquired consent to train others. Whereby expanding the network of health workers available in remote areas and addressing the problem of access to healthcare.

Let’s rewind a little. Before setting off to Nepal I had an idea of what I would be facing. Poverty, successful tourism, substance abuse and wealth all side by side. I was fortunate enough to have parents born in the global south, who wanted me to know how the other half were living and how extremely lucky and privileged I was. When I was in my teens I went back to my parent’s country of birth and saw what real poverty was, people living in slums on the sides of the railway. Children, siblings with only each other to protect them, sleeping rough in train stations for the little safety it provided. But in addition to this I saw resilience, the smiles on these children’s faces and what a small amount of effort can achieve. Providing a man enough money for a rickshaw could see him able to feed his family for many years to come. Sponsoring a child to complete her studies would result in her lifting her family out of poverty.

Living in the west we are inundated with the media’s portrayal of Developing countries. Where all developing countries are superimposed together collectively to become the developing world, a breeding ground for terrorism, a place where crime and corruption is rife, a place without hope of redemption. In this era of post colonialism for many ex-colonial powers, such as the UK the idea of paternalism has become ingrained within governmental institutions.  Whereupon it is understood that developing countries cannot be trusted to help themselves and need continuous support through aid that is administered by western organisations, without the input of people receiving it. Thus creating a vicious circle of dependency on aid, with little to show for it, whilst ignoring the fundamental need for change in perception of aid and international development. There is the famous proverb which is over used, but I will use it anyway. “Give a man a fish, and you have fed him once. Teach him  how  to fish and you have fed him for a lifetime.” This is indeed true in my experience of Nepal.

What we saw at the health post was inspiring and even my counterpart was impressed with what they had achieved. This experience goes to show how small developments go a long way. This community has become very self-sufficient in health care needs and in the process is helping others to. This is evidence that if the west continues to treat the issue of international development with the same old cures, we will not get very far. There needs to be more creative thinking and work on grassroots level of development, which involves the people, with people working together young and old alike, to achieve proportionate level of positive and effective change for all.

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Rohema Begum – Nepal and Development: an ICS Volunteer’s Perspective

by wearerestless Reading time: 4 min