Nepali Times
BIRGITTA DAHL
Guest Column
Infectious optimism


BIRGITTA DAHL


As I readied myself to come to Nepal, I started to follow the news more closely. I knew I was coming to a country that was struggling out of a decade-long conflict, and had my doubts about the democratic process as well as respect for the rights of women and children.

But a week-long trip in mid-western Dang changed those impressions. The people I met in the villages, mainly women and children, stoked my optimism about Nepal.

I met many women in Dang, some affiliated with women's cooperatives, female community health volunteers undergoing training, teachers, and women working relentlessly to mediate cases of domestic violence.

In Hapur VDC, members of the Women's Federation told us how fewer babies are falling ill to treatable diseases, and no babies had died in recent years from diarrhoea or pneumonia. Because of watch groups for safe motherhood, no mother had died during childbirth.

In Dhikpur village the women showed us charts illustrating how immunisation rates, school enrolment, toilet construction, birth registration, family planning and consumption of iodised salt have all gone up. Death rates and unattended births have dipped. I marvelled that all of this was achieved despite the armed conflict. The women told me this was possible because they were doing it themselves. Their grassroots movement was not singed by the wildfire of the conflict.

Witnessing this first hand helped reaffirm my belief that the roots of democracy lie in a decentralised system where the decision makers are those whose lives are affected by development programs. A bottom-up planning system can trickle up from the community to the district level.

When I heard about the issues Nepali women were trying to overcome Ė poverty, illness, malnutrition, illiteracy Ė I was reminded of Sweden about a century ago. Like here, it was a movement by the non-governmental sector that first pushed for social reforms.

The children I met during my trip also filled me with hope. In Hapur, they told me how difficult it was to convince their elders to construct toilets and not defecate in the open. These children wanted us to provide adult education classes for their parents! In a tiny classroom in Tulsipur, decorated with children's artwork, boys and girls shared their dreams with us. Most had to work and were only allowed to be children for two hours a day at school. Guided by a caring teacher, these children explored a new world through books. They wanted to become doctors and teachers, and despite their hard lives, they were full of hope. Their optimism was infectious!

In Nepalganj, we met young peer educators who reached out to those at risk of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. I was amazed at the immense courage these youngsters demonstrated. When they emphasised the importance of sex education, I was taken back six decades, when as a young teenager I had advocated for the same in our school, following the expulsion of a pregnant schoolmate.

I didn't get the chance to tour a lot of Nepal, but whatever I saw convinced me that the women and children of Nepal, often with the support of the men, are well on their way to becoming very capable future leaders. Once Nepal has a democratic constitution and local governance flourishes again, this can become a reality.

Birgitta Dahl was MP in Sweden for 34 years, Speaker of the House for 8 years and Minister of Environment and Energy for 9 years. She is now President of UNICEF Sweden.



1. Arthur
"the roots of democracy lie in a decentralised system where the decision makers are those whose lives are affected by development programs. A bottom-up planning system can trickle up from the community to the district level."

Great to see an article explaining how this works in practice and is already happening despite paralysis at the center!

Imagine how these forces for progress and development will be unleashed when the state is actually restructured federally with democratic local governance. No wonder there is such resistance from the old elite.



2. Devendra Pant
"Roots of democracy lie in a decentralised system" -- Ms Dahl has courageously spoken out the truth from the bottom of her heart. There are still friends of Nepal and have international goodwill for our nation. Those who genuinely want to help the people of Nepal should venture to move outside KTM and visit these areas where people are still suffering from hunger, illiteracy, illness and poverty. I am convinced that it is the people or community-led initiatives that should guide the politicians and state. Countries such as Sweden and Norway which are on the historical march towards creating an advanced humane society have one hundred or even more years of tradition of community-based grass-root initiatives. After all, all traditions are not bad, the so-called "educated class" of Nepal should learn 'how to learn from the people'. The challenge for our leaders and intellectuals is -- 'Get out of the "cocoon"  of Kathmandu!" It is the people who give you much needed life force.


3. Sargam
If you are a democrat in heart and in action you will always remember the famous citation pronounced by the late President JFK on January 20, 1961: "Ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of  man."

Of late, while I was going through the big 'Mahabharata', the holy book of Hindus, I was struck by the speech of Yudhisthir on the occasion of his coronation day when Lord Krishna makes him the Emperor of Hastinapur after the dreadful war of Kuruchetra where almost all his enemies were exterminated. And it goes as follows: " Ask not what Hastinapur can do for you, but what, you the inhabitants of Hastinapur, can do for your country." 

All said and done, I have a question that I am wondering as to how come all those inhabitants of Nepal I mean mainly the literate Brahmins  impregnated with the citations of this said holy book from  generation after generation believe in what Maoists' pamphlets and slogans narrate, such as it is the state called Nepal which should meet the needs of the inhabitants of Nepal instead of trying their utmost to free themselves from the state welfare as all ordinary countries do in reality. Why can't they think that  first off they are the sole responsible of their own  life and care takers of their kith and kin?

How could we give them this certitude to be the free persons who are smitten with their liberty and ready to prove their mettle when occasion arises as it has been shown by our Gurkha soldiers during the I & II WWs.

A State can help only for national security and can elaborate the national education, health care systems with social security, and maintain rule of law etc. But for that it is not always the ministers to decide but the laymen who by casting their individual votes can decide what is appropriate and what is not. appropriate for them. Hence the importance of casting the votes in elections.

We have a long way to trudge upon but on our own  feet not on the crutches provided by the State.

 


4. suraj

Thanks so much Birgitta Dahl for bringing out the truth from the rural areas of my nation. I wish if you were the MP in Nepal you could have contributed so much than the so called MPs of Nepal.Hope you will do your best as you have seen how optimistic and hardworking our womens and childrens are. They just need empowerment and guidence, which you might deliver through your position and experience.

Will you?



5. Dangali
Most had to work and were only allowed to be children for two hours a day at school. Guided by a caring teacher, these children explored a new world through books. They wanted to become doctors and teachers, and despite their hard lives, they were full of hope. Their optimism was infectious!

Two hours a day at school? And this do-gooder is ecstatic in celebration. I'm from Dang. Dhikpur and Hapur are my neighbors. It makes me blush to hear such patronizing hogwash. What did she expect them to say? Oh, when I grow up, I want to go to Saudi Arabia and become a coolie?


6. R RAI

She saw a half-full glass - you are seeing a half-empty glass.Sadly,we see what we want to see - we can only see what we are capable of seeing.

Did she claim all their dreams will materialize? I do not think so - she was only being impressed by their dreams,their hopes, enthusism and constructive activities in spite of the all the difficulties and hardship.



LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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