A unique request to CICED

School development, social inclusion and anti-trafficking efforts in Helambu

By Rita Tisdall and Johnny Baltzersen, CICED 

Nepal has undergone extensive political change over the past three decades. The driving force behind the changes are popular demands for a more inclusive and equal society.

In 2015, a new constitution was adopted and Nepal became a federal state: The Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal. Today, Nepal has three administrative levels: national, regional and local/municipal.

Local councils, led by a Lord Mayor, have been given significant power and responsibility. Among other things, municipalities are responsible for providing infrastructure, ensuring children’s rights and protection, and providing schools and healthcare.

With great responsibility comes great challenges. There is a lack of resources and technical skills. Communication infrastructure is poor and some communities are isolated and difficult to access.

A recently published study on the situation of rural areas highlighted ‘that local elected representatives point out the need to fully understand their new roles and responsibilities and how to carry out governance tasks and procedures effectively, including how to prepare plans and budgets and practice good governance with regard to, for example, human rights, social justice, gender equality, social inclusion, etc.

Parts of the Helambu municipality are known for trafficking girls. For hundreds of years, young girls were brought to serve the ruling Rana class in palaces in Kathmandu and India. Sending your girls to the Rana palaces was considered a privilege and a source of income in the impoverished Tamang communities.

Over time, the Rana dynasty disappeared, but trafficking took on a ‘modern’ version, with young girls now being sent to brothels in Delhi and Mumbai. Again, with a certain amount of pride. Apparently, the girls from Helambu have a particularly high status in the brothels.

The activities were talked about openly. Until national and international NGOs came and shamed the local population. And the girls returned home with AIDS.

Nowadays, sending your girls away is less talked about, but the practice remains. Many communities in Helambu remain among the poorest in Nepal, ravaged by alcohol abuse and ‘clandestine’ trafficking networks.

When the first mayor of Helambu, Nima Gelbu, who grew up in the area, came to power, he asked all NGOs – national and international – to leave the area. His view was that they were doing more harm than good.
Local communities had closed in on themselves and become dependent on foreign money. He also criticized the lack of cooperation and competition between NGOs, as well as their typically short-term and uncoordinated engagements.

That was two years ago. During CICED’s visit to Helambu in November, the Lord Mayor contacted CICED and our partner JUST Nepal Foundation and invited them for a 3-day tour of the municipality.

Now we have signed a letter of intent to explore the possibilities for a long-term collaboration with a focus on school development, ensuring children’s and especially girls’ rights, inclusion and up-to-date pedagogical practices. So: more to follow.

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