By: Johnny Baltzersen

“The main purpose of the project is to bring schools and communities together. Schools and communities don’t work together. They are kind of separated from each other. There’s a reason for that. And that is that if you look at these schools, very often they are led by teachers who come from a completely different culture and often have high privileges in society, while the community has a different language and often feel or report that they feel less”.

This is how Rita Tisdall, who coordinates CICED’s efforts in Helambu with Just Nepal Foundation/JNF, begins a new video about the project.

According to Nepali federal law, local communities have the power over schools. But power isn’t something that just grows out of a piece of paper. Power is very much rooted in social and cultural traditions and relationships. And traditions and relationships don’t change via the writing on a piece of paper.

This realization is often absent in [internationalt] development work, and it is rare that development projects openly and directly address the need to change local power relations. But such changes are the focus of CICED’s project with Just Nepal Foundation: Better Life – Educating and Keeping Children Safe in Helambu, Nepal.

Peaceful change of power

And – a difficult but peaceful – changing the power relationship between school and community starts with those who influence how power should act and change on a daily basis.
The project has hired a group of facilitators – or outreach teams. They will be the change agents in the 34 schools involved in the project. And they are the ones who need to be convincing exponents of new thinking and practices.

But such change agents often come from the ranks of the privileged themselves. And even if they have experience from other development projects, they are typically unaware or inattentive to how, despite good intentions, they will at best ‘mess up’ and at worst ‘make matters worse’ because they don’t see, don’t understand, don’t question the context in which they operate.

Therefore, the preparation of facilitators starts with workshops that, among other things, make them aware of power and privilege – their own power and privilege. We focus on them unpacking their cultural baggage and becoming aware of their own position in relation to the people in the villages.

Indira Kumari Dulal, one of the facilitators says:
” In the previous organizations I worked for, when we went out into the community, I took my finished materials with me and kept my own ideas and thoughts from the community – and didn’t give them much opportunity to share their thoughts. But after attending the training where I reflected on my personal life and on social change, I go to the community and listen in a different way, so I now try to listen with more attention and give more time to understand what people are really trying to say and how they feel”

See also the hidden challenges

In fact, it wasn’t just workshops that were part of the facilitators’ preparation. Just as power is not changed by legislation alone, behavior is not changed by one or more courses alone. There needs to be a focus on changing practices. In and with practice.

Therefore, the facilitators conducted a three-month exercise called “SEE it”, which mapped the individual needs and desires of each community and its school. These wishes form the common basis for collective work in the coming years.

The “SEE it” mapping showed that there are serious and often hidden challenges. A large number of children are disabled, mainly due to lack of birth preparation. So far, they have not received any benefits. JNF has mobilized local authorities to partner with Community Based Disability Services, who will accompany JNF in the field to ensure that these children and their families are registered and receive the support they are entitled to.

Alcohol among the poorest of the villagers is a major challenge. The vast majority of children from 3 villages suffer from alcohol syndrome. JNF has formed an expert group that is currently developing a strategy on how to support an entire community that is addicted to alcohol. This will be the first time in Nepal that such a collective effort will be implemented.

Many parents have had to leave their children behind and travel to other areas and countries to seek income, often leaving a teenager as the head of the family. JNF is currently working with school teachers to set up internet connections between parents abroad so that children can stay in touch with their parents. Child protection and support groups are being set up.

Helambu is an area known for child trafficking. The JNF has agreed a protocol with the National Council for Child Rights whereby the JNF can report suspicions of human trafficking to the Council, which is the national child protection authority that has the power to instruct the police to investigate and intervene at district and national borders.

So far, JNF has reported two cases of human trafficking, one of which involved 70 children being trafficked to India. The hard work now is to support families so they don’t have to and can’t be manipulated by traffickers into giving their children away.

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