Supporting Young Agents of Change in Nepal

It was part of the original mission of Sansar Nepal to identify and work with Nepalese people wishing to initiate change in their society/country, and, during the earthquake and its aftermath, it became even clearer to us that there are many, especially young, agents of change at large in Nepal, who need and deserve our support.

Apart from our own homegrown examples of Roshan and his brother Prakash, who particularly distinguished themselves during the earthquake, we were impressed by our new SSN board member based in Kathmandu, Nisha Rai. Nisha worked on behalf of SSN with Uten Lama, a young hotel receptionist, and project coordinator for education and food, for a tent community on the outskirts of Kathmandu, whose village had been completely destroyed. We were put in touch with Uten by her sister who is studying in Malaysia. The two sisters, supported by other Malaysian students who raised money, coordinated efforts with SSN to provide food, warm clothing and shelter for this community in need.

Some other outstanding examples of young inspirational agents of change are the Psychbigyaan Network Nepal, a group of young psychology graduates based in Kathmandu, who have formed their own NGO to raise awareness about mental health and to remove the stigma which causes those suffering from mental health issues to be marginalised in their families and communities in Nepal. Recently three of their members, Kripa Sigdel (Psychbigyaan’s founder), Sujan Shrestha (president) and Ashish Kafle, spent five days in Pokhara hosted by Sansar Nepal at The Garden. They had the opportunity to pilot the three-hour workshop programme that they have created to promote physical, emotional and mental health in schools, especially for students in classes 8 and 9, who are going through puberty as well as coping with the stress of schoolwork and pressures from parents and peers. After careful planning and preparation with Sansar team members, they presented their first three-hour student workshop to class 8, 9 and 10 students at Gyankunj Secondary School, one of the two schools attended by The Garden children. Teachers were requested not to attend so that the students would not be afraid to share their true thoughts and feelings with the Psychbigyaan team. Although the team had previously been concerned that they might not be able to engage the students for a full three hours without a break, they had the full attention of all participants and the feedback was enthusiastic and overwhelmingly positive. It is clearly something that is much needed. The following day, the same workshop was presented to a huge group of 60 class 8 and 9 students at Himanchal School, which included two of the Garden children. The response was the same. Feedback included remarks that this was the first time anybody had addressed such issues with them and how happy this made them feel! The final workshop was for teachers. Although the response was positive, the one hour allotted was not long enough to address the many concerns or for the discussion necessary to change mindsets or alter behaviour. Nepalese teachers receive no training in pastoral care, and very little training in teaching methodology. We discussed the possibility of organising a day-long workshop in the future for teachers, at The Garden, lead by the Psychbigyaan team and bringing in Nepalese teachers and heads of school already implementing or open to new ideas, such as our friend Bimala Gurung, head of Sanskar School in Kathmandu. We are certain that this is just the beginning of our collaboration and we are excited about the changes which, together, we may be able to bring about to benefit young people.

Another new and inspirational friend of Sansar Nepal is Garima Gurung, from the very different field of organic vegetable growing. Although Garima grew up in Pokhara and was never taught to grow vegetables by her family, she has learned from neighbours and by her own research how to organically grow a wide variety of highly nutritious vegetables and fruits, as well as medicinal herbs and plants. She says that Nepalese young people have lost their connection with the earth, do not have these skills anymore, and are unaware of what they are consuming. If this is the case in Nepal, how much more critical is this situation in the world’s developed countries! Garima’s mission is to educate and share with young people who no longer live in rural villages the skills and knowledge she has acquired so that it is not lost. Garima also makes her own fibre-based paper and cards, and paper jewellery. She has created her own brand called Kafal Creation. At 32 she is not married, which is unusual in Nepali society, and she shares the young psychologists’ concerns for the difficulties that young Nepalese people face, especially girls, who wish to pursue their own path in life.

We aim to help Garima by promoting what she is doing, by providing a venue for her to sell her produce, and perhaps most importantly by connecting her with other young people, who, like her, have taken the path less trodden and sometimes feel alone and marginalised.

By bringing such Nepalese innovators into the Garden family, we will also inspire the younger children in our care to have the courage to embrace a different way of living and being.