Srijana Thapa, South Asia Regional Director of World Neighbors
Srijana Thapa is South Asia Regional Director of World Neighbors, an international development group that has worked in Nepal for 43 years. She spoke with Review Nepal about the current trade situation and its effect on her group’s work in Nepal.
How is the unofficial trade blockade impacting you and your work?
Like many people in the country, we’re directly affected by fuel shortages. We’re now using a wood burning stove in Kathmandu, which is ironic, since we are helping build smokeless stoves in the communities with which we work, but we can’t build these now in the city. Our concern is with Nepal’s vulnerable rural communities, especially those who lost shelter due to the earthquakes.
What is your main concern with these communities?
Winter is coming. Those without shelter, or living in temporary shelter, could really suffer if there is inadequate fuel for heating and cooking. There is the potential for a significant humanitarian crisis.
How is your group preparing for this potential crisis?
We are trying to alert people in the US and other places to the current situation in Nepal so a worse crisis is avoided. Americans and others generously donated to help Nepal rebuild after the earthquake. This is an opportunity for people to raise their voices to help prevent a manmade disaster. We are also conserving fuel in all our projects and prioritizing its use for the most vulnerable communities.
What is World Neighbors doing to help people recover from the earthquake?
Immediately following the earthquake we helped with the relief effort by distributing food, medicine, water filtration tablets and material for shelter. In consultation with the communities with whom we work, we have developed a plan for rehabilitation and reconstruction. The recovery plan is modeled around four core areas – rebuilding, psychosocial support, disaster risk reduction and sustainable livelihoods. World Neighbors works with communities over a long term, often up to ten years, helping and facilitating communities to become self-reliant. We are helping to plant vegetables that can be harvested quickly, reconstruct homes and barns, rebuild smokeless stoves, and reconstruct the villages that were destroyed.
What are your projects to help people increase their incomes and expand employment opportunities?
The program in Nepal centers on the development of savings and credit groups that enable investment in agriculture, small businesses and other livelihoods. We especially focus on helping women and socially excluded groups use these investments to increase production and sales, which enhances incomes and further expands opportunity for entire families. Through a comprehensive approach that provides training in higher productivity sustainable agriculture, financial management, natural resource management, water filtration, hygiene, the construction of latrines, and many other essential skills, we help communities to lift themselves out of poverty and become self -sustaining. What we do is not revolutionary. But its focus on community-wide activities sets in motion a dynamic that, over time, means relatively small investments result in significant and measurable economic and social gains.
Working with a community means working in close collaboration with local NGOs, with the long-term goal of creating self-reliant groups, savings and credit cooperatives and larger economic and social organizations. World Neighbors’s program is currently reaching out to 11 Village Development Committees in 5 districts, both in the hills and the Terai region of the central and Western development region of Nepal. Ninety-five percent of our program participants are rural women.
Are you hopeful the current situation can be resolved and a humanitarian crisis avoided?
Yes, we are. Nepal’s governance progress is, in many ways, a model. A large part of that is due to the ability of those with very different outlooks to find common ground that moves the entire country forward. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged “all sides” in the region to find a way to solve the impasse and resume normal activity. Like so many others, we look forward to a quick solution that allows everyone to get on with building a better society.