Wednesday, April 7, 2010

RDN and A Dalit Honor...

I was thinking of my distant yet not forgotten Save the Children friends today when I was invited to attend a ceremony at the Staff College by RDN, a serious Dalit NGO working primarily in the Mid/Far West of Nepal.  For some reason, they decided to honor me for my work with the Dalit communityin Nepal over the years -- of course, most of that with  many others (Gary Shaye, Krishna Sob, Bharat Devkota, Lilamani Sharma, Nar Maya Thapa, Shiva Dangol, Durga Shrestha, Gopal Sunar, Angie Brasington et al...) through SC/US in the 80s and 90s.  

It was a seriously odd feeling to hear our past three decade history including: the early terai Dalit studies we did in the late 80s in Siraha (remember Prof. Krishna Khanal and Khagendra Sharma's reports?); the early 90s USAID Basic Education for the Least Educated (BELE) Project for Dalits; the start-up of the Nepal Children's Scholarship Endowment Program (NCSEP) w/ the NNDSWA; our national agenda on Dalit issues with the INGO and bilateral community in the 90s; the Dalit student from Kailali who we supported to become an MD in Bangladesh years ago; and the "Is There Room Enough?" report on Dalit recruitment in national and international development agencies remembered and reviewed by people who lived and had not forgotten some of that special history with us.  

To be honest, at times I felt like I was listening to someone else's funeral peroration...  and smiling to myself on the dias...

With the personally inscribed RDN certificate and a pashmina shawl, there was also a cash award of 5,000+ rupees.  I'll put that $$ (and my own contribution) into the Nepal Children's Scholarship Endowment Program, if it still exists and is being co-managed by SC/US.  

In fact, I'd be thrilled to see a recent report on the Endowment to see how this Endowment has grown over the years or reached more and more deserving children in the 15 districts where it was implemented.  It's been too many years since I last saw an NCSEP annual report and, it was always one of my favorite mini-activities of our SC/US work -- because it offered such promise for those young kids' lives.  

Throughout the three hour ceremony, my past memories of my SC/US world were deep in my thoughts -- especially while listening to political leader Bam Dev Gautam rant on about armies and war, then Kedarnath Upadhaya, the NHRC Chairperson, speak more eloquently about the issue of Dalit rights in modern Nepal followed by a slew of Dalit leaders speak of their pain and longing.  

Of course, I got my 'duetah subda' ('two words'), as well, and used them to remind the audience of some of the schools Save the Children constructed decades ago in Gorkha District at a time when the Vishwakarmas, Sarki and Pariyar (all Dalit) fathers built the schools, but their children were rarely able to attend them.  

Fortunately, times have changed for Dalits and other marginalized communities in Nepal.  Not the least because of the work of Save the Children colleagues a long time ago...  

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