Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Positive Note

In this blog we have certainly expressed reservations about recent developments in Nepal. Our experiences, and more importantly, the experiences our Nepali friends, have conditioned a rather cynical view of political and economic gains.

This editorial, from the LA Times, provides some positive perspective on what the Nepali people have accomplished with the signing of the peace accord.

CB

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Peace Accord Signed

Earlier today the Nepal government and the Maoist rebel army signed a peace agreement, ending ten years of fighting. This article summarizes the details.

This article from the BBC offers a more revealing insight into the effect of this conflict on Nepal and the Nepalese people. As you can see, there is still a great deal of reservation about this agreement going forward.

In some ways, it does seem to good to be true. The Maoists stood for (and still stand for) the creation of a communist state. Does this mean that Prachanda, if elected, will attempt to overhaul the entire politico-economic system of Nepal? Would that even be possible?

And, we have to consider, what would a Prachanda-led country mean for the future of INGOs in Nepal such as Sam's House. Would we still be welcome?

Stay tuned.

CB

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Peace Finally?

It appears the Maoists and Nepal government are preparing to sign a peace accord after ten years of fighting and strikes and blockades... and, not to forget, the decimation of Nepal's already meager resources--human and otherwise. You can read about it here.

Although this next article has dampened my hopes. In the run-up to signing the accord, the Maoists have renewed their "membership drive" in the rural areas, recruiting as many young people as they can. The Maoists have been known to forcibly coerce young people into the party--a practice they will not be allowed to conduct after the accord is signed.

Under the accord, both the Maoists' army and the Nepalese army will be confined to barracks and other areas, and all their weapons will be held in lockdown, supervised by United Nations officers. It is difficult to imagine all the weapons finding their way into these stockades.

Of course, our interest in these developments is not solely altruistic. Jennifer and I have been wanting to establish a summer study program in Nepal since we arrived at UMM. Last night we had a booth at the International Country Fair. We had several inquiries about offering summer study in Nepal to which we robotically reply, "not until Nepal is taken off the State Department's warning list." This peace accord represents a big step in that direction.

We have a summer program already designed and ready to go. We drew it up two summers ago with Dinesh. It features a six-day trek in the mountains followed by two weeks of cultural study, a one-week homestay with a Nepali family, and then a quick tour of Kathmandu and the many important cultural sites there. Once Sam's House opens, students will also be able to volunteer hours with the children.

Speaking of children, UNICEF just published a report regarding the welfare of children during the Maoist conflict.

---------------------------------

Dinesh wrote today describing the first board meeting of the Nepali trustees for Sam's House. His wife, Rekha, was elected chairperson and Bharat Malla, owner of a local travel agency, was elected treasurer.

It seems we like to complain about bureaucratic inefficiency. In truth, we don't know the half of it when compared to other countries. Dinesh is busy registering Sam's House with the Nepal government. He went to KTM this weekend to get signatures from some additional trustees...

"You can't believe how many times a member needs to sign on the papers. I thought I had all the papers ready for the board meeting. But a member (lawyer) spotted that the format that I used in writing the constitution was the old one. I had taken NCH's constitution as a model, but now it has changed. So, I had to change the whole thing and write it again with the new format which took me 7 hours. The constitution is written in Nepali and has 11 pages. We need to make seven copies of them to submit in different government offices and each board member needs to sign on top and bottom of the each page. So, each person has to sign 154 times. Can you believe it?"

That's our leader: Dinesh-ji.

He's (understandably) rather anxious about the registration process because, as you can see, it requires an incredible amount of work and detail, but also because without the proper connections, the processing of your file can take a very long time. Some groups work in Nepal without registering, knowing that the Nepal government has enough challenges without trying to fish out all the development groups working off the books, so to speak.

A word about our Nepali trustees... it is customary in Nepal for trustees to receive payment or favors for their service on a board, even if it is a charitable organization. From our perspective that seems highly unethical and self-serving. It is our policy that no trustees will receive compensation for Sam's House work. We have insisted upon this from the start, even for the Nepali board.

This has created a unique challenge for Dinesh because the custom of perks for board service is so ingrained. To his everlasting credit, he has assembled a group of professionals who understand this policy.

Insisting on this policy has created some culturally-awkward moments for Dinesh during the recruitment of trustees. He tells them up front that there will be no compensation. It is a very un-Nepali way to conduct business. I think this also speaks to the quality of people we have on our Nepali board. We'll have pictures and profiles of this group on our website soon.

CB

Friday, November 03, 2006

Our First Home!

Dinesh has just reached an agreement for rental home for Sam's House. Pictures have been posted below.

The house sits in the Bagar area of Pokhara, toward the north end of the city. It's situated in a residential area, a good distance from the main roads, so the children will have safe walkways and plenty of peace and quiet.

To get a better idea of the location, go to the Sam's House website and click on the "Nepal & Pokhara" link. Then click the link for the map of Pokhara. You'll be able to see Bagar toward the top of the map, near the confluence of the rivers. It's a very nice, peaceful area.

This home is owned by an ex-Gurkha soldier and his wife, and its style is fairly typical for Nepalis who have better income than most. As we mentioned in an earlier post, many ex-Gurkhas have invested their retirement pay almost exclusively in housing and land.

Dinesh says they are in walking distance to many stores, schools and a hospital. Best of all, the Rajbhandaris will not have to move as their house is less than a 5 minute walk.

This will be Sam's House for the next three years (hopefully), until we raise enough money to secure some land and build family-style homes.

Anyhow, this is a huge step and Dinesh is doing a wonderful job preparing everything for our opening in January 2007.

I'll post more pictures as they arrive.

Love, CB


Another view of the house that includes a piece of the side yard. Posted by Picasa


Bedroom on the first floor. Very spacious. Since these photos were taken, the owner has re-painted the bedrooms. We could always use a volunteer to paint some fun things on the walls. Posted by Picasa


Sitting area on the first floor. A similar room is available on the other floors. Posted by Picasa


The front of the house viewed from the driveway. Three floors, lovely vegetation and a spacious side and backyard with a vegetable garden. Posted by Picasa


A side view of the house. On each floor, there are three large bedrooms, a sitting room and an office. Posted by Picasa