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.


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