Improved Teaching Quality Key to Nepal’s Overall Development

Nepal Founder President Bhupendra Ghimire - VIN

Interview by Savina Xavier

Development in Nepal is incomplete without help from supporting hands such as NGOs. This is evident through the progress the country has made at the community levels. Volunteers Initiative Nepal (VIN) is one such organization that has made a remarkable contribution to the community development in Nepal.

The organization ’s efforts backed by sound knowledge and experience in each area of service is elementary to its success.

Not one or two, but VIN offers an entire range of development programs targeted at health care, women empowerment, literacy and quality education, disaster relief and much more. VIN’s creative approach of combining various engaging elements such as tourism, internships, and others with volunteer works not only provides the Nepali society the much-needed relief but provides an interactive opportunity for aspiring youth to fulfill their passions.

Nepali Sansar got to interact with Volunteers Initiative Nepal Founder President, Bhupendra Ghimire who not only provided an insight to Nepal’s plight and current development progress but also showed us why VIN is a successful entity in giving Nepal its fair-share of development.

Here are some excerpts from the interview:

Greetings from Nepali Sansar! It gives us great pleasure to be interacting with your prestigious organization

1. NSB: Volunteers Initiative Nepal (VIN) was established in 2005. What motivated the organization to establish its headquarters in Okhladhunga?

Bhupendra Ghimire: The organization was originally established in Kathmandu but Okhaldhunga was always in the background. We only started projects in Okhaldhunga in 2012 after a thorough baseline survey had been completed.  Initially, we wanted to test our approach to holistic community development in communities close to Kathmandu.

Okhaldunga is the village I was born and raised in. My vision for VIN came from the desire to develop this community.  I was inspired by my mom, my dad and other influences. It has been a long struggle but I strongly feel if we believe in our own dream and vision, we will achieve them over time with our continuous effort.

2. NSB: What are your views on Nepal’s development over the years? What development aspect of Nepal intrigues VIN?

Bhupendra Ghimire: Nepal is categorized ‘Medium’ on the Human Development Index (HDI), being in 149th position out of 189 countries listed. Poverty, health and education, gender and social discrimination, environment and political instability have always been major developmental issues in Nepal.

After a long struggle, in 2015, we the people of Nepal achieved our new constitution which addresses major long-running political issues. This has led us to political stability with a two third majority government.  We have many expectations of the new government. however, the government does not have enough resources to address them right away or at least there seems confusion at implementation level.

The major challenge in the recent years has been human resource. Due to youth migration to employment in foreign countries or the cities, villages have been without the regeneration and innovation that youth can bring. In some cases, with the money provided by younger family members who have migrated, the remaining family also migrates to the cities for education and work opportunities.  With the development of basic infrastructure like good schools, hospitals, well-constructed and maintained roads, electricity, drinking water migration can be reduced.  But this cannot be done without human resource.  The land that was once cultivated for food is now barren, there are animals everywhere, the entire ecosystem has changed.  These issues have fascinated and challenged us as we continue our work in rural areas.

3. NSB: VIN’s website talks about the involvement of international volunteers in the organization’s development initiatives? Is there any specific country from which your organization witnesses more participation?

Bhupendra Ghimire: We have deployed volunteers from over 100 countries. There are more from Europe than anywhere else because we have more partners in Europe. However, we would like more Nepalese to work on our initiatives.  It is free for them to become involved and we create an environment of learning & contribute more to their communities.

4. NSB: Nepal has vast tourism potential with more than 100 tourist destinations. How does VIN integrate its ‘adventure and volunteering’ initiatives with this aspect of Nepal? What tourist destinations does your organization cover as part of the above program?

Bhupendra Ghimire: Yes Nepal has so much to offer in natural beauty and adventure. However, we have not been able to take much advantage of this. If we promote these adventure destinations, we could attract a lot more tourism. VIN is a self-funded organization. We also offer adventure activities combining volunteering so that people who only come for trekking and tours can also connect with Nepalese communities through social activities. Through these charity travel tour adventure programs we raise some funds needed for our community projects. Mainly our volunteers would like to visit cultural and natural heritage sites such as Pokhara, Chitwan, Lumbini, Bandipur, Langtang, and fabled adventure locations such as Annapurna base camp and Everest base camp.  White water rafting is also appealing. We also organize trips to other destinations like Okhaldhunga where overseas people have never explored before.

5. NSB: VIN combines two very different subjects ‘Journalism’ and ‘Volunteering’ as part of its programs. How has the participation from Nepali youth been in this regard?

Bhupendra Ghimire: At VIN, we believe you can volunteer in any field. Our young people can also learn a lot about journalism through volunteering. In journalism, you need news, data, stories, videos, photos. The communities where we work have a lot of untold stories.  If you go and live in these rural communities, you will find real heroes.  They live an authentic life, full of colors and to experience it offers a great well for creativity. It’s a win-win approach -volunteers develop journalism skills; VIN & the community gets promotion! Unfortunately, few Nepalese youth volunteer in this field.  However, it has been a great attraction for many foreigners.

6. NSB: Women empowerment is at the heart of Nepal’s development and VIN has an array of women empowerment initiatives. What significant contribution has VIN made to Nepal’s

Women Empowerment scenario (Please support your answer with statistics)?

Bhupendra Ghimire: Yes, women’s empowerment at VIN is one of the most successful programs. Our goal is to empower women socially and economically through education, life skills and income generation initiatives. To achieve this goal, we run education and life skills, entrepreneurship building and micro-credit projects. We form small cluster groups (7 to 20 members) and then cooperatives to run these projects for the sustainability purposes.

VIN now facilitates over 300 groups and these groups are associated into four different women’s cooperatives. There are between 400 and 1000 members in each cooperative.  Prior to these initiatives these women did not have access to funds to start a business but now the cooperatives host transactions worth around forty million rupees. These cooperatives have been a great platform for women to practice their rights, socialize, share and learn.  We are also constructing business centres to facilitate business activities; to host meetings, seminars, show casing products. This program directly benefited over 4000 women in Okhaldhunga and communities on the outskirts of Kathmandu and Nuwakot.

Through this program hundreds of women have become literate. Hundreds of women have learnt vocational skills through which to improve their lives, learning vegetable farming, goat keeping, poultry farming, sewing cutting and handicrafts.

There are many success stories – you can watch on Youtube and on the website. 

7. NSB: It is also a very important to address some women-oriented issues carried from the traditional aspects such as menstrual taboos, among others. How do you find VIN’s role in addressing these concerns?

Bhupendra Ghimire: There are still many traditional orthodox beliefs in practice that betray women’s empowerment. Menstrual taboo is one widely practiced in both rural and urban areas. These taboos have been a long established part of our culture. This is not good. Our women’s empowerment program also encourages men to participate. We often conduct interactions and awareness raising activities for both. We conduct menstrual hygiene classes through our public health program to school children, youth, women and other stakeholders. This has slowly helped people understand this issue as biology. To change people’s mindset takes time but we are very optimistic that through continuous effort, it will be possible to establish a different way of thinking.  Slowly but surely, if we all work together, Nepal will become a peaceful prosperous and equitable country. 

8. NSB: #MeToo is today’s most-happening news. Women are coming out with experiences of various kinds of assault and harassment. Nepal is also facing similar cases of women violence every now and then. How do you find the status of #MeTooNepal? 

Bhupendra Ghimire: This is all about empowerment. In the past women did not share any sort of violence due to social stigma. They did not have the courage to say anything against patriarchal society. Today when celebrities started sharing their #MeToo movement, women in democratic countries have gathered their courage and started sharing their experiences as well. We have seen some assaults shared through this moment.  However, the women we work with are far behind on this movement as most of them are not IT literate and this will take time to change. We want women to speak out now against any abuses, not after 15 years!  VIN promotes men and women, both having equal responsibility in creating a harmonious society.  VIN’s vision is that everyone will act responsibly to create a peaceful, prosperous and equitable society in which trust and respect replace fear. 

9. NSB: Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) is one of Nepal’s most crucial needs at the moment. What has been VIN’s contribution to developing Nepal’s basic infrastructure needs?

Bhupendra Ghimire: Our goal for public health and medical care is to create healthy communities by controlling and preventing disease and increasing people access to health facilities, hygiene sanitation and education. One of the indicators on the HDI is the population’s health. With a good WASH program, you can ensure people’s good health. When we started WASH project, less than 15% of the households in our catchments had toilets and in Okhaldhunga less than 5% toilets. Now every family has one!  We support the government’s Open Defecation Free (ODF) campaign. We constructed over 3000 toilets to declare ODF in four local units.

Overall, we have impacted over 40,000 people through educational & basic infrastructure development.

10. NSB: The Government is very keen on improving the lifestyle and living conditions of Nepal’s senior citizens. Has VIN received Government support in delivering its old age programs?

Bhupendra Ghimire: We do everything voluntarily. There is no financial support at all from the government.

11. NSB: Kathmandu Valley’s dump yards are getting full, recent reports on KMC’s garbage maintenance also reveal that residents are suffering due to the awful stench. What significant ‘waste management’ initiatives is VIN taking in this regard and how has VIN helped ease this scenario?

Bhupendra Ghimire: This is a very BIG issue at the moment. Dumping waste is not a long term solution. We must recycle the waste creatively.  Yet there is no visible effort in this direction either privately or government sponsored.  At VIN, we educate communities on how they can reuse and recycle or make compost from the degradable waste. If everyone in the community can take care of their own waste, the environmental impact will be reduced. Establishment of permaculture is the best way to keep everything in ecosystem where nothing gets wasted.

12. NSB: It is interesting to know that you not only impart education to the less-privileged children but ensure the provision of ‘quality education’ with teacher training programs. How do you find Nepali youth’s participation in teaching volunteer works? Also, discuss some of the barriers that less-privileged children face. What has VIN done to eliminate those obstacles?

Bhupendra Ghimire: In the rural communities, there are schools but they are physically in poor condition and teachers are poorly trained. There are no established early childhood development centers (ECD). Children don’t have school supplies.  Overall, the schooling environment is poor. As mentioned above, VIN’s approach to development is holistic. So our goal is to improve holistic development of children (physical, mental, social and creative).  To implement quality education you need to address multiple factors.

We have many projects to support children from 3 years to 15 years.  VIN facilitates 55 ECD centers. We sponsor children whose families cannot afford their education. We run children’s clubs to help them develop creativity and learn life skills. We believe to lead a better society; we should involve children in democratic process from their schooling. We conduct parenting education to promote to parents the importance of education for their children. We conduct regular teacher training for over 400 partner school teachers so that teachers can deliver their classes in a child friendly and child centered manner.  Quality education is ONLY possible through working together to address all issues, such as infrastructure, community attitude, resources.

We appeal to our youth to join this campaign with two goals; to improve teaching/ learning at school and also youth themselves learn some useful skills. Not many young community members want to participate in this. They are willing to go abroad but not spare time for our own community. We do, however, thank the ones who participate on our causes.  Steadily, there are more young people interested every year. The more we promote volunteering, the better result we will get.

13. NSB: In a recent report, the National Campaign for Education petitioned to the Government to retain old schools and enhance existing infrastructure to fulfill the constitutional provision of free and mandatory education, rather than investing and constructing new schools. What are your views on this?

Bhupendra Ghimire: I have been involved in education sector for the past 24 years. We always talk about free quality education. I, however, think if we retain the same system, quality won’t be possible. The distribution of teachers and resources is not spread equally. In the south there are too many children in one classroom. In the hills and mountain, there are very few children in a class, neither  there is a favorable environment. Often, due to the geographical situation, teacher student ratio is not balanced. For instance, in a basic school (ECD to Grade VIII), there are nine classes running. This means you need at least nine teachers but the government might have assigned less than five because of the reduced number of children attending. So the government came up with the idea of Merging.  Now local units can decide how many schools they want. I agree we should merge schools to provide enough teachers and resources. If you have too many children, you cannot pay enough attention or control the children. If you have too few children (below five), it is hard for them to develop socialization skills to live in this competitive world.  It is also a waste of resources. So the idea of merging and developing teachers and facilities will really help.

In addition proper monitoring and support system should be developed, along with a base-line qualification level for teachers.  The lower the grades, higher the difficulties in teaching them. So I would suggest the minimum education level should be Bachelor’s degree to start teaching for ECD or Basic level students. At the moment, teaching is not highly respected job in the society. To make it a more respected / fascinated profession, we should pay more and also motivate deserving students (high merits) to study teacher education. Education changes the direction of the country. That’s why a teacher’s role is very crucial to reform overall system of the country. They really do a lot to produce much needed human resources for the country. So our strategic direction is also to prepare the community accordingly.

14. NSB: There is a mention of ‘Featured Projects’ on VIN’s website. What is so special about these programs and how different are they from the existing ones?

Bhupendra Ghimire: Featured projects are the ones we create to address the special needs of the community in order to achieve short term to immediate goals. We run bilateral or multilateral work-camps and group projects for these purposes. They change every year based on community needs. Some projects are also featured to get more attention from the external communities. 

15. NSB: Which do you prefer if VIN has to talk about a successful project that brought a significant change in Nepali scenario? (Please support your answer with statistics and data)

Bhupendra Ghimire: Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) – reach out to 40,000+ of the population by building transitional homes (550), classrooms (50), earthquake resistant homes (40), earthquake resistant schools (4) and one community learning center (CLC) and one Women’s business Center.

Public Health & Medical Care – Impacted thousands of lives through educational and health check-ups. We have saved a lot of lives and built thousands toilets.

VIN has made significant progress over the years. How do you see its future progress?

Once VIN starts working in one community we do not move to another until we see a significant impact in the lives there. So our projects are not event types. They are all based on the principle of sustainability.  We have already prepared our 2025 strategy. So we want to reach out to more provinces impacting lives from mountains to hills & plains. As a small organization we cannot work for the whole country but we can set some examples. We always wish to follow community dynamics and support the nature of their needs. Our organization exists ONLY if we catch the spirit of the people.

Thank you.

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