Development as peacebuilding

The first week at Summer Peacebuilding Program was an exciting opportunity for me to learn from and network with different academicians, practitioners and thinkers in the field of peacebuilding. Out of the various sessions, I was very interested in learning more about peacebuilding and the relation between development and peacebuilding. Coming from a nation which is struggling to do both of these things, I want to be able to learn more about how development can be used to build peace in communities which were once hostile against each other. Nepal went through a ten year civil war, which was led with a promise for development in the poverty stricken regions of the country. After the revolution was ‘successful’, most people expected the Maoist led government to stand up to its promises, especially in the rural areas. That was in 2006. Today, almost 10-years after the end of the revolution, we have had seven Prime Ministers (unstable government), and the economy has only deteriorated. Many of the former rebels who were promised an opportunity to join the Army were rejected as they did not meet basic educational and/or physical requirements. A large majority of these young people, frustrated and rejected by the society, have taken up difficult work in the Middle East as construction workers. Others, have joined the informal sectors in the capital city, Kathmandu, leading to greater urbanization. As if these were not enough challenges, the earth decided to give us another setback with a series of earthquakes, which have destroyed our precious heritage, cost us precious lives of almost 10,000 Nepalese and pushed back the tourism industry which is our second most important sector. The situation is bleak, and it requires a lot of thought and action – both of which is not happening right now.

Coming from a situation that many development workers consider ‘difficult’, I still have hope in my country’s ability to develop. This week at the Summer Peacebuilding Program helped me maintain that hope. First of all, I learned about the relation between economic inequality and peacebuilding. As a country that is trying to come out of underdevelopment, Nepal certainly needs to ensure that our rural poor are provided with an opportunity to control their own destiny. Quite often, when focusing in development, projects are catered to meet the needs of the urban elites, while ignoring the needs of the people who are actually the driving force for change – rural poor. In the case of Nepal, this would mainly include the young people who were once part of the armed revolution. In order to change this situation, we need to provide education, vocational training and bring them into the formal sectors. The post-earthquake situation in Nepal is a wonderful opportunity to engage in these campaigns – we need more construction workers, architects, designers – and now is the time for us to train these people so that they can rise above the level of poverty while contributing to rebuild their communities. The visit to Rancho Cielo was an important example for me to understand this phenomenon – the way they engage young people in ensuring that they are able to follow their passions and then connecting them with the formal sector is absolutely fascinating.

Another session which has helped me find solutions to the problems in Nepal was during the session with Professor Jeff Langholz. He gave an engaging presentation about an innovative idea to deal with water problems in the world. During his presentation, he gave an important lesson – in today’s world, the focus is all about taking the power to the people in communities. In his examples of Airbnb, Uber and other such services which have come up over the past few years, he talked about how we can engage local communities in coming up with solutions to many challenges. I can relate to this theory because with my work in Sankhuwasabha as a team member of Diyalo Foundation, I have realized that the way we can make our schools self sustaining is by allowing communities to engage in a farming cooperative, from where, we generate income, part of which goes towards supporting local schools. Instead of depending on financial support from donors, we are now creating a community which does not need much support from outside. However, incubation is key, which is where individuals such as Professor Langholz play a big role – in inspiring communities to come with solutions for their problems and training them to self-sufficiency.

As I reflect on the past week in Monterey, I must also say that very rarely do we, as emerging members of the peacebuilding community, get an opportunity to have such intimate interaction with some of the most experienced individuals from the field. I look forward to more learning and fun, all while enjoying the beautiful (although a bit chilly!) city of Monterey.