Raka Banerjee

Raka Banerjee (Nepal Social Development and People's Empowerment Center - NESPEC): Raka has spent much of her student and professional life abroad. She received her Bachelors of Arts in international studies from the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington. She then taught English in Japan for a year and in the slums of India. At the time of her fellowship, she was pursuing her Master's degree at the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at the University of California, San Diego, specializing in International Development and Nonprofit Management. After her fellowship, Raka wrote: "I had no choice but to let go of my previous life entirely and really dive into Nepali life without a single anchor to hold me back. I adapted to the culture in as many ways as I could – the clothes, the food, the behavior, the expectations – everything. And because of that, I feel that I really became Nepali while I was there – my mind changed from an American mind to a Nepali one, and because of that even my thought and behavioral patterns changed. The intensity of this only became clear to me upon my return to the U.S., when I found myself on the verge of tears at my first step on American soil – I felt that I’d come to a new country, leaving my home behind."

An Introduction to NESPEC

06 Jul

The Nepal Social Development and People’s Empowerment Center (NESPEC) was founded as a non-profit organization in 1997 in the municipality of Gaighat, located in the district of Udaypur, Nepal. From its humble beginnings, funded on less than 5,000 rupees (less than US$100), NESPEC has since worked on projects ranging from education for at-risk girls to potable drinking water programs and nearly everything in between. Over the years, NESPEC has adapted its work to fill the needs of the various communities that it serves as they have changed over time.

At its birth, NESPEC was formed in order to organize a series of ongoing skills development workshops, which taught individuals in need various trades in order to assist them in earning a livelihood for themselves. These wage-earning skills included such work as the making of vegetable pickles, the creation of various bamboo products through the weaving of bamboo, and the making of small dolls as toys for children.

From 2002 to 2004, NESPEC worked with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) on its Peace & Development Program in Nepal. During this time, the NGO helped organize conflict mediation committees which were formed in order to bring about peace and stability in a time of upheaval. The conflict mediation work, which was primarily concerned with the process of facilitation as opposed to instruction, led to a change in NESPEC’s approach to its community service. Rather than leading skills training workshops, NESPEC turned to a human rights-based approach to training, foregoing its hitherto needs-based skills training.

The new approach was focused on raising awareness among the village peoples of their rights, and more importantly, how to lay claim to those rights and make demands of the government. NESPEC conducted awareness camps on everything from the governmental process of obtaining a water pump for villages without clean drinking water, to the process of casting a vote in the first ever general election of members to the Constitutional Assembly, earlier this year.

NESPEC’s current activities are centered largely on food security and the right to land, which is increasingly becoming a life-threatening problem for villagers who live near the banks of the rivers that are steadily eroding their livelihoods away. I am personally deeply grateful to be a part of the ongoing work to stem the damage of the floods and to help the landless and in need gain the right to fertile land upon which they can cultivate their plans for a better life.

Posted By Raka Banerjee

Posted Jul 6th, 2008

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