After 5 flights and a 5-hour bus ride over the course of 5 days, I have finally reached Tulsipur, Nepal, where I will be working on child labor issues for 5 weeks with BASE (Backward Society Education). In keeping with this unintended theme of fives, I’ve decided to share this strange, new life of mine through a few lists of superlatives.
Five best sights thus far, in chronological order:
1) London! I’d never been before, so I took advantage of an eight-hour layover and walked along the Thames for a couple of hours, taking in Westminster Abbey, the Globe, and St. Paul’s.
2) A Nepali stranger holding up a sign with the words “Karie Cross” when I walked out of the Kathmandu airport with all of my luggage. The International Guest House picked me up and took me straight to a blessedly Western-style shower and bed in the Thamel district.
4) Kate Bollinger and Adrienne Henck, fellow Peace Fellows with The Advocacy Project. Kate showed me around Kathmandu, and I’m working with Adrienne in Tulsipur until she leaves at the beginning of August.
5) Smiling Nepali school children, one of whom was bold enough to say “hi” to me on the street. Nearly all of the children that I’ve seen here just giggle and smile at me.
Five biggest surprises:
1) Taxi drivers in Kathmandu don’t let unfamiliarity with a destination come between themselves and a customer. They’ll just drive to the district and yell at people on the street until they find it. They (and all other vehicles in Nepal) also pay no attention to lanes, speed limits, and traffic lights, and apply their horns liberally.
2) I rode from the Nepalganj airport to the local BASE office on the back of a motorbike with Suraj, a BASE staff member. Motorbikes can comfortably seat two. But two people and two backpacks (one large, one small) is not quite so comfortable. We made it work, but we earned a lot of funny looks.
3) On the bus ride out to Tulsipur, every time we stopped to pick up passengers children would crowd around the windows of the bus, thrusting bottles of filtered water and freshly made Nepali treats up at our faces. The young men working the bus were very kind to these children, but it was such a sad thing to see school kids on the bus contrasted to the children their age hawking goods outside the bus. BASE is trying to find a way to get all kids onto the bus, so to speak.
4) Tulsipur’s influential FM Chairperson, Devi Prasad Dhital, was murdered last week. Because of this, nearly all of the local shops have closed in protest (bandh), local police are out in full force, and there was a big procession through town a couple of hours ago.
5) I can apparently plan on being awoken at approximately 6 a.m. each morning by bleating goats.
Five important things to learn about BASE’s work on child labor:
1) BASE was begun in 1985 to fight against human exploitation in impoverished Nepali communities. It focuses on many human rights issues including bonded labor, illiteracy, marginalized communities, and child labor.
2) Children usually become laborers because their parents can’t afford to keep them. Landlords will often exchange land for a child or two. BASE fights these practices by educating Nepalis in rural villages about children’s rights and the illegality of child labor.
3) Child labor includes children who are “engaged in an economic activity and who are below the minimum legal age of employment” (CFV memo, Bal Mitra Gaun). Children may legally work with their families as long as they are enrolled in school. They are designated as child workers instead of child laborers.
4) BASE promotes the Child Friendly Village model, which consists of a community formally acknowledging child labor issues and committing to stop the practice in their area. Many Nepalis see child labor as an unwanted but traditional way of life. But just because that’s the way it is does not mean that that’s the way it should be.
5) Through Child Friendly Villages, BASE hopes to promote universal education by rescuing and rehabilitating the children who have been sent away to work in urban areas. They aim to reach 100% enrollment in schools and create Child Clubs through which children lead in their communities, express their views, and raise funds to pay for school supplies for the poorest children.
Stay tuned. I’ve already learned so much.
Posted By Karie Cross
Posted Jul 23rd, 2010