Rachel Palmer

Rachel Palmer (Backward Education Society - BASE): Rachel graduated from the University of Michigan with a BA in Political Science, focusing on international relations and Islamic studies. She then spent two years as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant on the islands of Borneo and Sulawesi in Indonesia, where she taught and facilitated ESL education workshops for Indonesian teachers. After her fellowship Rachel wrote: "I learned more than I ever anticipated about child labor, working for NGOs, challenges in combating human rights abuses, and legal challenges. This fellowship has been an overwhelmingly positive experience and has shaped my academic focus for next year. I plan to apply to graduate school this fall to study international relations and human rights, focusing on women and children's empowerment."



CHILD FRIENDLY VILLAGES: MICROFINANCE

10 Oct

07/06/12

Part 2

A few days after our first CFV visit, we headed out to the second Child Friendly Village was in Lalpur, which also was close to Tulsipur.  The office car’s shocks system is pretty much non-existent, so I spent most of the ride bouncing around the car, trying to prevent my head from slamming into the car ceiling. When we arrived at the village, the community members were waiting for us.  They laid burlap rice sacks for us to sit on under the large tree in the center of the village and everyone – fathers, mothers, children – came out to see us.

 

The crazy drive

 

Meeting house for village leaders

 

Alex and I went through our list of questions with the leaders of the Child Club – what kind of activities does your club do, do you have any former child laborers in your club, how much involvement do adults in your community have in your club, among others.  Unfortunately, each time one of the club leaders attempted to answer, parents interrupted and answered the questions for the children.  After a few frustrated attempts to answer my questions, the Child Club members fell silent and allowed parents to voice their own opinions and concerns.

With adult input, the meeting quickly changed from a briefing of Child Club functions and activities to an open discussion of challenges facing the village.  Village leaders complained that it was difficult to convince villagers to attend community meetings and actively contribute to community development.  The leaders felt like they needed more direction from BASE and advice as to how to increase participation in community decision-making.  They also questioned whether their children had the capability to run a club – after all, they were children.  Alex, Yogina, and I brainstormed with the village leaders to create steps to solve the problems.  We suggested incentives to bring people to community meetings and ways for parents to work with their children that would be beneficial for both parents and children.  We encouraged the parents to let their children make decisions, as that would prepare them for leadership in the community.

Photo with village leaders

Although I was happy to assist the village leaders with resolving their concerns, I still wanted to hear the children’s perspective on their contributions to a Child Friendly Village.  The concept of CFVs is truly amazing and I was curious to see if it worked.  The model creates community accountability for children’s welfare and involves child participation in community decision-making, which I believe is crucial for the promotion of child rights.  I’ve worked with high school kids extensively in the past and I know that as soon as parents leave, children will talk without restraint.  After listening to parents and village leaders talk and jotting down their concerns to report back to BASE, I requested that the children speak with us in private, so they could talk without distraction. My request was met with some suspicion and protests, but after Yogina explained that the children were probably shy in front of adults, the parents relented and we held a second, more private meeting.

In our private meeting, the Child Club leaders discussed their main club project – a community microfinance loan system. The children charged small Child Club dues every other week, which they collected and then lent out to neighbors who needed financing for projects, such as home repair or money for school fees.  The children recorded every loan, charged interest, and regularly checked up on those who took out loans to ensure repayment.  The most remarkable part of the system was that the managers of this efficient, well-designed system were only 15-16 years old.  Like their parents, the leaders of the Child Club expressed some concerns regarding their club.  Parents often failed to trust their children with the responsibility of the club, believing that children were incapable of making wise decisions.  Additionally, because parents gave their children money for clubs dues, they expected to have an influential say in the club’s activities.  Due to family hierarchy, the Child Club was often subject to the whims of parents, especially in terms of financial loans.  In spite of challenges, the children were convinced that the club was beneficial for their community and hoped to continue their activities.

Child Club Leaders

My visit to this Child Friendly Village was a valuable lesson about community development and empowerment.  While Child Friendly Villages and Child Clubs face formidable challenges, including apathy on the part of villagers and unwillingness of parents to let their children participate in decision-making, I think Child Friendly Villages and Child Clubs have the potential to be highly successful.  Such success is contingent on 1) effective training and educational programs conducted by BASE on how to run Child Friendly Villages and Child Clubs and 2) implementation and continuation of a thorough monitoring and evaluation system, which BASE would oversee.

Additionally, I was very impressed by the microfinance project that the Child Club is successfully running and I believe that the model should be replicated in other villages, or at least taught to Child Clubs.  It’s rare to find high school kids managing money that well anywhere.  And yet, in the middle of a remote village with little access to electricity and no access to computers, there was a group of 15 and 16 year olds loaning money and charging interest like a miniature bank for their village.

A future banker and I

One large concern village leaders conveyed is that parents (not necessarily village leaders) might become too involved in the Child Club, effectively stifling children’s creativity and leadership.  Especially in a place like Nepal, where children are taught to respect their elders and obey without questioning authority, children are subject to the decisions of their parents, regardless of whether those decisions are good for the children.  Parents and community leaders need to see the long term benefits of having child participation in village matters.  That’s why BASE’s CFV training sessions must be thorough and complete.   If the CFV model can be effectively managed, it could be a powerful tool for generating social change across Nepal and could strike a heavy blow against child labor, child marriage, and poverty.

Posted By Rachel Palmer

Posted Oct 10th, 2012

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