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."



Child Sponsorships Bring Aid to Impoverished Communities

24 Jul
Children from the village of Jogidaha

Children from the village of Jogidaha

Ajaya-ji, my supervisor, has the official title of Information and Child Sponsorship Coordinator: he is the staff member in charge of the child sponsorship aspect of NESPEC’s current collaboration with Action Aid, an international NGO focusing on combatting food security issues. Collaborating with Action Aid is NESPEC’s primary focus at the present, due to the rising urgency of food security issues in rural Nepal. Aside from organizing farmers’ micro-credit cooperatives and other awareness & advocacy-enhancing campaigns, NESPEC is also raising money in cooperation with Action Aid on behalf of the impoverished farming communities in the villages of the southeastern Terai. Action Aid has partnered children from these types of communities with donors in various countries in Europe; Nepal’s donor partner is currently Greece. Ajaya-ji is therefore in charge of providing the donors with some sense of the lives of the children that the donors are supporting. NESPEC staff members make regular trips to the farming villages near Gaighat, where they collect pictures drawn by the children of the villages. They also take pictures of the children, and send the pictures and the drawings to the Action Aid main office in Kathmandu, along with a handwritten message about the child’s life (favorite foods/activities, a typical day, family situation, etc.). Action Aid then sends these messages overseas to Greece, at which point the donors can send a letter to their sponsored child, forging a connection and building an international community of sorts. The donated money is given in full to the entire village to assist with the problems at hand, such as the purchase of a water pump, or the creation of a medical facility.

Unfortunately, the most recent batch of pictures did not meet Action Aid’s standards – they were too dark, or there was more than one child in the picture, etc. One of NESPEC’s staff members, Rijina-ji, was planning on returning to the village of Jogidaha in order to take another set of pictures of the 15 children who represent the village, and I volunteered to go with her and take the pictures while she collected the children’s information.

We were planning on leaving at 7:30, but ended up leaving slightly ahead of the Nepali time schedule at 8am. All had assured me that the walk to Jogidaha was about two hours, but I had forgotten to translate the number back out of Nepali time, so I was caught unawares when at 10am or so, I asked how much longer it would take and was assured that we were slightly over halfway there. The walk was scenic and beautiful, however, although my perception of the beauty was tempered by the sheer difficulty of the work that I saw around me. At one point, I stopped to take a photograph of a man plowing a rice field, but then turned away without the photo upon hearing the sound of his exertion as his plow struck the earth – a quick stab to the heart. I followed Rijina through varying landscapes – through the cornfields on the banks of the Triyuga River, across vast expanses of sand where the river had once flowed, across the streams through which we waded with the water up to our knees, past countless fields of rice stretching as far as the eye could see, stopping only to vanish into the blue-green hills straining towards the sky. At one of the rice fields, Rijina paused and waved at a man who I recognized to be a regular NESPEC volunteer, driving two oxen around in a methodical circle, waist-deep in mud.

Finally, around 11:30am we arrived at the village of Jogidaha, where the children scrambled from their houses of mud and thatched roofs to encircle Rijina-ji and I with eager smiles and pressing, incomprehensible questions. Rijina-ji lined them up one-by-one and wrote down information about their lives, and I took individual pictures of each child like some kind of budding model photographer, positioning them tastefully by a tree or in front of one of their houses. The narrow road into the community had been reduced to mud by the monsoon rains, but the children were delighted for the excitement and the diversion of having their pictures taken, and clamored over the camera to see how each photo had turned out.

After taking some lunch at a local hole-in-the-wall, Rijina-ji and I stopped at a fellow NESPEC volunteer’s house for a few minutes before beginning the long trek back home, this time accompanied by two friends that we ran into at the restaurant. Everyone was tired – I hadn’t walked continuously for such a long distance in awhile, and Rijina-ji had made the same trip the previous day and her legs were aching. We rested under the shade of a banyan tree for a few minutes, and watched people in nearby fields with backs bent, harvesting the rice. After some time, we got up and just as we’d resumed our journey, an ambulance came into view. As the driver was passing us, one of the girls called out to him. To my surprise, he actually stopped, and when we discerned that he was going back to Gaighat, he invited us onboard with a careless wave of his hand. The back of the ambulance was empty – the driver was making a return trip – and so we hitchhiked the rest of the way back to town, flying across potholes, careening through rivers, passing by the villagers with heavy baskets on their heads on their long way home from selling their goods in the Gaighat market.

Women on their way to sell firewood in the Gaighat market

Women on their way to sell firewood in the Gaighat market

Posted By Raka Banerjee

Posted Jul 24th, 2008

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