Before I left many people asked about the organization I’d be working for in Nepal. I had reviewed COCAP’s website, and learned a bit about them from the Advocacy Project, but since I’ve arrived I’m increasingly clear on the work that COCAP does.
COCAP is a relatively new, yet ironically quite experienced organization. It was established locally in 2002, was restructured into a national network in 2005, and quickly matured into a key organization in Nepali Civil Society during the 2006 “Jan Andolan.” This “People’s Movement” forced King Gynendra to relinquish his political grip and re-instate the parliament and democratic functioning. During the 90-days of mass nationwide protests, COCAP’s main work was as human rights monitors. They organized and trained numerous volunteers across the country who donned blue vests and waded out into the protests. The presence of these monitors pressured the government forces to adhere to established human rights principles, helped minimize the violence on all sides, and provided some measure of protection to those who had been injured – whether protestors or civilians.
At its heart, COCAP is a human rights organization that has 4 guiding principles: inclusiveness, transparency, democracy, and volunteerism. I have been particularly impressed by the culture they have created in the COCAP office that directly reflects these principles. There are only a handful of paid staff people, but the 5-6 room office is always bustling with volunteers. These volunteers are typically reading in the excellent resource center/library, discussing important issues, preparing to go or returning from political events, and forming the social networks that are so crucial to Nepali society. The COCAP office provides an environment that I imagine to be akin to those informal meeting places from which many other progressive social movements were born.
In addition to the incredible network and participation of volunteers, there is a visible commitment to transparency and democracy. There is an overt effort to have democratic protocols (which I’m told is incredibly unique in Nepali culture), with open meetings being held in which anyone is allowed to speak. The permanent staff people all have offices, but they are not private offices in the sense that people can use their computers when they are not there. Volunteers are also welcome to walk into anyone’s office and observe the work they are doing.
I have questioned about the efficiency of these practices and the need for some privacy in the work being done. I have learned there are times when decisions that not everyone always agrees with are made by those “in charge,” but it is always after rigorous discussion in which everyone’s views are aired and respected. With regard to privacy, when I asked one of the founding members Bijay-ji about this, he laughed, threw up his hands, and said, “I suppose I could close my door if I wanted to, but I haven’t had any reason to do that yet!”
In addition to encouraging volunteers from all castes, communities, ethnicities, and religions, COCAP makes overt efforts to reach out to and build alliances with groups that represent these different interests. In fact, they are one of the first organizations ever to reach out to a Kathmandu gay rights organization. They both advocate for democratic inclusiveness in national politics and model that in their own networking and practices.
As you know if you’ve read my earlier blogs, I didn’t have a ton of information before I came. I was really taking a leap of faith that this summer would be a meaningful experience for me and would allow me to contribute in kind to COCAP. Now that I’ve had a few days in Kathmandu to meet my colleagues and deepen my understanding of COCAP’s work I feel quite fortunate about the chance to support the work of this incredible organization.
Posted By Nicole Farkouh
Posted Jun 12th, 2014