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."



Farmers’ Groups Struggle for Food Security

16 Jul
Meeting of a farmer's cooperative group in Partaha

Food security is one of the primary problems threatening the lives of those who live in the small villages of Eastern Nepal. As the fertile ground by the banks of rivers is eroded over the years and turns gradually into dunes of sand, villagers who were once able to make a living for themselves through subsistence agriculture now are barely able to gather enough food to sustain themselves for a single season, let alone a full year.

To address this situation, NESPEC is collaborating with a Kathmandu-based NGO known as Action Aid on a food security and land rights campaign, which began last year and is progressing rapidly. When I arrived in Gaighat a few weeks ago, my supervisor Ajaya along with several other NESPEC members were meeting with Action Aid in order to formulate a ten-year long-term strategic plan, which is now underway. One of the main aspects of NESPEC’s work on this campaign has been the creation of farmers’ groups, which are organized for the purpose of savings and credit – in essence, they are small microfinance cooperatives. NESPEC has organized 45 farmers’ groups in four different VDCs (Village District Committee), and each group contains about 25 farmers. Each member saves a small amount of their income each month (5 rupees) and contributes it to the farmers’ group. This helps to create a small basis of funds on which group members in need can draw for loans, which are given at a significantly lower interest rate than the local banks. NESPEC staff members travel to the villages to meet with each group monthly in order to assess their situations, collect the farmers’ contributions to their savings, and give out loans.

Soon after I arrived in Gaighat, I was given the opportunity to tag along to one of these meetings in the rural village of Partaha. It took about half an hour to reach the village from the NESPEC office by motorcycle, and on the way we drove past large fields of crops and crossed a few rivers (with only minor calamity). The landscape was beautiful – yellow fields rustling in the wind, extending as far as the scenic backdrop of the dark hills in the distance, misted by clouds. I concentrated on staying on the bike, however, as the scar I acquired in the Dominican Republic a few years ago in a motorcycle accident still hasn’t faded from my right leg, nor has the fear invoked by it faded entirely from my memory. At one point, while fording a river that was just a little too deep, the bike stalled and Ganga-ji and I tumbled off into the water and waded through to the other side while Ajaya struggled to get the bike across.

In Partaha, we met with the group and conducted the financial transactions. I was surprised to see that although the village was considerably more rural than the small town of Gaighat, and the villagers must struggle very hard to make a livelihood for themselves, there was still a single power line that ran to a nearby building. And apparently one of the villagers has a mobile phone, which she operates like a phone booth – anyone in the village can receive calls on it without charge, and they pay her for any outgoing calls that they make. Even in places as remote as this, technology has still managed to make its presence felt – and as time passes, access will continue to increase in order to improve the day-to-day lives of people in these areas. I’m grateful to have been given the chance to see the process unfold, and I hope to be a more active part of it in the future.

Posted By Raka Banerjee

Posted Jul 16th, 2008

1 Comment

  • Pavitra

    July 17, 2008

     

    Raka, Your blog style is very enjoyable to read. The combination of information oriented content blended with a descriptive travelogue of the city and countryside, one that many of us may never see, can be seen through your eyes. Thanks.

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