Mark Koenig

Mark Koenig (Collective Campaign for Peace – COCAP): Mark was born in St. Louis, Missouri. After graduating from the International School of Bern in Switzerland in 2000, he spent one year at Davidson College in North Carolina and then moved on to Johns Hopkins University where he received a bachelor's degree with honors in Political Science in 2004. While studying at Johns Hopkins, Mark completed internships with genomics researcher Craig Venter, US House Representative Chris Van Hollen, and in London with Lady Sylvia Hermon, a Member of Parliament from Northern Ireland. After graduation, Mark moved to Shenzhen, China where he lived for two years teaching English at Shenzhen Senior High School. At the time of his fellowship, Mark was studying at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Boston focusing on post-conflict reconstruction, law and development. After his fellowship, Mark wrote: “I think that perhaps it is my interest in and understanding of community level dynamics and activities that has developed the most while here. The significance of community level interactions and relationships as it pertains to the events that take place on a national level is an intriguing topic that this summer has given me new insight into.”

Kaushalya Pariyar

29 Aug

Kaushalya hasn’t seen her husband in more than five months. Last month Kaushalya’s house collapsed in the floods. Recently Kaushalya had to pull two of her children out of school to help her earn money by spending their days weeding other people’s fields. Kaushalya was able to tell us all of this, not without tears, but with the strength of a woman who has suffered through the most difficult of lives.

When Kaushalya got married, her husband Lal Bahadur Pariyar was a tailor working within the traditional system of bhaligary. In short, bhaligary sets up a system where laborers, such as tailors or blacksmiths agree to work for the wealthy landowning families and accept grain, and rice as payment. Lal Bahadur Pariyar would barter one year of his services for enough rice and grain to feed his family for less than six months.

Kaushalya and Lal Bahadur Pariyar decided that they wanted to try and do better. They stopped participating in the bhaligary system and started to mend clothes by the side of the road in the nearest city, Kohalpur. They had envisioned being able to meet people, show their skill and eventually start tailoring clothes for people. Unfortunately their family was not the only one mending clothes along the road, and in fact many other skilled tailors were able to rent their own shops in town. So soon it became clear that Kaushalya and Lal Bahadur were not going to improve their situation through roadside tailoring.

Once this family was forced to realize that they could not sustain their family through tailoring, they faced a difficult reality. Lal Bahadur Pariyar had never finished primary school, he is Pariyar caste, and Pariyars are traditionally tailors. He began working to help his father tailor clothes before he turned ten years old. His only skill is tailoring, so to find a new job in a country where jobs are few and far between is no simple task. So the only answer he and many other men in similar situations have found is to go to India to do manual labor. They work in factories, they load trucks, carry bricks to construction sites.

Most of these men come home a maximum of once or twice a year. Many of these men will being back HIV/AIDS with them, and few return with enough money for their family to live on.

After hearing her story and seeing her emotion, I had one question I had to ask Kaushalya. I think with most people I could not have brought myself to actually ask the question, but Kaushalya had been so honest and open throughout the conversation that I followed through on my urge. I asked her if she felt her life was better off now or when they were bhaligary tailors. Kaushalya didn’t answer. She was not upset, she was not angry, she just clearly had nothing to say. Perhaps hypotheticals and daydreams are luxuries she simply does not allow herself or perhaps she did not want to face this question. Even without hearing her say it for herself, I had already answered the question for her in my mind. My answer was…it did not matter. Whether she had moved from bad to worse or from worse to bad, the reality that she faced before and now faces everyday is composed mostly of suffering and struggle. The difficult reality is that her problems will most likely never be solved, no matter what she or her husband does.

Posted By Mark Koenig

Posted Aug 29th, 2007

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