Nicole Farkouh

Nicole Farkouh (Collective Campaign for Peace – COCAP): Nicole graduated from Smith College with a BA in Cultural Anthropology. She also has a Master of Education from the University of New Orleans. Nicole’s professional background is in education. She has worked as a teacher, administrator, and consultant, mainly with middle school students with special needs. She is also a certified community mediator and has studied a complementary model of mediation based on Non-Violent Communication. She has studied abroad in India, lived and taught in Mexico. At the time of her fellowship, she was studying for a Master of Public Policy degree at the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley. After her fellowship, Nicole wrote: "More than anything, this summer I received a new level of understanding /appreciation for the complexity involved in “development” and “human rights” work…. Particularly being a foreign body trying to work in a new culture."


31 Dec

NESPEC (Nepal Social Development and People’s Empowerment Center) is a human rights organization at the core and takes advantage of any opportunity to help the people of Nepal learn about human rights. Thus as Universal Children’s Day approached, they geared up to hold a major event. Extending my final stay in Gaighat a few days longer than expected allowed me to participate.

Instead of participating in a “fluffy” and centralized district headquarter program, NESPEC wanted to use the opportunity to reach as many people as possible at the grassroots level and took their event out of the more developed district headquarters and into the surrounding villages. The program was held in the centrally located village of Harrdiya, and was attended by children from 3 other the neighboring villages that NESPEC transported in via tractor and jeep so they could participate and be honored.

Children from the villages

The plan for the day was to have a rally, hold a program with inspiring speeches, and present school supplies and uniforms to some of the neediest children from each village. The event was coordinated using the school and community based “Child Clubs” that NESPEC had previously established throughout the 4 villages. These clubs are run by child-only boards supported by an adult sponsor, build leadership in students, and provide enrichment activities ranging from chess, to cultural performances, to sports, to conflict resolution. They also serve as a point of contact to provide support directly to the children, their families, and their communities.

Even though I knew the overall plan for the day, it turned out to be unlike anything I could have anticipated. In the morning all the organization’s staff and most of the volunteers, in addition to the local reporters who had just been briefed, totaling around 30, piled into (and on top of!) a rented jeep to make the hour-long trek to Harridya. Once there we took over a grass-covered space in the middle of the village and began setting it up. While we moved logs, set up a few chairs, hung a banner, and did a sound check with the bullhorn, groups of children started arriving.

They emerged out of the dust

All of a sudden there was the sound of chanting and clapping off in the distance and organized chaos ensued. A local Harridya school emerged from a cloud of dust generated by their stamping feet and teachers of students from the surrounding villages quickly organized their classes into marching units to fall in line. The result was an inspiring 45 minute march throughout the village of Harrdiya with children chanting and carrying a variety of signs with inspirational slogans in English and Nepali.

The last vehicles full of children from the neighboring villages joined in somewhere en route, and upon returning to the clearing and settling everyone down, a program for apx. 450 children began. Following speeches by local leaders and human rights activists was the climax of the event.

The attentive audience

Forty of the neediest and most deserving children from the 4 villages, coincidently mainly coming from marginalized, oppressed, and indigenous groups were presented with 2 sets of uniform clothes and school supplies. Of particular note to me, as a former teacher, was that these children had been selected to be honored by the child-run boards of each of the Child Clubs. The Child Clubs in turn were given a large bag full of sports equipment and educational goods to support their ongoing activities. The program was concluded with a speech by 13 year old 8th grader, Gita Kumari Khadka, who was the designated Chairwoman of the program.

Madam Chairwoman

After it all was over the feedback received from the press was unanimously positive. They commended NESPEC for running a truly innovative and meaningful program in the spirit of Universal Children’s Day – and particularly for taking on and successfully tackling the challenges involved in holding a program in the villages, away from the amenities and ease provided by the District center.

As for me, I had never before heard of Universal Children’s Day, and I can guarantee that I will never again forget it!

“Insipring Nepal’s Future Leaders”

If you would like to support a new initiative for empowering women being launched by this great organization please follow this link to learn about the program and make a tax-deductible donation:

Posted By Nicole Farkouh

Posted Dec 31st, 2014

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