Our efforts to bring the 4 members of COCAP’s Eastern Region together had repeatedly failed. But Arjun-dai and Prakash (respectively serving as COCAP’s Volunteer Eastern Region Focal Point Coordinator and paid Focal Point Facilitator with whom I am working most closely with this summer) and I all agreed that if we were actually going to write a joint proposal, there would HAVE to be a meeting. Since the biggest obstacle seemed to be getting the representatives from the Jhapa District to make the journey to Gaighat, Arjun-dai decided that we should take the meeting to them. That way they’d have no excuse.
So, Arjun-dai, Prakash, and I with our colleague Janak from the other Gaighat-based NGO, piled on to a bus at 6am to begin our 5-6 hour journey. After a little over an hour we stopped in Lahan, to pick up a few more colleagues from CDF. Luckily the bandha that was imposed while we were waiting for “only 2 minutes” for our CDF colleagues only lasted 30 minutes and when they showed up 45 minutes later we got on our way.
Our crammed bus traveled along the highway passing fields, clusters of thatched roof homes, road-side stalls, over a massive bridge spanning the Triveri River, and along the border with India to Ithari. Babies and children sat on our laps as passengers got off and on and the crowd waxed and waned. Several hours later we reached Ithari City that has sprung up on Nepal’s main highway solely to connect other destinations (and was one of the sites of the extended bandha I wrote about previously).
In Ithari we had “lunch” at 10am and waited for Sahek, another friend & colleague serving on the COCAP board who was going to join our party. He informed us he was supposedly on a bus leaving Biratnagar, a 30 minute drive away. I’ve learned that time estimates do not tend to be accurate here so I expected him to take at least an hour.
Thus, when we finally connected with him 2 hours later, I had received yet another lesson in patience and even deeper insight into Nepal’s social networks that take precedence over everything else. These networks seem of the utmost importance in all aspects of Nepali life, from politics to marriage arrangements to how work gets done. Yet, as hard as I try to wrap my brain around this fundamental cultural practice I still have only scratched the surface. I worry that these social networks will be both the strength and the curse of Nepal and will have to be dealt with directly for political reform to be successful.
Our now complete posse of 7 was surrounded by drivers of vehicles of all sizes as deals were searched for and prices for our transport were negotiated. After a sticky two hours on a microbus built for 15 and packed with 25 and another 45 minutes of rattling down the highway in a tin can adorned with faded, oily, and shredding red velour interior that was formerly a 1970 luxury bus we arrived at our destination, Gajendra.
Being that it was now just after 4pm and we were wilted, smelly, and exhausted (or at least I was…) I naturally assumed that they would take us to our hotel to clean up and rest and that we’d convene in the morning. There I go again with those assumptions!
We (the gaggle of men and I) all sat down, did formal introductions, and the meeting began with the taking of attendance and the creation of an agenda. The meeting and discussions lasted for another 5 hours and were continued back at the hotel following dinner until after midnight. (To fully illustrate my state to those of you who have first hand knowledge of my aversion, somewhere around 6pm I found myself reaching into the pile that had been placed on the table, peeling, and eating half a banana for some crucially needed energy.)
The topics covered over the 9ish hour meeting included how to expand the numbers of members in the region, how to convince central COCAP to provide funding for a quarterly regional meeting, how to improve their inter-region communication & collaboration, and a review of the successful on-going programming in each of the organizations to share best practices.
Most importantly considerable time was spent discussing the specifics of a joint proposal that Prakash and I are working on for the region as a whole. The plan is to launch a coordinated program of education and awareness in rural and marginalized communities about the crucially important Constitutional Assembly Election that is slotted to be held November 22. If we can get all the info we need from the member organizations, get the proposal written, and find funding, the program is designed to reach over 30,000 people across 8 districts in the next 4 ½ months and will be incredibly exciting and useful.
Another function of the meeting was that it allowed me to collect information regarding the communications situation of the various organizations. I wanted to gather a clear picture of the situation, and particularly the challenges to collaboration that exist. I was really surprised by the results, particularly as I learned that NESPEC (which I’d been thinking was basic) is actually quite well off as they have 2 computers and internet access (when it works) in the office.
None of the other organizations has a fax machine or internet access, and one of them can’t even afford a computer. To use email, which is an increasingly routine form of communication, particularly with the International NGOs that often partner with these organizations, they have leave the office and go to a cyber café. All the organizations have phones, but it turns out that the cost of making a call outside the local area is 8 rupees per minute, causing a 5 minute phone call to cost more that what Prakash pays for his dinner.
These technological realities and related substantial costs of time and money, combined with the regular bandhas, gave me an entirely new appreciation for the challenges involved in successful inter-agency collaboration – particularly when that collaboration requires information and document sharing. It doesn’t make it any less frustrating when we wait endlessly for someone to pass information along or come to a meeting, but it certainly makes the context and obstacles clearer in my mind.
All in all, the meeting was quite a success and in addition to the proposal, I’m trying to think of creative ways to support the ongoing collaboration of these organizations, which I truly believe holds incredible promise. I’ve gathered a wish list of items each organization would like to have to improve it’s effectiveness and capacity, and I’m trying to brainstorm some ways to get them these needed resources and to improve their ability to communicate regularly. AND I’d love some help with this… Anyone have any ideas?
Posted By Nicole Farkouh
Posted Jul 13th, 2014