Jessica Tirado

Jessica Tirado (Jagaran Media Center – JMC): Jessica earned her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Political Science at the State University of New York at New Paltz. After university, Jessica volunteered in Rwanda with survivors of the 1994 genocide. After returning from Rwanda, she volunteered with the Darfur People’s Association of New York, assisting refugee families. Jessica then worked in northern Thailand with a Thai NGO that worked on human rights in Burma, and was part of the disaster relief response to Cyclone Nargis in May 2008. At the time of her AP fellowship, Jessica was studying for a Masters degree at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs. In the summer of 2007, she participated in NYU’s overseas study program at the United Nations Offices in Geneva. She also served as the Coordinator for Rock to Save Darfur’s major fundraising concert in 2008. After her fellowship, Jessica wrote: “I now view discrimination as a much more urgent problem than I'd previously perceived it to be. I've also gained an enhanced awareness of the importance of marginalized communities in leading their own NGOs and movements, rather than relying on others to advocate on their behalf. This experience has been very humbling.”

Reaching Out to At-Risk Youth

13 Aug

Earlier last week, JMC held its first-ever youth workshop on human rights, caste discrimination, and the use of media as a tool of advocacy–and after its fruitful results, we hope that it will not be the last.

Wanting to know what I do all day while they’re at home or in school, the children at the orphanage at which I live have been energetically bombarding me with questions about my work with JMC on an almost-daily basis. The more I’d explain to them about JMC’s overall goals and actions, the more enthralled the kids would become with Dalit issues and the concept of advocacy through media. Every day that I spend with the kids, I am astonished and inspired by their eagerness to learn, their sense of empathy and compassion toward each other, and their vivacity. I was wholly astounded, though, when I realized their genuine interest in learning about human rights issues. As the children are currently on holiday from school for a short time, I was searching for ways to ensure that this highly fortuitous opportunity to make something happen did not slip away. When ten-year-old Biru said to me, “Jessica, I want to come to work with you!”, I considered the idea for a moment and thought…why not?

When I approached Prakash and Rem about exploring possibilities of holding a youth workshop at the JMC office, they were kindly amenable to the idea. The JMC-ers who run various different programs within the organization–such as our radio show, our television series, our human rights monitoring department, etc.–additionally offered their generous support in educating orphaned and at-risk youth about human rights issues. Just a few days later, we found ourselves sitting in JMC’s downstairs conference room, surrounded by cookies and milky chiya, various JMC staff members, paper and pencils for a planned activity, a film projector, and eight curious children (ages ten to fourteen) plus two volunteers from the orphanage.

I’d been harboring a giddy nervousness about the workshop for a number of reasons: this was my first time planning/facilitating a workshop with youth (let alone a human rights-themed one), the first time JMC had ever had a group of kids in the office, AND the workshop was somehow going to be conducted in both English and Nepali. Needless to say, Murphy’s Law could have had a field day. We were all pleasantly surprised (and relieved!), however, by how smoothly the workshop panned out–not to mention amazed by the exhilarating levels of enthusiasm and intellect displayed by the children.

JMC Youth Workshop

A brief breakdown of our itinerary (not including, of course, intermittent snack and bathroom breaks):

I began the workshop by introducing the topics of human rights, advocacy, and civil society, speaking in English to the children which Prakash then translated. (The kids are all fluent in English, but I thought it would be best to address substantive, sensitive issues–such as caste discrimination–in our native languages in order to cultivate a more natural understanding of the concepts. Additionally, since these concepts are so new to the kids, I didn’t think it would hurt for them to hear an explanation of the ideas twice.) After going over what many of the rights outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are (as well as the significance and origin of the document itself), I emphasized the fact that these rights are granted to one regardless of age, race, gender, religion, country of birth, or caste–most importantly, because one is simply a human being.

We then discussed how, realistically speaking, such rights are NOT adequately upheld for all populations in most societies–worldwide discrimination in myriad forms is distinct and irrefutable. As such, civil society organizations such as JMC are needed to advocate, monitor, and protect these rights. The children were then informed that they would be learning about how JMC specifically uses various media campaigns to advocate for Dalit human rights.

Purna (one of JMC’s managers, and head of Dalan series) and Dilip (JMC’s Secretary-General) spoke to the children about the founding of JMC, explaining the extent of caste discrimination and related abuses that had been witnessed and experienced throughout Nepal by its very first staff members. They also explained the deficiency of reliable, serious coverage of Dalit issues in Nepal’s mainstream media, and the need for an independent organization to produce such research and information.

The children were then introduced to JMC’s various media campaigns by staffers from each respective department:

Katwal Radio Patrika: Katwal is a nationwide, thirty minute-long feature program that focuses on contemporary political and social issues facing Dalits. Through discussion sessions between Dalits and non-Dalits, Katwal advocates for proportional representation, political participation, inclusiveness, and restructuring of the state to best address Dalit issues.

Dalan Series: One particularly innovative advocacy method devised by JMC is its production of a 25-episode soap opera series called Dalan, which chronicles three successive generations of a Dalit family in Nepal. Touching on virtually all forms of discrimination that afflict Dalits, Dalan has amassed laudatory ratings throughout the country–and notably, throughout Nepal’s different castes.

Radio Jagaran: Radio Jagaran’s headquarters is located in Nepal’s western region, an area notorious for having the highest and most severe incidences of caste-based discrimination. While Nepal has more than 100 community radio stations, Radio Jagaran is one of the only that is exclusively dedicated to raising issues concerning Dalits and other marginalized communities. On broadcast for eighteen hours per day, Radio Jagaran runs more than 100 different news and discussion programs that reach the inhabitants of western Nepal. (Unlike Katwal, Radio Jagaran is more focused on local issues, and targets a specific stakeholder population in the western region.)

Dalit Human Rights Monitoring: JMC’s field reporters, based in various districts throughout Nepal, collect data on a wide range of human rights abuses including beatings, rapes, murders, incidents of torture, forced expulsions from residences, and persecution of inter-caste couples. The data is then compiled into an annual human rights report, which is used for legal, advocacy, and educational purposes.

Journalist Training: Though there are more than 5,000 journalists working throughout Nepal, less than 100 hail from the Dalit community. JMC aims to address this gaping disparity by training Dalits on the dynamics of Nepalese mass media, as well as writing techniques, photography, and interviewing. As a result of this program, several past Dalit participants are now active journalists in the mainstream media. JMC also provides training to non-Dalit journalists in order to enhance their familiarity with and sensitivity to issues facing Dalits.

We then watched an episode of Dalan which depicted an inter-caste marriage in a rural village, and the subsequent violent, humiliating expulsion from the community of a Brahmin (highest caste) man and Dalit woman. The kids all agreed that the couple were treated in a manifestly cruel and wanton manner, as the man and woman had clearly not hurt anybody; yet they understood that such events in Nepal are prevalent and habitually tolerated.

By this point, the kids were feeling quite engaged, and were beginning to candidly converse about how antiquated, destructive, and downright nefarious the system of caste discrimination is. It was prime time for our planned interactive activity at the end, whereby the kids broke up into small groups and brainstormed answers to a specific caste-related question. Their answers blew all of the adults in the room away with how well thought-out and earnest they were. It was truly edifying to see such a compassionate and intellectual side of the kids come out full-force, especially in a team environment. (The activity I’d planned was translated into Nepali on paper, and the kids initially answered in Nepali. After they stood up and explained their answers in Nepali, Prakash summed up their main points in English. Sounds awkward, but it actually worked out rather nicely!)

In the meantime, I am awaiting precise translation of their written answers in response to the interactive activity, which I plan to excerpt later in this blog. I can’t wait to share the children’s evocative insights. Stay tuned!

  • Workshop activity

Posted By Jessica Tirado

Posted Aug 13th, 2009


  • John K

    August 13, 2009


    Superb work Jessica. You are a role model to many. Kids at a young age are very impressionable and what they learn about an important issue will stay with them forever. This is the way to change the next generation – education and awareness of youth. Truly amazing achievement. Well done.

  • Amy

    September 24, 2010


    Keep up the good work Jess!

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