Tassos Coulaloglou

Tassos Coulaloglou (Collective Campaign for Peace – COCAP): Tassos was born and raised in New Jersey. He attended the University of Wisconsin (UW) and graduated with his BS in Political Science in 2001. Tassos spent one year studying abroad at Utrecht University in Holland while in his final year at UW, After graduation, Tassos moved to Lithuania to become a freelance journalist and teach high-school history and English as a second language. In 2004, he returned to the States to work as a team leader with the League of Conservation's Envirovictory political campaign in Milwaukee. He returned to Eastern Europe the following year and resumed writing before starting graduate school. At the time of his fellowship, Tassos was studying for a Master's degree in International Relations and Diplomacy offered jointly by Leiden University and the Clingendael in Holland. After his fellowship, Tassos wrote: “...now in class, I try to break the Euro/America-centric positions that seem to dominate and ask what the Nepali view would be…this fellowship pushed me to understand a people, to think in their terms."



16 Jul

After about three hours of hiking pretty much straight up the hill (and remember hills for Nepalis are between one to four thousand meters), I was exhausted. Yogendra, on the other hand, barely looked like he’d broken a sweat, which is probably why we took such a direct route to the top. It was time for lunch (Nepalis always eat the same thing for lunch and dinner, dal bhat, which is rice with lentils and veggies, maybe some meat). We came to a small group of huts on the hill and asked a few villagers if they had lunch. We were always greeted with smiles but almost everyone had finished their meal, which seems reasonable. When you get up at 5:30 am to start working in the fields, lunch is between 9 and 10. We came at 11.

We finally found a nice old woman who was willing to cook us another round of dal bhat.

We had a chance to rest, but also to talk with the locals about the November elections and the general political situation in Nepal. I soon came to realize how isolated this village was, even though I could see Baglung down in the raised valley below. We were only three hours away from the telephones, internet, newspapers and markets of Baglung, but it might as well have been years away. A lack of roads and communication infrastructure means that places only a few kilometers from the district capital of Baglung are as isolated as remote villages like Nishi (see blog below).

“No one from the political parties comes to talk to us. We have no idea what they stand for in the Constituent Assembly or how they can help change Nepal,” said Prem Bahadur Thapa.

Mr. Thapa is a village leader and head of the household where I was lucky enough to have lunch.

Yogendra translates for me as we discuss politics and the CA with local villagers. Prem Bahadur Thapa is seated on the left.

So a new proposal started to gel from my hike with Yogendra around the hills of Baglung. We started to discuss the idea of bringing local leaders from communities to Baglung for training. We started phoning our other members in different districts and asking for their input. Only a couple days ago we went to visit another member in the neighboring district of Myagdi to discuss the new proposal and they all seemed enthusiastic and excited, if only we could get the resources to pay for it.

After a few more meetings with members here in Baglung, Yogendra and I have been putting the finishing touches on the budget section and should be finished with the proposal soon. We’ll send it along to Kathmandu where I hope they will shop it around to international NGOs and donor organizations.

The proposal is called the Constituent Assembly Rural Empowerment and Awareness Project (CAREAP). The idea is to have local community leaders
conduct small street level or neighborhood group discussions to educate people in rural areas about the CA and explain to them what rights and powers they have in a democracy. Most of the people living in these rural areas are ethnic minorities, Dalits (untouchables), or lower caste groups. They are labeled as disadvantaged groups or DAGs.

Often when NGOs conduct awareness programs they do so locally but it is centralized at the Village Development Committee (VDC) level. VDCs are small geographical units, similar to a municipality in the US. But villagers in rural areas are interested more in harvesting and planting their rice (i.e. feeding their families) than learning about constitutions, elections, and a government that has done little for them in their lifetime.

By having local leaders conduct small scale trainings on the street level, it is our hope that DAGs will be more receptive to the message, feel more a part of the CA process, and become empowered both politically and socially. Also, the local VDC leaders will be comprised of one woman and one man to ensure inclusiveness. But first, the two VDC leaders will come to the district capitals (there are seven districts in COCAP’s Western Region) for a seven day training program to learn about various topics related to the CA, democracy, and the New Nepal (Naya
Nepal
).

With 59 VDCs in Baglung district alone, it will be a major undertaking.

Of course, timing is of the essence. We need to find a donor and quickly. With all the members excited about the proposal and willing to do the organizing, training, and implementation, this could be a huge help to strengthen the COCAP network and empower disadvantaged groups in Nepal.

Posted By Tassos Coulaloglou

Posted Jul 16th, 2007

5 Comments

  • Shalise Forti

    July 16, 2007

     

    Do you think you could get all of the community leaders to the capital for this training? I can see it would be a major undertaking, but if you could get the right information to the influential persons, than it could be a great success. Not only in making people aware of the election issues but of including the lower caste members (DAGS) Interesting blog.. ill keep up to see how it turns out!

  • Melissa

    July 17, 2007

     

    Definitely a very big but interesting project- I certainly agree that to make people more receptive to the message they must understand more about the process and their role in it. I hope this comes together for you and will be following it in future blogs!

  • tassos

    July 26, 2007

     

    I want to thank everyone for their comments. As far as the proposal is concerned, it looks as if there is no funding available from donors for pre-election work. This is unfortunate but could be a blessing. We recently had a meeting with all the Peace Fellows and discussed how the possibility for conflict will be greatest after the elections. This will now be where we focus our proposals, conflict prevention and peace building after the elections. I’ll keep you updated!

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