Social Justice and Community Development
Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranked 145th out of 188 countries in the UN's 2016 Human Development Index. Around 80% of Nepalese live in remote rural areas, where many survive on subsistence farming, with little access to health or education services or even proper sanitation.
With poverty and isolation comes a nest of other problems for rural communities, including an ingrained culture of caste- and gender-based exclusion. Families prioritize men and boys over girls for scarce resources like food and schooling; domestic violence against women is common; and remote communities still discriminate against "lower-caste" ethnic groups like the Janajatis, and especially against Dalits (the so-called "untouchables").
Caritas Nepal believes that people-led development, where local people are empowered to take action for social justice within their own communities, is the key to helping families out of poverty and building a fair, inclusive society from the grassroots up. Our Nawalparasi Western Regional Office is currently working in four remote districts of Nepal – Dang, Kapilvastu, Makawanpur and Saptari – to implement the following project:
- Strengthening the capacity of rural women for social and economic empowerment
Caritas Nepal is very grateful to our donor Misereor, and to our four implementation partners BUMCYC, Peace Nepal, CEEDF and SCDC for their support for this important project.
Strengthening the capacity of rural women for social and economic empowerment
The districts of Dang, Kapilvastu, Makwanpur and Saptari in southern Nepal are among the poorest in this already poor country. In all four districts, large numbers of people are from marginalized castes and ethnicities, like the Chepang and Tharu ethnic groups and the Dalit caste.
Women in these communities suffer threefold discrimination: for their gender, their poverty, and their caste. They're kept out of decision-making roles in society, find it difficult to access health and education services, and are often victims of domestic violence. Without action, the cycle of discrimination will continue as their daughters are also denied an education.
Through the current phase of the Small Development Initiative (SDI), which began in 2016, Caritas is mobilizing groups of women and children in the four districts and supporting them to advocate in their own interests for a fairer position in their communities.
These local groups are the building blocks of change in Nepal: networks of passionate, engaged women who know the most pressing problems they face, and are motivated to solve them.
Caritas' Nawalparasi office has lots of experience from the earlier 2012-16 phase of our SDI project, which saw the creation of 88 village-level support groups. Their activities over the years have benefited as many as 8000 people in their communities, across five districts. Click here to read the story of Meena Devi Chaudhary, a woman whose life changed after she joined a group in her village.
This time round, the Nawalparasi office has overseen the formation of 71 new village-level support groups so far across four districts. We empower the group members to help themselves through learning and sharing experiences related to human rights and leadership, as well as practical skills like book-keeping and vegetable farming.
The women's support groups are seeding grounds for positive change in their communities, both economic and social. Their activities include:
- Acting as monthly savings and credit cooperatives so that women in the group can access low-interest loans to set up microenterprises
- Advocating in their communities for human rights and an end to discrimination
- Raising awareness about domestic violence and forming committees to take action in individual cases
- Sharing knowledge about health risks in the community and how to avoid them
- Literacy classes for illiterate women and basic legal training to strengthen their position in advocating for their rights
In addition, Caritas Nepal has been instrumental in forming 30 children's groups in local schools, with more in the pipeline. Children are the future of their communities, and creating a space for them to explore leadership and human rights early in life means that they can play a part in building a fairer society from their youth onwards.
We're excited to be working with these new local groups, and many more that are still being formed, to empower them to benefit their communities over the next two years.
From 1996 to 2006, Nepal, previously a fairly peaceful country, was embroiled in a bitter civil war between the former monarchy and Maoist rebels.
17,000 people died during the conflict, and 100,000 were displaced from their homes, while thousands of Nepalese were victims of rape or assault, and some 4000 children were forced to fight as child soldiers in the Maoist army.
The scars of the civil war are still being felt in Nepali communities, with young people often the worst-affected, both from the psychological trauma of the war and from the social fragmentation, economic uncertainty and high unemployment which it left in its wake.
Yet young people are the future of Nepal, and the country's best hope for a more prosperous, peaceful future. That's why Caritas Nepal's Peace Desk, operating from our office in Kohalpur in western Nepal, is focusing on children and young people in our current project:
- Children and Youth Empowerment Project
We would like to thank our donor, Caritas Australia, for their support in making the project possible, and our implementation partners YARCN, SEDA Nepal, the EKATA Foundation and SISEA Nepal for all their practical support in the four districts in which we're working.
The districts of Dailekh, Surkhet, Dang and Jajarkot were among the poorest in Nepal even before the civil war struck the country. During the decade-long conflict, they suffered terrible ravages. Thousands of children in the area were subjected to rape, assault and violence.
These young people remain extremely vulnerable, in a climate of continuing political instability and violence, with limited access to health and education services which were disrupted during the conflict. They're at risk from a range of social evils, including human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
A survey of the four districts indicates that 50% of children in the area are carrying out child labour. One child in five is subject to abuse, with girls particularly at risk; underage marriage is common; and 20% of children don't go to school, with a similar number becoming involved in drugs and gambling.
Once children leave school, the situation isn't much better: as many as 30% of young people in the four districts are unemployed, and about half of all school leavers seek work abroad, where their lack of skills makes them vulnerable to exploitation.
In 2015, Caritas Nepal's Peace Desk began a three-year project in the four districts, with the aim of empowering local children, protecting their rights and giving school leavers opportunities to earn and prosper in their own communities.
Working with and through four Nepali NGOs, who already have networks and influence in the districts thanks to their previous projects there, we're supporting teachers, students and children who have dropped out of school with training, funding and facilities.
We're also organizing awareness and advocacy programmes to build the communities' understanding of children's rights, and providing vocational training, career counselling and support for young people to set up their own small businesses.
Key achievements so far have included:
- Reviving 40 Child Clubs and Youth Clubs (with a total of 758 members) across the four districts, where young people meet monthly to discuss local issues and plan awareness and advocacy campaigns on topics like hygiene, safe drinking water and children's rights
- Forming two Child and Youth networks in the Dang and Surkhet districts
- Providing support and learning materials to 124 children who had dropped out of school
- Convincing 14 local schools to set up school libraries
- Providing funding for 173 local youths to set up small businesses
We're looking forward to continuing our work to empower hundreds of promising young people in the four districts over the coming years.
Malnutrition is a national public health problem in Nepal, especially in rural areas, where an estimated 83% of Nepalese still live. Many households don't have the knowledge or means to access fresh vegetables and protein-rich food, and live mainly on carbohydrates like rice and chapattis.
In Nepal, women and children suffer badly especially from malnutrition. A shocking 48% of children in rural areas are malnourished, leading to health problems like kwashiorkor (stunted growth), anemia and marasmus (extreme thinness).
We're perhaps more used to associating heart-wrenching pictures of skeletally thin children with Africa; but in fact, 2016 figures from UNICEF, WHO and the World Bank Group show that the problem of wasting in children is even more severe in South Asia.
Access to clean drinking water is also a problem for many remote communities in Nepal. People still collect water from rivers and streams and lack filtration systems, leading children in particular to suffer from worm infestations and diarrhoea. Water-borne diseases are one of the leading causes of death among children in Nepal.
Caritas Nepal wants to help women and children in remote areas to access a nutritious diet and clean drinking water. We've been working on a project to tackle these issues in a remote district of Nepal:
- Child Development and Nutrition Enhancement Project
Caritas Nepal is extremely thankful to Kindermissionswerk for its funding and support of the project, and to its implementing partner, Environmental Camps for Conservation Awareness (ECCA). Together, our organizations are making a tangible difference to the lives of women and children in one of Nepal's most deprived regions.
Jajarkot district, high in the hills in the mid-west of Nepal, is one of the most remote and least accessible areas in the country.
Its people live mainly by subsistence farming on small plots of land, and are very vulnerable to food shortages: 75% of households in the districts don't have enough to eat at some point in the year.
Access to clean water is a major problem in the district, where a quarter of households drink untreated water. The Epidemiology and Control Division of the Ministry of Public Health categorizes Jajarkot as one of 26 ‘high-risk’ outbreak-prone districts; and in most years there are 1-3 outbreaks of diarrhoea in the district.
Children from Dalit (lower-caste) families in Jajarkot, are particularly at risk, and are three times as likely to suffer from malnutrition as "middle-caste" children.
Acting through its implementation partner ECCA, Caritas Nepal has been working for three years to support the growth and development of the children of Jajarkot, and to help families there access safe water and nutritious food.
We've been working through local child clubs, Early Childhood Development Centres (ECDCs) for under-fives, and women's groups in Jajarkot to reach and influence as many households as possible with practical support and knowledge-building.
Key achievements so far have included:
- Funding one nutritious meal a day for 119 children attending 3 Jajarkot ECDCs, as well as toys and educational materials
- Training in health and sanitation awareness for members of four local women's groups (with a total of more than 140 members)
- Installing pot washing slabs in 145 households to promote hygienic washing practices and reuse of household waste water to grow vegetables
- Installing 145 improved cooking stoves in local homes, to improve the health of women who were suffering from indoor air pollution caused by traditional cooking methods
- Distributing nano-silver colloidal water filters to 145 households to safeguard families against waterborne diseases
- Encouraging local women to start vegetable gardens and training them in pest management techniques, so that they can grow fresh vegetables for their families
- Organizing health camps for women and children, where they can go for check-ups and hospital referrals as well as to receive basic health supplies like vitamin tablets and de-worming pills
Caritas Nepal is delighted with the success of the project. We hope to continue our work in Jajarkot, building on what has been accomplished already and starting new activities including constructing drinking-water and hand-washing stations in the district.
Around 35% of intravenous drug users in Nepal are thought to suffer from HIV/AIDS.
These users face problems in accessing treatment and rehabilitation, and even if they give up drugs, the difficulty of reintegrating into society and a lack of jobs often causes them to lose hope and relapse.
Caritas's newest project is in support of Salvation Nepal, a rehabilitation centre set up by ex-drug users in 2014 to provide treatment and support for drug users affected by HIV/AIDS.
Planned activities include:
• Rehabilitation: To provide drug users living with HIV/AIDS with shelter, and help them to help themselves through psycho-spiritual counselling and practical support. The rehabilitation centre provides comprehensive physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual recovery programmes.
•Raising awareness & reintegration: To assist recovering drug users and people living with HIV/AIDS to reintegrate into their families and society through community awareness programmes and dialogue
•Capacity building & empowerment: To strengthen the capacity of recovering substance users living with HIV/AIDS, through training and livelihood support, which will equip them to make a living and play a fuller part in society.
Caritas Nepal provides financial aid for five economically poor and socially less-privileged community schools, in and around Kathmandu, run by religious orders and dedicated to providing a good education to the children of the poor.
These children are some of the most disadvantaged in society, coming from broken families or even the streets. Many are malnourished, and can't afford books and school supplies. The schools don't charge fees, and so are hard-pressed for funding to buy food and stationery for their pupils.
The W&CD provides funding to Regina Amoris (Lalitpur), the Mary Ward Schools (Lalitpur), New Aseptic English School (Sindhupalchowk) and Ashadhara (Banke) to give their pupils midday meals and to buy books and stationery.
Caritas also funds school celebrations on national festivals like Children's Day and Teachers' Day, to bring the children together in joy and learning.
Caritas Nepal believes that the youth of Nepal are the future of the country. That's why Caritas is working proactively to increase youths’ self-belief and help them get involved in socially beneficial work within their own localities. Many young people in Nepal are college students who are struggling to find vocational training and job opportunities. Many of them lack interest and motivation to help their society, and show little sign of the spirit of charity and service that will be so important for the future of Nepal.
Caritas is working in five districts of Nepal (Jhapa, Kaski, Morang, Lalitpur and Kathmandu) to educate young people on Catholic social teaching and encourage them to become more involved in social service and work, and to promote better relationships between adolescents and their parents.
· Workshops for youths on faith and Catholic social teaching, human rights, HT, UM & GBV, leadership, the importance of social work & service and youths’ responsibility towards society
· Sessions with parents and their children, led by community religious leaders, to improve mutual understanding among youths from different faiths
· Events and celebrations to bring youths together in an exchange programme across different faiths and localities