From muddy footpaths to paved roads
6 April 2006- 'Unity and a supportive municipality have been the core ingredients of our success.' The pride in Dal Bahadur Chauwan's voice leaves no doubt that he and his fellow citizens feel they have contributed significant changes to their neighborhood.
Mr. Chauwan is an extraordinary active member of his local community in Itahari, a small town in the southern part of Nepal. I am sitting with him and two other members of the local community organization with the ambitious name, Aadarsha, which means 'ideal' in Nepali. They are all very eager to tell how they, using the slogan 'Unity Strengthens,' have managed to organize their community into a well functioning part of the municipality; an ideal for others.
Two years earlier the people in the community did not have much interaction. They barely greeted when they met each other outside their houses. Their houses stood along small paddy fields and connected only by narrow footpaths. Garbage used to lie scattered around the footpaths or in the fields, where cattle and goats roamed freely, contributing to the further degradation of the surroundings. People had only limited contact with the municipal authorities, who are responsible for securing and delivering basic public services to its citizens.
In March 2004, Mr. Chauwan and other community members decided to do something to change the situation and improve their community. After collecting what corresponds to US $180 from their own pockets, they approached the Itahari municipal government for their support.
The Itahari Municipality is one among 30 municipalities supported by UNDP through the Rural-urban Partnership Programme (RUPP). Two of the main activities of the programme are to build capacity within the municipalities and to organize all citizens of the municipality into so-called Tole/Lane Organizations (TLOs), a community-based organization.
When members of the Aadarsha community group approached the municipal authorities, they were advised to form a TLO. Subsequently, they developed a plan for improving their community jointly with the municipality. To realize the plan, the Aadarsha TLO decided to contribute with their own funds and labor. The municipality provided tractors and technical support.
Today, the small and muddy footpaths have been transformed into clean gravel-paved roads. The community has become united by organizing themselves, which has not only made it easier for them to approach the municipal government, but also created a real neighborhood where people greet each other and come together on a regular basis. Five citizens have already benefited from the initiative, gaining access to credit and training on how to establish and manage a small enterprise.
Social mobilization and local governance are closely interlinked in the case of Nepal where there is a huge gap between the services required by the people and the services provided by the central and local governments. The Aadarsha TLOs is an example of how local governments, civil society and UNDP can jointly work on issues like improvement of basic services, poverty alleviation and empowerment.
Organizing people have also proved to prevent conflict in local communities. As this case shows, getting organized in TLOs have improved the feeling of belonging to the same community. Nepal is a country suffering from 10 years of conflict and the experience from RUPP is that people feel safer after being organized. Before, they often had to face insecurity alone, but being in a group provides a safety net, as well as a platform for people to express their fears and concerns.
The experience from RUPP is that poverty, social inconsistency, lack of economical opportunities and bad governance all mutually reinforce the exclusion of citizens from decision making processes, as well as fuel the vicious spiral of poverty. The RUPP programme has developed an approach, where social mobilization is institutionalized within the municipal government.
In this way the programme has fostered an environment and formal structures where people are empowered to interact with their local governments. People have been empowered to demand good governance and access to basic services.
Building the capacity of the municipality staff has, on the other hand, improved the responsiveness of the local governments toward their citizens. However, there is still a huge gap between the demands and wishes of the citizens and what the local governments can and will supply.
At the end of our conversation, Mr. Chauwan demonstrated the confidence and energy among the group members of Aadarsha TLO. When asked about the future of the TLO he listed a whole range of ideas and plans: 'To build a small chalk factory; a bakery. We would like our TLO to act as a service provider to ensure all our members Nepali citizenship.'
Making good business out of traditional skills
Maya Dhimal is sitting on the ground in her wooden house carrying on with her loom weaving tasks, weaving material to create the traditional women's clothing, the petani.
She belongs to an ethnic minority ' the Dhimals ' in the South-Eastern part of Nepal. Together with other women from her local community, Maya decided to form a community organization under the UNDP supported Rural-Urban Partnership Programme (RUPP).
With the support of the Damak municipality and RUPP she has been organizing with other women and together they have formed a number of small enterprises involving their long-held skills, weaving skirts and hats for sale. Making the material is a traditional occupation for the women of the Dhimal community, but prior to getting organized and receiving training on how to run small enterprises, they did not use their traditional skills for earning an income.
For the women and their families these skills have proved profitable. They are now able to improve their houses and more families can send their children to school. Equally important for Maya Dhimal and her fellow group members is that getting organized has increased their confidence as individuals, as well as the social harmony in their community.
Maya Dhimal is an example on how traditional knowledge supported with training on enterprise management turned what she used to do every day into good business and better living conditions for herself and her children.
Photo: Thomas Skov, UNDP Nepal