Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Crux of the matter

In Nepal, the success of school education is usually evaluated using the Secondary Education Examination (SEE) results. There is a huge discrepancy in the results of public and private school systems; the student pass percentage rate is approximately 80 percent and 20 percent for private and public schools respectively. However, in 2016, the numerical grading system was replaced by the letter grading system, which does not categorise students as having “passed” or “failed”. But still, if we consider student performance in the SEE, private school students do much better than their public school counterparts. This gap in educational performance has remained prominent through the years.

Many studies have shown that a child’s learning abilities later in life are directly affected by their
early grades. This has been forgotten amid the huge emphasis put on the SEE results. Therefore, those working to improve high school or college results may need to focus their attention on a milestone that comes far earlier, for example whether students can read well by the end of the third grade. Subject content will become increasingly complex after the third grade, and students who do not have adequate reading skills are more likely to fall behind.
In 2014, the Government of Nepal (GoN) formed a partnership with the US government to conduct the first early grade reading assessments for students from grades one to three in public/community schools. They aimed to collect baseline data on the foundational reading skills of Nepali students. The result of this assessment was quite shocking; 34 percent of the second graders and 19 percent of the third graders were not able to read even a single Nepali word correctly. Teachers have received the bulk of the blame for their alleged inability to teach effectively. However, we cannot overlook other contributing factors behind students’ low performance.
As indicated above, there is no denying that children’s early years lay the foundation for their development later in life. In the Nepali schooling system, basic education includes Early Childhood Education and Development (ECED) up to the eighth grade and an early grade reading programme focuses on students from grades one to three. The ECED curriculum clearly indicates that the main objective of this programme is to prepare students for formal schooling by emphasising their holistic development. This indicates that this is the most important phase during which students should be directed towards their future learning. Research also shows that 90 percent of brain development takes place in the first five years of a person’s life.

Well-trained teachers are therefore needed to handle the ECED curriculum. Unfortunately, however, government policy certifies that female teachers who have passed the eighth grade and have undergone a 16-day professional training programme are eligible to teach children under the ECED programme. Many of these teachers have limited exposure and cannot adequately prepare children for primary schools. Similarly, teachers who have passed the 12th grade and have attended a 10-month government training programme are considered qualified enough to teach children from grades one to eight. These qualifications are hardly enough to help foster a child’s foundational learning.
Additionally, most public schools in Nepal lack resource materials. There are still many schools in which access to textbooks is always an issue at the start of the academic session. In such a situation, how can one expect students to enhance their reading skills? 

Research has proved that parental involvement helps cultivate children’s literacy skills. In the context of Nepali public schools, a home-school partnership is almost non-existent. In contrast, looking at good private schools gives us quite a different picture. They have well qualified teachers and resource-rich classrooms and libraries. Parents who send their children to private schools also seem to be more concerned about their children’s education. As a result, students in private schools outperform those in public schools by quite a margin. They are given a stronger foundation and this is often reflected in their SEE results.
The GoN, the US government and various (I)NGOs have formed a partnership to implement an early grade reading programme. However, so far an encouraging improvement in children’s reading skills as a result of these interventions has not been seen. If various organisations whose work is related to the early grade reading programme pay attention to upgrading teachers’ qualifications, supplying sufficient and age-appropriate reading materials and fostering home-school partnerships, the reading performance of the target group will improve. This improvement will result in better performance by public school students in the SEE. Otherwise, this programme will also turn out to be yet another unsuccessful project.
(Published in an English Daily The Kathmandu Post on Friday, May 19, 2017 
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Thursday, 1 June 2017

Number Of Deaths We Die

The word ‘death’ itself is very scary. For ordinary people it means the end which abruptly discontinues physical life in the material world. Unlike ordinary people, spiritual people define ‘death’ quite differently.
For example, one perspective says that we die every day when we fall in a deep sleep because at that time we drop all the things that we claim we hold onto in our waking hours, and embrace divinity; no one is upset with this temporary death. Maybe, it is because when we wake up everything is as it is or we do not have to lose anything that we are attached to. We rarely actually seriously consider whether or not that deep sleep is similar to death.
A more convincing definition of death than the one provided above is based on an important Hindu scripture Bhagavad Geeta. In Chapter 1, when Arjun drops the idea of fighting against the Kauraba army, which was formed by his near and dear people, Lord Sri Krishna tries to convince him to not be a coward at the last moment but to fight instead in the 17 chapters that follow. During their conversation, Lord Sri Krishna raises the topic of different stages that a human body goes through in Chapter 2, Verse 13.
In a lifetime, a person usually goes through infancy, childhood, adulthood and old age. When an infant enters childhood, his infancy dies. Similarly when he enters adulthood, his childhood dies and when he reaches old age, there are no traces of adulthood. This shows that an essential nature of life is impermanent and it is subjected to constant change. If it is not so, why don’t we have the same physical features or even the same face that we had in our childhood?
This view leads us to the truth that life is simply a process from birth till death, whether it is of a worm or a human being. All living beings and life events which are visible are impermanent, they keep changing and losing their old characteristics while at the same time gaining new ones. Then eventually they perish. No one can do anything to resist this phenomenon.
It is worth thinking about the irony behind our tendencies; we die numerous deaths in our lifetime, yet why do we fear the day when we have to face our own death or the death of the ones we love? It is rooted in our ignorance. Unfortunately, we cling to the view that all things that appear in this world and that are accessible to us are real, and we can always have them. Despite our incessant and careful guarding, one day, when the right time comes, they abruptly disappear from under our nose, making us suffer tremendously. And holding onto human bodies is not an exception.
It is said that the power of ignorance is as strong as the power of knowledge. In short, we all know that death is inevitable; one who is born must die. If we could realise this truth and accept death as an integral part of life, our ignorance would turn into powerful self-knowledge or self-realisation. Only when this happens can we understand that in fact we are not bodies but souls and the souls are eternal. This realisation changes our fearful condition to a blissful one, the nature of an eternal soul.
(Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, May 25, 2017 
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Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Tug Of War

On the basis of physical facilities, teachers' quality and qualifications, responsibility and transparency, operational procedures and educational achievement private schools in Nepal are categorised into A, B, C and D categories. The government has decided the definite fee structure for these schools.
However, there are still fears over fee hikes at the beginning of every new academic year. Considering the policy document, it clearly says that once any private school increases the fee the school cannot increase it for three years; and for this also there is a system.
As per the Education Regulations, private schools can review their fee structure as per their classification. For instance, B category schools can charge fees up to 25 percent higher than C category schools while A category schools can charge fees up to 50 percent higher than C category schools, by taking permission from the District Fee Determination Committee. To monitor this there is a Fees Monitoring Committee located in all District Education Offices as well.
Despite these rules, this year has been no different when it comes to unregulated fee hikes; there are a number of private schools that have been accused of increasing fees unlawfully. As a result, student unions affiliated to various political parties are protesting against this hike. On the other hand, the Ministry of Education claims that it has already begun monitoring private schools in Kathmandu after being informed that they were charging students irregularly.
Why is there this mismatch then? According to well-known educationist Prof. Dr. Mana Prasad Wagley, "Private schools have virtually colonised the country’s education sector. Now they have their organisations like PABSON and N-PABSON which have become stronger than government bodies." This may be one of the reasons that private schools are ignoring the government directives and hiking their school fees haphazardly. Another reason could be the obvious gap between public and private schools' quality of education.
It is clear that, in most cases, the academic performance of private schools surpasses that of their public counterparts. Therefore, almost all Nepali parents prefer to send their children to private schools ranging from A to D categories according to their financial capacity. The private school operators are acutely aware of the fact that parents do not have other options but private schools, so they practise monopoly in the absence of strong competitors.
Doubtlessly, money matters substantially; if you pay more you will get more. However, private schools cannot raise school fees with complete disregard for the law. As indicated above, transparency is one criterion that is used to assess the “grade” of a private school, yet it is a trait that many schools to be lacking to a large extent.
It is good that the student unions are raising their voice against this irregular fee hike, but at the same time they should make sure that their protest is not affecting school children's studies. I also suspect that they may have put pressure on institutional schools just to collect donation for the upcoming local election, and as soon as the election is over, their protest may also disappear. If not, they should come up with a permanent solution as early as possible so that the issue of absurd fee hikes does not have to be brought up every year.
 (Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, May 12, 2017 
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Thursday, 11 May 2017

What Is Going On?

I was more terrified than shocked when I recently read a news story about community schools in Baitadi where girls avoid going to the toilet for the entire day because of the pathetic condition of their schools’ toilets. Not only this, but the girls were also deprived of good menstrual hygiene management skills. They did not even have sanitary pads, and this led to two girls who were on their period while sitting for an SEE exam being compelled to stay back at the examination centre until everybody else had left due to their embarrassment.   
If we consider the policy document of the government of Nepal (GoN) regarding school sanitation, it says that it is committed to ensure access to safe drinking water and sanitation for all in Nepal by 2017. It further states that GoN is committed to prioritising and promoting child and disabled friendly services and menstrual hygiene management in schools and monitor this in standards, design and delivery. Therefore, to ensure school sanitation the programme WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) has been implemented in community schools in Nepal.
 WASH highlights that at the very minimum, there will be separate toilets for girls and boys, every 50 students will be entitled to a set of toilets with running water – one for urination and another for defecation. Without a doubt, a huge amount of money has also been allocated to improve WASH at schools. Then, why is the situation of WASH so pitiful in Baitadi? This exemplifies the real condition of WASH in most of Nepal’s community schools. An investigation conducted by WaterAid in association with Ministry of Education indicates that currently one toilet serves 166 female students on average. Even though the number of toilets has been increasing -- one school in Baitadi has been recorded as having ten toilets -- the actual problem remains the lack of water.
No water and female-unfriendly toilets cannot particularly serve the girls who have their periods. Because of this, such girls either do not go to school while they are menstruating or they come back home early. This hampers the girls’ education program too. A world virtual conference on WASH in Schools Empowers Girls' Education highlights the relationship between menstrual hygiene management (MHM) and retention of girls in schools. 
MHM is defined by Colombia University and UNISEF as, "Women and adolescent girls use a clean material to absorb or collect menstrual blood, and this material can be changed in privacy as often as necessary for the duration of the menstrual period. MHM includes using soap and water for washing the body as required, and having access to facilities to dispose of used menstrual management materials."
As discussed, most of the community schools do not fit the MHM definition above. Apart from this, WASH is a right of all school-going children. Why has the government's commitment to ensure access to safe drinking water and sanitation for all in Nepal by 2017 disappeared? We are nearly midway through 2017 and school girls are still restraining their natural toilet-going urges for the whole day merely because of a lack of toilet facilities! Is it something worth being proud of?
 (Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, May 5, 2017 
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Wednesday, 3 May 2017

All About Commitment

I feel that the "NO Horn" policy of the Kathmandu Metropolitan Traffic Police Department and the Kathmandu Metropolitan City has been implemented quite effectively; this is not something that I’ve had the luxury of getting used to as a long time resident of the valley. These days the valley roads are found peaceful in the absence of unnecessary and haphazard honking, and it is impressive. These are the same motorists who used to blow the horn of their vehicles as loudly as possible until the last day of Chaitra; how come they suddenly stopped this from the first of Baishakh?
This was all made achievable due to the high level of commitment of the Kathmandu Metropolitan Traffic Police Department. They seem to be determined to make the Kathmandu valley as "horn free" as possible.
 Some people might have thought that this policy would also fail like the majority of other government policies and they habitually blew their horn, but unfortunately they got caught and fined. A report by the Metropolitan Traffic Police indicates that from the first of Baishakh up until the fourth of Baishakh, 657 motorists in Kathmandu, 161 in Lalitpur and 33 in Bhaktapur were fined. Considering the massive numbers of vehicles on the roads of the Kathmandu valley, this number is very nominal. All in all we can say that the "No Horn" policy has been successful so far.
Another such a successful example is "No Load-shedding in Kathmandu." This has been made possible by the continuous efforts of a single person, Mr. Kul Man Ghising, the managing director of Nepal Electricity Authority. This time last year, we had to put up with up to 18 hours of load-shedding every single day. It is amazing that people are not suffering from even an hour's load-shedding this year. Mr. Ghising has managed to do all of this through developing internal management and some import of electricity from India. Furthermore, he has also taken an initiative to control leakage of power and the practice of unfair distribution. His ultimate goal is to make the entire nation load-shedding free.
On the other hand, there came other policies like ‘no use of plastic bags’, ‘no littering on the roads’ and ‘no spitting through bus windows’. Even though there were fines declared for those found infringing upon these rules, people did not care to comply. Why was this the case? The answer is as simple as there was a lack of commitment on the part of the concerned people, so the general public did not bother to follow what the authority said.
It can be concluded that announcing policies is not that big of a deal; the effectiveness of implementation is what really makes a difference. If the people who are responsible for implementing something are really committed to bringing about change, then nothing can stop them as the above "No Horn" and "No Load-shedding "examples show. However, if they are reluctant towards implementation and follow up sides, history shows that policies alone cannot succeed. 
(Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, April 28, 2017 
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Saturday, 22 April 2017

Not A Smart Choice

It has hardly been a month since students sat for the Secondary Education Examination (SEE), and most of them have already become busy with their ‘bridge courses’. Bridge courses have become a fashion these days; it seems as though those students who do not take such courses are going to miss out on something very important in their life. Are they really that important?
I do not think so. In fact, this break is very significant for the SEE students. They have completed 10 years' of schooling, so they now have a chance to reflect on those years to better prepare themselves for the future. Instead of devoting their time to bridge courses, they can do numerous other things which will be more valuable. For example, they can go for skill development programmes, such as basic sewing, cooking, typing, writing, public speaking, basic first aid and many others. These life skills are always useful.
 Another alternative is travelling. In Western countries, almost all students take a gap year after they complete their schooling, and they utilise this time to learn more about the world. For this, they usually do backpacking which allows them to go to different countries where they work for their daily expenses. They travel carefree and learn many life lessons. Then, they think they are ready to enter the next phase of their life, i.e., either further studies or work.
 Although backpacking is not common in Nepal, young adults are able to, at the very least, explore different parts of the country which are accessible for them. Additionally, they can discover various activities to do which interest them.
Bridge courses rarely challenge students, as most of them are only operated for business purposes. I talked to a couple of students who took such courses, and their responses were negative because they did not find them helpful to hone their study skills. Basically, the providers of these courses claim that they prepare the students to get through different types of entrance examinations so that they can study the subjects they like in grade 11.
An entrance examination is a standardised aptitude test which measures students' collective knowledge in different skill areas, such as verbal, mathematical, analytical and writing skills. Different colleges have different test formats and students can obtain them from the college where they intend to apply. The students who are good in studies at their school can easily pass the entrance exams if they collect a certain amount of information about the format of the exams and timing. In terms of subject matter, what they have learned so far will be enough as the entrance tests measures their potential to perform well in future. A student who does not have the ability to do well, let's say, in mathematics cannot excel in this subject even if he attends a bridge course.
Therefore, I suggest the SEE takers to choose better options over merely a bridge course so that they can better utilise this break from rigorous studies.
(Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, April 21, 2017 
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Friday, 21 April 2017

Real Brahmacharya

On the basis of traditional knowledge I used to mean that Brahmacharya is a term used to indicate a significant aspect of religious disciplines of the Hindu tradition, according to which a man remains unmarried throughout his life to devote himself to God’s service. Sometimes this made me question, “Why should one be deprived of marriage to serve God?” “Don’t the Gods enjoy the company of their partner Goddesses?” “Then why the same Gods order poor human beings to observe Brahmacharya?”
Thanks to Alistair Shearer, a translator of Patanjali’s ‘Yoga Sutras’, who cleared my doubts. He argues that from the earliest times Brahmacharya has been wrongly attached to sexuality. In fact the true meaning of Brahmacharya is “moving in the Immensity” or “living in Reality.” He urges that Brahmacharya should not be confined merely to sexuality, instead it should be taken in its widest sense as true “chastity.”
Alistair’s interpretation of Brahmacharya has provided me a framework to understand this concept more deeply. In fact Brahmacharya is to live a life truthfully. There is no problem with a faithful marriage but if a married person involves in adultery, then his Brahmacharya is seriously jeopardized. A Brahmachari must be pure in his thoughts, words and actions. It is relevant to relate a story of two monks here.
Once there were two monks who needed to cross a river. They were about to step into the water when they heard a female voice behind them, “Excuse me, will you please help me to cross the river? Because I’m scared to cross it alone.” Monk A turned back, smiled compassionately at the woman and replied, “No problem. Come on lady, hold my hand.”
Monk A took the woman safely to the other side of the river, left her there and continued his journey, following by monk B. They walked silently for a while. Then monk B curiously asked, “Hey friend, aren’t we taught not to touch a woman? Knowing this, how you dared to hold that woman’s hand?” Monk A looked at his friend blankly and replied, “She needed help so I helped her to cross the river. As soon as I took her to the other side, my duty was over, and I forgot her. But why are you talking about her now?” This answer made monk B feel ashamed. Even if he did not touch the woman he was carrying her in his mind all the time. On the contrary, his friend was simply fulfilling his duty without thinking about her.
Similarly, every Brahmachari should be as truthful inside-out as monk A who can clearly differentiate between responsibilities and lust. There is no harm in a marriage itself since it is a beautiful and strong institution in our culture. In addition, whether to get married or not is entirely a personal choice because the God has given all of us a free will. A problem only arises when the married person forgets the value and purity of marriage and involves in extra-marital affairs or such things. Most importantly, when someone sets a higher goal to achieve, then the lower goals seem less significant for him. It should be noted that all human beings have the potential to be in Brahmacharya and serve the God with true actions, words, thoughts and emotions.

(Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, April 14, 2017 
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Saturday, 8 April 2017

Levels Of Traps

Right now, one lot of students have just completed their Secondary Education Examination (SEE) and another is preparing for their twelfth grade exams. Soon, these students will face a dilemma when it comes to choosing what direction they want to head towards after receiving their results.

It is unfortunate that in our society, a majority of parents expect a lot from their children. In general, they do not care about their child's interests and abilities, but pressure them into studying one of medicine or engineering. To make the situation worse, a number of educational consultancies sell these young people sweet dreams of becoming doctors and engineers without breaking a sweat.

Problems arise when students do not get the right information at the right time. Since the secondary and post-secondary education systems in Nepal have been going through a transition phase, the task of deciding on a career has become even more challenging for students. As there is a tough competition and a limited number of spots available in the medical and engineering fields, only a few students succeed in the university entrance examinations to study these subjects. In an effort to live their dreams through their children, parents often see sending their children to India to pursue medicine or engineering as the next best alternative.

Unfortunately, these young school leavers do not have sufficient information about Indian colleges or universities to choose what is best for them by themselves, so they inevitably depend on educational consultants. Those who got relatively low scores have a meager chance of getting accepted into an authentic Indian college. Most of the consultants are simply money-minded; they do not care about students' future. They make students believe that they can find a medical or engineering college for them; only, they do not tell them that it is highly likely that the college is fraudulent.

Most students are probably unaware of the existence of a government body, the University Grants Commission (UGC), which is responsible for the coordination, determination and maintenance of standards of university education in India. Recently, the UGC released a list of 23 fake universities on its website, and it is obvious that the degrees provided by such universities are useless. Similarly, another authoritative organisation, All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) also published a list 279 fake technical colleges or institutes. It is clear then that students should not trust educational consultancies blindly.

What they can first do is their own research. These days, almost all students have access to the Internet, so they can quite easily determine which colleges seem genuine; contacting a consultancy should be considered an option only once this step has been completed. If hesitant, they can ask for their family’s help. Parents have just as important a role as students when it comes to making decisions about education; it is crucial for them to avoid pressuring their child to study specific subjects without considering their wishes. Parents should never forget that their child will only realise their full potential and excel when studying a subject they love and enjoy.
 (Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, April 7, 2017 
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Friday, 31 March 2017

In the Name of Montessori Education...

Accidentally, I happened to scan through a notebook of a little girl who attends a renowned Montessori school in Kathmandu, and I was greatly surprised by what I found. The notebook was full of academic words like zoology, biology, botany, domestic animals, wild animals, amphibians, reptiles to name some, and her parents were asked to read the vocabulary belonging to those groups with the child. That notebook made me ponder, "Is this Montessori education? Do parents pay all that extra money and send their children to Montessori schools just to train their children in the same traditional rote learning? What is happening in our country when it comes to Montessori education?"
The Montessori method of teaching is defined by a dictionary as, "a system for teaching young children, in which the fundamental aim is self-motivated education by the children themselves, as they are encouraged to move freely through individualised instruction and physical exercises, accompanied by special emphasis on the training of the senses and the early development of reading and writing skills." This definition mainly emphasises children's self-learning without excessive control from adults.
The Montessori curriculum was developed by the Italian educationist Maria Montessori which is based on the philosophy that children can grow and develop very well if left to do so without too many restrictions, but with an orderly environment that promotes their efforts at being independent and critical thinkers. Teachers' role in such a classroom, therefore, is to create a suitable environment and observe how each and every child learns so that they can find out students' interests and learning styles; this will guide their future learning when they enter the school.
Furthermore, the objective of Montessori education is to encourage children to take care of their needs, take
responsibility for their learning and be independent learners. So, they must be provided with complete freedom, for example, to choose books, playthings or even their friends. Teachers only monitor them closely so that they can direct the children's learning towards the right path.
Another aspect is that unlike conventional education systems, homework is not a part of Montessori education as Maria Montessori says, "We cannot know the consequences of suppressing a child's spontaneity when he is just beginning to be active…It is like the sun which appears at dawn or a flower just beginning to bloom. Education cannot be effective unless it helps a child to open up himself to life.”
Doubtlessly, the schools which are well-informed about the philosophy of Montessori education may be educating the children in the correct way, but at the same time, it is not true that all the Montessori schools in Nepal are aware about the principles behind the Montessori method as the above example shows. They seem to be following the same ineffective conventional teaching methods which encourage rote learning.
Therefore, while sending their children to Montessori schools, parents should not be fascinated by the name alone. They must set aside enough time to do their own research about such schools and their ability to truly provide a Montessori education.

(Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, March 31, 2017 under the name, What is this?) 
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Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Gratitude Unpaid

We encounter many instances in life where good people appear from nowhere just to help us and disappear so fast that we do not even get a chance to say “thank you.” When I think of such incidents, I always remember one where I missed an opportunity to express my gratitude to someone.
The story goes back to some 15 years. The plane from Biratnagar to Kathmandu was delayed by 5-6 hours. I and my two year old son were supposed to land in the afternoon, but it was night when we finally got out of the Kathmandu airport.
It was the time of Maoist insurgency in the country, so airport security was tight. Because of that, people who went to receive their relatives were not allowed to go up to the arrival area. They had to wait at the entrance gate of the airport down the road.
Although we could get a taxi from the airport, we did not because my husband was waiting for us at the entrance gate. Consequently, holding my child’s hand and carrying our baggage, I started walking in the dark. Surprisingly, I saw no passengers like me walking on the road. I thought, ‘Never mind. It is the airport area, so it must be safe,’ and kept walking.
Then, out of the blue I heard a soft voice, “Ma’am, are you alone?” I looked back and saw a shadow of a gentleman. I replied, “Yes. In fact, my husband is waiting for us down the road.” In a serious tone he again intervened, “Look ma’am, this area is not safe. I’m worried about you and I can’t allow you to walk alone. Let me think about how I can help you.”
 Hearing him I got scared. Silly me, I did not realise a lingering danger at all. My inner voice commanded me to trust that stranger and wait for his move towards our safety. Soon, a vehicle belonging to Budda Air appeared at our sight. The man stopped it and asked the driver to drop us off at the gate.
 Even though I was extremely grateful to that kind stranger, I forgot to thank him as I was filled with an unknown fear. Analysing his responsible behaviour I assume he must have been some high-ranking police officer at the airport, but I will never know for the sure.
Every time I remember this incident, my heart is filled with gratitude and joy. At the same time I regret missing the opportunity to express my gratitude.
It is said that gratitude expressed in words is superficial gratitude, but I strongly believe that sometimes words can also bring about miracles. Therefore, if you are grateful to someone who has done you a favour, no matter how big or small, and you forgot to say “thank you” at that very moment, you can still do so now. It is never too late for such things. Expressing gratitude is a gift from God to human beings; so why be stingy when it comes to using it?

(Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, March 24, 2017) 
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Saturday, 18 March 2017

Oh, Really?

Usually a couple feels proud to identify as the ‘better half’ of one another. The definition of ‘half’ in the Oxford Dictionary is “either of two equal or corresponding parts into which something is or can be divided.” Similarly, the Free Online Dictionary defines it as “one of two equal parts that together constitutes a whole.” This means that one part is incomplete without the other to be the whole. Thus ‘better half’ demands two individuals to be compatible, thinking the same things, talking the same things, liking the same things and doing the same things; otherwise how could they become two halves?
 In reality, every individual is different and complete in themselves. So why expect two people to be identical? Individual differences should be celebrated and co-ordinated in a good relationship. In his book, Healing Relationships, Lama Choedak Yuthok, a public speaker and Buddhist teacher, says that if an opposition party is good, it can keep a government ‘honest’; a partner can perform the same role. This saying makes a lot of sense. The beauty of a good relationship shines only when both parties accommodate each other’s views, not when each person is trying to impose their own views upon the other.
One of the many reasons behind turbulent marriages may be a misconception of ‘better half.’ One may think of being incomplete without the other, so they try to bring the other into their terms and conditions to be the ‘whole.’ Sometimes this tug of war can break their relationship irreparably creating inside them ‘holes’ after ‘holes.’
To avoid this situation, everybody should always keep in mind that they are complete in themselves. They do not need anybody to be ‘whole’. However, the company of another person helps them to explore and expand themselves. When a ‘positive terminal’ and a ‘negative terminal’ of two batteries are matched electrical energy is produced; two positives or two negatives can never give us that energy. Likewise, when two different individuals who may share some interests and differ in others, come together they can do many wonderful things, such as to create a deeper meaning to life, to learn to love unconditionally, to forgive, to keep promises and much more. In addition, they can share family responsibilities together.
Therefore, in my opinion it would be more sensible to identify a ‘better half’ as a ‘better opposite.’ According to the Oxford Dictionary, the meaning of ‘opposite’ is ‘having position on the other side of somebody.’ Referring to Lama Choedak Yuthok above, like a good opposition party which keeps an eye upon every movement of the government, and offers correct advice when the government goes wrong so that it can get back on track, a real partner tries to show those aspects of their partner which cannot be seen by the person in question.
So, two people in a committed relationship can contribute greatly to understanding ‘ownself’ at a deeper level, by being each other’s mirror and one taking care of another’s invisible side. Such a relationship will be rich, sustainable, flowing and inspirational, which helps to strengthen the positive aspects of spouses while mitigating their weaknesses. In fact, they can be ‘complements’ rather than ‘halves.’

(Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, March 17, 2017) 
[The pictures on this blog are posted here with permission from their owners or have been gathered from various sources on the Internet. If you are the copyright-holder to any of the photographs herein do not hesitate to contact me. They will be swiftly removed if desired so.]

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Rethink Youth Migration

Migration for foreign employment appears to be a serious problem in Nepal these days. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the number of migrants leaving Nepal for work is increasing every year. For example, a total number of 527,814 people left the country in 2014 alone. Most of these people were youths. As we know, this group is the most energetic and productive when it comes to building the nation. When they are still young and can contribute a lot for their country, they leave in search of employment to fulfill their mere basic needs. Again, a majority of them are unskilled or semi-skilled, so they land in manual labour which may not be their intention while leaving their motherland.
On the surface, this kind of migration may look good as it brings in a lot of remittance to the country. According to a report made public by Nepal Rastra Bank, Nepal received 5.5 billion US dollars as remittance in 2014. It was a significant increase from 4.3 billion US dollars in 2013. However, at a deeper level, this may not be of much favour to our nation.
For instance, such migration is inviting a lot of problems in families as they are rapidly breaking down. The divorce rate has increased. Children are being deprived of parental care. Parents are dying to see their children. Trust between husbands and wives is being weakened. Villages are full of old people and children.
It is equally important to consider that life in a foreign land is also not easy. Manual workers need to work very hard, but they get paid meagrely. As a result, it takes them years just to pay their debt which they had taken while leaving the country. The worst case scenario is sometimes they even lose their lives for unknown reasons; leave the accidents in the workplace aside. Every now and then we read news stories about workers who went to sleep fine, but then never woke up.
Gradually, the lack of youths in our country has started to reflect its adverse effect in the labour market as well. Recently, I read a news story about there being a massive lack of human resources in the leather shoe industry. A similar story stated that in the lack of sufficient human resources, modern agricultural systems have also been affected.
Therefore, it is high time we rethought about youth migration. They should remain in the country; in the absence of the most energetic and productive segment of the population Nepal cannot prosper to the fullest. There have been several instances where migrants have returned to the country after being fed up with foreign employment. These people have found success in self-employment; but self-motivation alone is not enough.
The government must take actions to create job opportunities for them so that they do not have to think about leaving the nation simply in search of bread and butter. Migrant youths should be integrated into the mainstream development process. The country needs them for sustainable economic growth. In the lack of this force, Nepal has already started to experience difficulties. This situation should not be lengthened more.

(Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, March 10, 2017) 
[The pictures on this blog are posted here with permission from their owners or have been gathered from various sources on the Internet. If you are the copyright-holder to any of the photographs herein do not hesitate to contact me. They will be swiftly removed if desired so.]