Friday, 28 July 2017

Attention, Please!

It has been over two years since Nepal encountered a devastating earthquake which claimed the lives of more than 8,000 people whilst leaving nearly 22 thousand people injured and destroying thousands of houses and landmarks.
The saddest part of this catastrophe is that most of the people who lost their homes have still been compelled to live in the same unfortunate situation that started immediately after the two major earthquakes and a series of subsequent aftershocks.
The epicenter of these earthquakes was Gorkha -- a place I recently visited -- and people there are still waiting to shift from their temporary shelter into a proper house; they are hopelessly hoping for the fund that the government had promised them.
Dhruba Khankhawas is one of these people. He is from Prithvi Municipality, Rip Kafalghari. He shared his incredible story with me. He is a low-paid worker in the hotel industry who has to support four school-going children and wife. With a gloomy expression he said, “If I had enough money to build a house, I would do that. This is the third year that my family is staying in a temporary hut in our farm land. We are scared, particularly in the rainy season that we might get bitten by snakes.”
Out of my curiosity I asked him whether he had correctly gone through the process to obtain the earthquake relief fund being provided by the government. According to him, he did everything; he got the earthquake victim ID, completed all the necessary forms and followed what was going on but in vain.
The government had announced plans to give cash grants of Rs. 3, 00,000 for those who lost their home during the Baishakh 12 and 29 earthquakes in three installments. Unfortunately, despite fulfilling all the formalities, Dhruba’s family has not received even a first installment yet. He said there are many other families who face the same predicament.
The other day I read a news story that Durbar High School, the oldest school in the heart of Kathmandu city has also been waiting for reconstruction. We all know schools are the most sensitive space to be as hundreds of children go to them every day so they must be safe. The children at Durbar High School on the other hand are risking their lives by studying in makeshift tents located just in front of the damaged building which could collapse at any moment. Even though the head teacher has constantly approached the concerned departments asking for help to rebuild the school, his concerns have not been addressed yet. 
If we compare Khankhawas’ position to that of Durbar High School’s, both are suffering a similar fate regardless of locating in a village or the capital city. These are just two cases but there are thousands of such cases going unnoticed. Is it fair to make people wait for this long just to provide them with what they have been entitled to? These people have already lost so many things including their near and dear. They do not deserve to permanently lose their homes or their hope for a better and safe life in the coming years.
(Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, July 21, 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.]

Friday, 21 July 2017

Reversing brain drain

Going abroad for higher studies is a salient issue in Nepal’s context. According to the Ministry of Education, more than 47,000 students received a ‘No Objection’ letter this year—an all-time high. Reports indicate that students were choosing to pursue further studies in a total of 78 different countries. The top destination was Australia, followed by Japan and the US.
A common reason students cite for leaving the country is that the quality of education in Nepal is comparatively low. Other reasons are that there are not enough job opportunities here, the political situation is unstable and Nepali degrees are not recognized worldwide.
But do students really go to foreign countries for quality education? If so, why don’t they come back after completing their studies? Even though there is no reliable data on the number of students who return to Nepal once they finish their study abroad, it is likely that an overwhelming majority of them want to settle down in the countries where they receive their education. 
For instance, in an interview taken by the Nepali Times, a student said, “In the future, I see myself settling in Australia.” Another student added, “It has been two years now and even I plan to settle here (Australia).” The third student went on to say, “I am currently doing my Bachelor’s in Accounting and Business. In the long run, I plan to settle here (Australia).” These interviews indicate that the students who leave Nepal for further studies are not eager to come back.
The irony is that when students apply for visas, all of them promise that they will come back to their home country immediately after their studies. They know that if they do not make this clear, they will not be issued a visa. But once these students enter the host country, they forget their promise. It should also be noted that the host countries themselves expect students to return to their homeland as soon as they complete their studies. This is confirmed by a statement by the former Australian ambassador to Nepal, Glenn White, who said, “I’d like to think educational reputation is the reason people come to Australia and not for the sole purpose of Permanent Residency.” The question is why Nepali students are so attracted to these foreign lands. 
Nobody can deny the fact that the political situation in Nepal is not stable, which can affect educational institutions here. But the quality of education here is not as low as people think. Education providers from the private sector pay considerable attention to maintaining the quality of education. Besides, there are many colleges that are affiliated with renowned foreign universities; the courses they offer are of international standards.
I do not think the quality of education is the main issue for students who leave the country. Rather, I think it is social pressure that influences youngsters to go abroad. It is a matter of social prestige if a family has members residing in Western countries. Another reason would be to earn more money and live a luxurious life. There is a cliché that when you go to one of these countries, you start earning money that’s unmatched by what you can earn here. As a result, students fly to a foreign country in the name of achieving quality education, but most of them end up running after a number of odd jobs simply to sustain themselves. Many cannot even complete their studies. Their only purpose becomes getting permanent residency in that country at any cost. 
The problem of unemployment is another driving force for these students to leave the country. Data from the Central Bureau of Statistics indicate that in 2014, approximately four million people were without jobs that suit their qualifications and skills. Furthermore, between 40,000 to 50,000 people, who have Bachelor’s or Master’s degrees, were unemployed. Another study conducted by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on Nepali youths aged 15 to 29 shows that the unemployment rate among university graduates, at 26.1 percent, is three times higher than that of the uneducated. 
These figures point out that if university graduates got jobs of their choosing or ones that are compatible with their qualifications, they would probably not leave the country in the first place, or even if did go abroad for further studies, they would come back and work in Nepal.
Earning foreign degrees, knowledge and skills is an excellent idea. Losing thousands of youths to other countries every year, however, is not a good sign, because these people are at the height of their productivity and are important for a developing nation like ours. The concerned departments must pay attention to this pressing issue.  

(Published in an English Daily The Kathmandu Post Thursday, July 14, 2017 

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Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Push Your Limits

"You can't put a limit on anything. The more you dream the farther you get," according to the famous American swimmer and the most decorated Olympian of all time, Michael Phelp. When I met Nitesh Shah, I saw him as Phelps’s quote personified. I recently went to Janakpur with the programme "Youth Empowerment through Career Counselling and Motivation" for school students. This programme was organised by JKK Foundation and supported by Nepal National Commission for UNESCO (NNCU). At this time, I happened to come across Nitesh when he was presented to school children as a live example of a motivator.
In fact, he was a true inspiration for young secondary level students as he had an encouraging story to share with them. When Nitesh was still a child of eight years old he survived a deadly electrocution accident which cost him one of his hands, whilst the other was partially damaged. This, however, could not stop him from dreaming big in life.
I asked him what exactly he felt when he first realised that he had lost his hands; his response was quite surprising. With a broad smile he said instead of being sad he was happy because he thought now he did not have to go to school and study. With time, his views changed. He did not like to sit idle at home and feel sorry for himself.
As soon as he recovered from that life changing accident, the first thing he did was practise writing. He tried different ways using the partially functioning hand, joining that hand with the stump of another, using his toes or sometimes his mouth as well. With untiring practice eventually he explored that the second way perfectly suited him.
Nitesh remembers vividly at the time of crisis he found his father a strong supporter who never let his son feel handicapped. He always encouraged him to move in life as normally as any normal child would. Nitesh was a high achiever academically and he maintained an excellent record right up until he completed his MBA.
This MBA graduate does not feel as though he is different from other people, nor is he disappointed over his hands. However, the most frustrating moment for him is when he cannot do something independently, e.g., he still cannot button his shirt by himself.
As human beings we all have limitations, visible or invisible; and if we focus on them while ignoring our potential, we cannot succeed in life. I found Nitesh as a live example who pushes his boundaries to chase his dreams. If he thought by losing his hands he had lost all his hopes and life goals, he would never be what he is today. On the flip side, there are numerous people in our society who regret not having something which others have; this limited approach means that quite often, they cannot realise their dreams.
So, focus on your strengths and keep trying to hone them and nothing can hold you back to achieve what you desire to achieve. This is the lesson that Nitesh has taught the youngsters.
(Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, July 14, 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.]

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Information Vs. Transformation

The modern age is the age of information technology. Obviously, there is no shortage of information on each and every field that we want to look into. For instance, if one is eager to learn about ‘self help techniques’, they can gather information pertaining to the subject of a wide array of sources. Can simply gathering information change one’s life? Of course not. Taking action is more important than collecting information.
These days Facebook has become a great source of information. People post, like, and share statuses, photos, and videos enthusiastically and write beautiful comments too. They can even give nice talks and present their arguments on certain topics if circumstances call for it. The other day, I saw the Buddha’s Eightfold Path on Facebook, which made me wonder, “Do we really understand this path and implement it in our life?”
The Buddha had not wanted people to simply read his Eightfold Path and share it with others. The word ‘path’ itself indicates that we must walk on this if it is useful for us. Gautam Buddha was pretty aware of the danger of ‘blind faith’ so he warned even his most faithful disciples not to believe everything he said. He emphasised the importance for each person to test and examine the authenticity of his teaching through their personal life experiences, not through mere beliefs.
Let’s analyse the Eightfold Path briefly. The term ‘Right understanding’ suggests to us that we must understand the fact that all worldly things are ‘impermanent’ and these impermanent things bring us sufferings. The understanding of the impermanent nature of world should lead one to cultivate ‘Right thought.’ This thought enables him to let go of the things that he has been holding on to unnecessarily. It is important to choose right and positive thoughts like ‘not to hate others’ and ‘not to hurt them’.
Take ‘Right action.’ Right actions always direct to the welfare of oneself as well as others’. Another characteristic of the Eightfold Path is ‘Right speech.’ We should use nice words so that they will never hurt ourselves and others. ‘Right livelihood’ teaches us to respect all living beings equally regardless of whether they are people or animals.
Even if one follows ‘Right livelihood’ in the lack of ‘Right mindfulness’ they can be forgetful and lose their temper easily. Mindfulness practice requires consistent meditation to be fully integrated into daily life. It is not easy to change our conditioned habitual patterns, for example, to turn to the Eightfold Path overnight. For this we must employ ‘Right effort’ continuously. Finally, with ‘Right concentration’ we can sort out the priorities in our lives and will not waste time on trivial things.
To master the Eightfold Path is a lifelong commitment, not an occasional pastime or fashion. With our incessant practice, however, it is possible that we can incorporate it in our life and transform ourselves.  There are a thousand and one pieces of information like the Buddha’s ‘Eightfold Path’ that every one of us knows in words. Until and unless we internalise, practise and make them parts of our lives going into a level deeper down than the level of ‘information’ we will never reach the level of ‘transformation.’ Without transformation our learning will be incomplete no matter how much information we gather.
(Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, June 16, 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.]

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Wedding City

My general understanding of Janakpurdham was that it is a prominent religious city. The suffix 'dham' itself alludes to this as it refers to the dwelling place of God. It is believed that this town is the birthplace of the Hindu Goddess Sita and it is named after her father, King Janak. Because of its historical significance, Janakpur attracts a tremendous number of religious tourists.
Last week I, however, visited Janakpurdham for an official purpose. Although I did not have enough time to explore the city and learn about the local people and their culture, I noticed a peculiar thing over there as soon as I started walking around.
I realised that the institution of marriage is taken extremely seriously in Janakpur. The local people told me that every married couple is considered to be like Lord Ram and his wife Sita and treated accordingly as well. What was more amusing was that all sorts of wedding arrangements could be found at hand.
For instance, there is a place called Vivah Mandap at the city centre where, people say, Ram and Sita met for the first time, developed their relationship and eventually got married in the same place. These days this site is used as a meeting spot for families to fix their children's marriage. Not only this, the prospective bride and groom are also given an opportunity to talk to each other. If everything goes well, people rush to Raghupati Mishtanna Bhandar which is located just opposite to the Vivah Mandap to buy sweets and celebrate the success of a marriage proposal.
Those who do not belong to Janakpur can also use the place for the same purpose; no need to book a hotel or something like that wasting a huge amount of money as Vivah Mandap is available for free and sweets are nearby.
The wedding ceremony also goes off in style. We could see various types of chariots parked outside the people's residences which our local friend Nitesh Shah told us would be hired for a hefty price during weddings. Some pairs of beautiful white horses confirmed Nitesh's statement. You can just imagine the bride and groom sitting in the decorated chariot moving slowly down the road preceded and followed by files of people. Don't they really look like Ram and Sita?
Learning about all these exotic things, one of my female officemates who is going to get married soon was disappointed. She stated that if she knew about these special features of Janakpur, she would have planned for her wedding ceremony to take place in this city. After all, a wedding is a lifetime experience, and if better options are available, why not to go for them?
Therefore, I suggest those couples who are planning to get married to think about what I just said. If you have a pocket full of money you do not need to worry about anything as there is Masala Cottage at your service which will manage everything for you. If you allow your wedding ceremony to happen in Janakpur and follow the things mentioned above, I am sure you will also feel like a God on your special day. Wouldn’t that feel amazing?

(Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, June 2, 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.]