Going on The Asha Project’s annual Nepal trip was extremely eye opening to me. First and foremost, when stepping off the plane, you quickly realize how different Nepal is from every other country you’ve visited. It’s different from India and China (even though they are neighbors). It’s different from the Middle East (even though many Nepalese go there to work). It’s difference at times can be hard to describe. However, two things I noticed right away were that poverty was not directly in your face with visible homeless and beggars (like in many places in India), and the gender ratio on the street was a lot more evenly balanced (around 60% male and 40% female) when compared to my trip to India where it felt like at least 90% of the individuals out and about were men.
This trip was a humble reminder of how political some nations are. A large portion of our time was spent visiting with politicians, local Rotary and Rotaract clubs, schools, and remote villages. In these meetings we often were not actively building the change that we were seeking for, but rather inspiring for change and gaining alignment/commitments among stakeholders to better ensure the success of the proposed projects after our short time in Nepal ends.
There are three takeaways that I have from this trip. The first is regarding technology. I was shocked that no matter how remote the village we were in, there was always strong cellular signal. Nepal’s ability to keep connectivity put the US’s ability to shame. However, when it comes to land lines, forget about it. This shows that in an underdeveloped country, there are opportunities to skip steps in the technological revolution that could drastically improve the lives of those living there thus saving time, money, and reducing environmental impact. We need to always keep this in mind as we work on projects there because we may not be thinking big enough if we are working on projects that only take the country up one level instead of multiple levels in one initiative.
Secondly, we heard from a few individuals in different cities that “The people are rich, but the government is poor”. While there still is vast poverty in Nepal, it appears as if there is a sizable middle class. However, when you consider the 250% tax on all vehicles causing Nepalese to pay as much for a motorcycle as I did for my car, or the price of buying a small rundown apartment (comparable to the price in many US cities), you can’t help but wonder where this money is coming from, where is it going to, and how can it could be used differently if the government corruption was not as extreme.
Finally, my largest takeaway is that Nepal is ready. The people are ready for a change. There is so much motivation to become further educated and develop new skills. There is a lot of drive to change the worlds in which they live. However, the challenge lies with fostering champions who will lead Nepal to its future. Those who have the ability to leave Nepal, but choose to stay and create a difference. The opportunities and NEED for local entrepreneurs is what can save Nepal and create the systemic change needed. Those are the leaders who can help create local solutions that address the challenges of tomorrow’s farmers leaving for the big cities, access to clean water, the ever increasing demand for electricity, and increasing tourism without disrupting local cultures. The question now becomes, how can we help empower these individuals make this happen?