Wednesday, August 09, 2006


The universal symbol of Hinduism is the tika; a mark or dot placed in the middle of the forehead. A tika may be a small plastic dot, a smeared line of sindoor (red power), or a forehead-wide mixture of yogurt, rice, and sindoor.
The tike is a mark of blessing from the gods. It is also an acknowledgment of the divine within us all.

In many pictures of Shiva (one of the greatest Hindu gods), he is seen with a third eye placed in the middle of his forehead. The tika symbolises this third eye.

Receiving a tika is a common part of most ceremonies, an acknowledgment of the divine presence of the occasion and an invocation of divine protection for those receiving it. Receiving a tika on arrival or departure is an indication of the respect and affection of the people involved.

During my short time in Nepalgunj I have managed to receive numerous tikas from my future colleagues and women’s groups. I find it to be a beautiful ceremony and appreciate the symbolism of the tika. However, I have also learned the usefulness of caring a small mirror in your purse – and never wear white under a tika ceremony.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

CWD – Centre for Women Development

Besides from working with DWO half of my time will be spent with CWD, Centre for Women Development. CWD is a small community based organisation started by women from the area in 1997. The overall vision of the organisation is to improve the livelihood of women in Nepal. The organisation works with 40 women’s groups – established by CWD – in Banke, Bardiya and Surkhet districts. These groups receive training in everything from literacy, health and group formation to bookkeeping, human rights and domestic violence.

CWD gives these women the knowledge and self-esteem they need to be able to improve their life and the life of their family. CWD helps these women become independent women able to demand their rights on both local and national level.

During my visit with CWD we visited two of these women’s groups. It is clear that CWD have had great success with their work. One of the groups has functioned in almost 10 years and all the women are now able to make their own money – thanks to CWD. Not only does this mean that they are able to feed their family, but also that they can send all of their children to school. One of the women in this group has been elected as board member of CWD, while another woman has been offered a job with a national NGO. These progresses would have been unimaginable for these women only 10 years ago.

My work with CWD
As with DWO my role at CWD is as advisor. I will mainly work at the organisations office (see the picture) in Khajura about 4 miles from Nepalgunj. But naturally I will also be visiting the different women’s groups in order to form an impression of the work in the groups and asses in which areas CWD can improve their support to the groups.
Despite the fact that I will be working in the same areas as with DWO, the tasks are quite different. Especially one task sounds appealing to me; 6 of the groups have decided to get together and form a cooperative and thereby leave CWD. This decision is fully backed by CWD, but they are very much aware that the cooperative will need a lot of support and help in the initial start-up phase, where many important decisions need to be made. CWD has asked me to advise them in this process. It will be incredibly exciting to work with and follow the creation of this cooperative during the next two years.

My colleagues at CWD are all women. The vast majority are women who themselves started as member of a women’s group and now have worked their way up to organisational level. They are strong and committed women that feel really strongly about their work with CWD. I will be working closely with Khagi, project coordinator and Purnakala, the organisations secretary. Both are great women but unfortunately, they hardly speak any English, so the first couple of months will be hard.

CWD is an organisation that in only 10 years has worked its way up to being the leading women rights organisation in Mid-West Nepal and it will be incredibly exciting to work with such a dynamic organisation.

DWO Banke-Bardiya

On my first visit to Nepalgunj I got the opportunity to meet the two organisations I will be working with, namely DWO and CWD. In this post I will tell you about DWO, where I will be working 50 % of my time – sorry about the length but there is a lot to tell.

Dalit Welfare Organisation
DWO – Dalit Welfare Organisation – is a Nepali organisation working for the rights of Dalit people on local and national level. The Dalits are the people in the bottom of the caste system. I have written a bit about the caste system at the end of this post.

DWO was founded in 1994 and works with the vision to create a justifiable by eliminating caste discrimination. DWO is an organisation founded by Dalits working solemnly to help other Dalits. The organisation focuses on raising the livelihood of the Dalit societies by raising the self-esteem of Dalits and build institutional capacities on grass-root level.

In the communities DWO works with women’s groups. The organisation helps the poor Dalit women to organise themselves in a group. This group then receives different kinds of training first and foremost in literacy and group formation process. Besides from that they are informed of their rights and DWO helps kill many myths about Dalits and how they are worth less than other people. Thanks to the efforts of DWO these women are beginning to see themselves as equal to their neighbours.

Through these groups the women also start a small saving scheme. The money they collect are given to women in the group, who uses them to start a small income-generating activity, so she in that way can support her family. After some month she will start to repay the loan and the money will be disbursed to other women.
During my visit in Terai I had the chance to visit two of these Dalit women groups and I was impressed with the work that DWO has done. Women, who previously was afraid to say their own name, now stood up and told me about their problems and the support that DWO had given them in order to take manners into own hands and improve their livelihood.

My work with DWO
Though DWO is a large national organisation I will only be working with the regional office covering the Mid-West region. The office is located in Kohalpur about 12 miles north of Nepalgunj. My work will be as advisor to DWO helping them become more efficient as an organisation. Amongst others I will help them improve their programme planning and implementation, revised their monitoring and evaluation system, strengthen their networking abilities and hopefully influence them with a bit of Danish working culture. There is enough work to do and it will be a very exciting job. The majority of my colleagues are Dalit women, who have worked their way from the women’s groups to the organisational level. Because of that very few of them speaks English. Ishwori (see the picture), the daily manager and one of the few men in the organisation, will be my counterpart and close colleague for the coming two years. Luckily, he speaks English, so in the beginning I will have to rely a lot on him. But he is a great guy who loves a good laugh, so I am sure that we will have fun working together. I am looking very much forward to getting started and will keep you posted on my work with DWO.

The caste system
The population of Nepal is, just like in India, divided into a caste system. The caste system is more than 1000 years old and at the time of its creation it divided people into groups depending on their profession. There are four main castes each with several 100 sub castes and it is almost impossible to keep track of the 3000 castes that exist in Nepal today. The top caste, Brahmin, deals with religious tasks (priest and teachers), the following caste, Kshatriya, takes care of the political issues (elite and warriors), trades – and craftsmen belong to the Vaishy caste and in the bottom of the hierarchy the Dalit people are – also known as casteless or untouchable.

Since the Dalits perform the “dirtiest” jobs in the country people from other castes do not wish to get into contact with these people. Despite the fact that caste discrimination was made illegal in 1990 the Dalits still suffers under the system. The untouchables, representing 20 % of the population, live under conditions similar to apartheid being discrimination against on all levels of society. They are not allowed to eat with people from higher castes or use the same water source. Almost daily I read about a Dalit being beaten up because he has been drinking from a public water tap. This not only applies to adults, last week I read about a 7 year old girl being beaten up by a teacher because she drank water from a public tap.
Because the Dalits do not have access to the same resources as the rest of the population the vast majority of them live in great poverty. Besides from this they also have a very low self-esteem because they were raised in a society that considers them as untouchable.

In the Hindu religion people believe in karma and reincarnation. For this reason the caste system still exists since people believe that they were born into their caste because of actions in their previous lives. This also means that when an organisation like DWO are fighting to abolish all caste discrimination they are fighting against very old and strong traditions and beliefs – however, DWO are fighting hard and have done an amazing job.

Read more about DWO on:

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Nepalgunj – first impression

After having waited for more than four months I finally arrived at Nepalgunj, the town I will be living in the next two years. The journey from Kathmandu to Terai is close to 600 km. (370 miles) and takes between 10 and 14 hours depending on road condition and weather. It is a really beautiful trip; through the mountains (though here they are called hills, being no more than a few thousand meters high) and down to the Terai, the most southern part of Nepal. Terai goes all the way from East to West and is totally flat. It is the most fertile part of the country which means that a great part of the population – including me – lives here.

Nepalgunj is supposed to be a big, dirty and uncharming town, so I had expected the worse. Luckily, I was positively surprised for several reasons. First of all, it doesn’t seem as big as expected. You don’t have to drive more than 10 min. either East or West before you find yourself in the paddy fields – however, if you go 10 min. South you will end up in India with a very chaotic border with lots of trade. Besides from that Nepalgunj has a very nice bazaar. There is a majority of Muslims living here and the small, narrow streets in the bazaar are reflecting that. You can get a great biryani (rice- and vegetable dish), lots of interesting spices and a bunch of other more or less exotic things.

Another surprise was the many street kitchens and small restaurants – the food here is really delicious including one of the many Nepalgunj specialties; BBQ mutton – yummy! Also there is a hotel owned by an American lady and rumour has it that she makes the best cheese burgers. So in case, you overdose on the Indian/Nepali food it is possible with a bit of junk food as well. And yes, there are other foreigners living here. So far I have met 10-12 bideshis, meaning that there are a few of use to share the great amount of attention given to us by the extremely curious locals. Like in Bangladesh it seems to be a hobby for people to stare at each other and strangers – preferably for several hours. Luckily, I have found a wonderful apartment away from the crowds. I have the entire roof top to myself and with its 3 story it is the highest house in the area, so hopefully I can find some peace there.

Of course there are less positive sides of Nepalgunj too such as the heat, the traffic, the many people and animals, the impossible internet- and Mobil connection and the many power cuts. But since I am not moving to the town for another two weeks those things haven’t started to bother me – yet! And when that time comes you can be sure to find a few entries on it on this blog.