Fall 2016 Fellow: Sheetal Tuladhar, BRAC USA, Nepal

(Sheetal Tuladhar at bottom row left, with BRAC ELA club members)

Ms. Sheetal Tuladhar is currently a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow with BRAC, the largest development organization in the world, which is devoted to empowering people living in poverty. Originally from Kathmandu, Nepal, she received her Master’s Degree in Sustainable International Development from Brandeis University in 2014. In this blog post, Sheetal writes about her experience working in Nepal after the 2015 Nepal earthquakes, establishing BRAC as an INGO in the country, and the programs that have provided her with first-hand experience in the world of international development. Sheetal is also featured in the Hilton Prize Coalition Storytelling Program documentary "On Shifting Ground."

In April and May 2015, two massive earthquakes and numerous aftershocks shook Nepal. Fast asleep in my Brooklyn apartment, I began to receive frantic calls from my Nepali friends living in the U.S. around 3:00 a.m. What followed was a series of attempts to call my parents and family back home in Kathmandu, without any success. Photos and videos started pouring in on social media of buildings and ancient cultural heritage sites collapsing and reducing to rubble. At the time I thought, everything is gone.

I had just finished a three-month internship with BRAC USA. As an eager and fresh Master’s graduate in Sustainable International Development, I was looking for opportunities to work in the development sector for an organization that had meaningful and true impact in the lives of poor people. Within a week of the earthquake, I received a call from BRAC USA to go to Nepal to help set up BRAC International’s newest office in Kathmandu as a Fellow. As unfortunate as the earthquakes had been, they gave me an opportunity to go back home, and as cliché as it may sound, to make a difference.

When the earthquakes struck Nepal, BRAC was one of the first global organizations to respond. With a six-member team from Bangladesh, the organization set up medical camps in coordination with the Government of Nepal-Ministry of Health and other international organizations, including CARE. Apart from the medical camps providing immediate relief, each BRAC staff member had the opportunity to contribute one day’s salary, and BRAC matched that amount to make a fund of USD 1.5 million to set up operations and work in long-term rehabilitation of earthquake-affected communities in Nepal. Over the next few months, BRAC registered as an INGO in Nepal and began implementing a reconstruction project in Kavre, one of the most affected districts.

During this project, BRAC Nepal built two permanent houses for two widow-headed households in the Sunthan and Charikot villages of Kavre district. At the same time, we launched pilot programs in health, sanitation and youth development to facilitate longer-term rehabilitation in the earthquake-affected community of Shyampati Village Development Committee (VDC) in Kavre. Due to the damages sustained to their toilets during the earthquake, residents of Shyampati were forced to use the forest to relieve themselves. BRAC Nepal is restoring and constructing new toilets to rehabilitate the 265 damaged in the earthquake to make Shyampati an open-defecation-free zone again.

During times of disaster and peace, women and girls are pillars of strength and resilience in the community. They have indeed become an instrumental part of BRAC’s programs in Nepal. Female community health volunteers (FCHVs) are a key component of the health system. Started in 1988 by the Government of Nepal, the FCHVs provide health services to communities in coordination with the VDC. BRAC Nepal is providing trainings to strengthen the capacity of existing FCHVs so that they can better provide health education, preventive and curative health services to their community members.

Another BRAC program in Nepal is known as Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescents (ELA), which focuses on empowering adolescent girls. This is one of BRAC’s most successful initiatives worldwide and has proved especially valuable in Nepal. Despite a declining trend, child marriage is pervasive across Nepal. Ten percent of women are married before the age of 15, while 37 percent are married by the age of 18. Poverty is both a cause and a result of child marriage. Empowered adolescent girls are able to break the cycle of poverty, unlocking their economic potential through education, life skills and livelihood opportunities. The first of its kind in Nepal, ten ELA clubs have been set up as safe spaces for adolescent girls aged 11-21 to read, play and socialize. Some girls are trained as mentors, and through them, the other girls receive training in health and nutrition, life skills, livelihoods and financial literacy. Over the course of the program, they will also have the opportunity to be linked to microfinance institutions, to take out small loans for any income-generating livelihood activity they like.

To say that this has been a life-changing experience is an understatement. I always wanted to work in Nepal, but my younger self was only slightly aware of the challenges. After returning from eight years of (comfortable) living in the United States, I found myself overwhelmed by the dynamic, haphazard urbanization and population growth of Kathmandu as well as the intricate bureaucracy that must be navigated at every step of our work in Nepal. One day I would be addressing government officials at the national level, another I would be working with local community members to discuss their pressing needs, and then the next I would be meeting donors and INGOs to discuss potential collaborations to add value to the development of Nepal. While learning about my country, I get to learn and grow as an individual, personally and professionally.

As a part of the Hilton Prize Coalition Storytelling Program, I had the opportunity be a part of “On Shifting Ground,” a documentary that highlights the role of non-governmental organizations at the time of humanitarian crisis. Now as a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow, I have the opportunity to enhance my skills as a development practitioner in disaster resilience, learning first-hand how organizations working closely with communities can strengthen their own capacities to build the resilience of their beneficiaries.

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(HPC Storytelling Program Director Steve Connors interviews Sheetal Tuladhar with beneficiaries in Nepal, February 2016)

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