People in Need’s wide-ranging work in Nepal—from road renovation to mental health assessment

People in Need’s Country Director on how the organization has adapted to the pandemic, works accomplished and those in the pipeline, and accusations often leveled against I/NGOs in Nepal.

People in Need’s Country Director Věra Exnerová

Rhishav Sapkota

  • Read Time 4 min.

Kathmandu: People in Need, a non-governmental non-profit founded in the Czech Republic in 1992, arrived in Nepal as part of a humanitarian response to the deadly earthquakes of 2015.

Since then the organization has branched out to other pertinent socio-political works—from educating girls from marginalized communities and surveying landslide-prone areas to renovating roads and assessing the pandemic’s impact on mental health.

People in Need’s Country Director Věra Exnerová, who started her work in Nepal in April, 2021, says she feels enriched in the short time she has spent in the country, despite the fact that she took office under abnormal conditions.

About the time when Exnerová assumed office, Nepal was witnessing an onset of the second wave of the pandemic. This led the organization to switch to digital mediums, through which it has taught girls from marginalized communities and assessed secondary impacts of the pandemic on food security and mental health, Exnerová informs.

In the meantime, the organization has also supported the upgradation of the Nepal Covid-19 Dashboard portal of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority (NDRRMA). “We’ve also helped produce a heat map for Covid Connect Nepal,” says Exnerová, “so they can better predict the needs of the people.”

People in Need’s work extends to infrastructure development as well. One of the projects that the organization has successfully accomplished in collaboration with other organizations is the UKaid-funded ‘Unnat Goreto: Resilient Trails for Resilient Futures’—an undertaking that helped renovate about 125 km of trail in Gorkha’s Arughat and Dharche rural municipalities, and Naukunda and Ama Chodingmo rural municipalities in Rasuwa.

The organization adopted a “multi-layered approach” in trail reconstruction where people participated by earning money for their work: the project employed 3,914 households who earned a total of NPR 122,260,351, according to Exnerová. “This way they could also learn skills which they can capitalize on later,” she said.

Moreover, for its project ‘Pratibaddha’ or ‘Risk-Informed Landslide Management in Nepal’s Hill Areas’, in the disaster-prone Sindhupalchowk, funded by the European Union, the team reportedly assessed 110 sites across 12 landslide-affected wards. In the coming months, the organization aims to make similar assessments in 43 sites across 14 wards in Dolakha’s Bigu and Tamakoshi rural municipalities.

Group of women workers in Sersung- Parchyang village in Rasuwa, Nepal. The project ‘Resilient Rehabilitation of Trails in Rasuwa district’ was funded with UK aid from the UK government and implemented by People in Need, Scott-Wilson Nepal and Phase.

One of People in Need’s key areas of work has been to empower disenfranchised women and girls. In that regard, the organization’s five-year-long project ‘Aarambha—Leave No Girl Behind’ aims to empower married and out-of-school adolescent girls aged between 10-19 years. It hopes to achieve that through “literacy, numeracy, life skills, and community mobilization”.

I/NGOs in Nepal often come under scrutiny for “weakening” public institutions; scattered aid in smaller projects, some argue, has led to high transaction costs and additional burden for stakeholders.

While Exnerová acknowledges that donors opt for governmental budget support rather than grants from I/NGOS around the world, she says her organization almost always works alongside government bodies and local agencies.

Our aim is not to be just another player in the development arena,” she says, “but to act as a catalyst, one that loosens bottlenecks and creates adhesiveness when it comes to delivery of government services to the people, especially to the excluded and the marginalized.

Our aim is not to be just another player in the development arena,” she says, “but to act as a catalyst, one that loosens bottlenecks and creates adhesiveness when it comes to delivery of government services to the people, especially to the excluded and the marginalized.”

There is yet another accusation that I/NGOs frequently face in Nepal—that they don’t do enough to transfer the information they acquire when they implement projects to government bodies and local agencies. Exnerová goes off on a tangent here to say that her organization doesn’t prefer to work in isolation. Her organization’s philosophy, she says, is that it is part of a community of actors with similar goals.

A community learning center in Rautahat district.

“We work in consultation with local NGOs from the very onset, so all the knowledge we acquire simultaneously remains in the community,” she says. “We have worked with the National Reconstruction Authority and National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority and we have been working to make all the knowledge generated institutionalized.”

Nepal is a country where deep-seated problems like patriarchy, casteism, and lack of good governance remain pervasive, especially in the rural areas where People in Need’s focus lies. Exnerová acknowledges that they are “legitimate problems”; and for that very reason, her team spends a lot of time consulting with partners and stakeholders like local leaders, media, school management teams, communities, and the girls’ families.

“I really believe in this old Nepali saying that it takes a village to raise a child,” Exnerová says. “A corollary would be that it takes a village to educate a girl child in Nepal’s Province 2.”

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