She came as the ambassador of the Delegation of European Union to Nepal in September, 2020. Before she could familiarize herself with Nepal the Covid-19 hit the country. She then focused on securing support for Nepal to acquire medical assistance, equipment and vaccines from EU member states. Once the fear of Covid was gone, she started her activities, traveling in different parts of the country, meeting people, talking to them, listening to their stories of joys and hardships.
After three years, everything she did in Nepal seems like a treasure in her memory. She is going to miss Nepal wherever she will be.
“Are you exaggerating?” I asked during a recent conversation I had with her. “No, I mean it,” she said. Though she took office in Kathmandu in 2020, her fascination for Nepal is much older.
“Actually when I came to Nepal as the EU ambassador in September 2020, that was not my first time in Nepal. I had made a trip to Nepal in 2011 as a tourist with my children,” she revealed. This was much before the 2015 earthquakes and things were wonderful here. She spent a long time in Kathmandu, the beautiful city of the country, and then she went to Dhulikhel, another beautiful town and then to the Last Resort where tourists do bungee jumping and canoeing. “I did not do bungee but my children did canoeing. That was my first trip and I enjoyed it immensely,” said her.
So when she came to Kathmandu in 2020 as the EU ambassador she felt privileged and honored. “I felt really honored to be posted in this beautiful country with an exceptionally beautiful natural landscape. I felt lucky to have to come to this country again in an official position,” Nona said. She says that nearly every European knows about Nepal and they want to visit the country at least once in their lifetime. “They know about Nepal as a beautiful country. They have this image of Nepal as the country of Himalayas, friendly people, country with spirituality, the mountains and so forth. They have a positive and special image of Nepal in Europe. And many Europeans want to visit Nepal.”
Seeing the country, meeting the people
During these three years in Nepal she has seen the best of the country as well as some sad affairs. She received warm welcome from the government officials, the people, the colleagues in the embassy and media people. “I met a lot of people. What is so special about Nepal is that people are very welcoming,” she said.
She visited different parts of the country and interacted with a lot of people. EU has multifaceted partnerships with Nepal. Most of its programs are concentrated in three provinces—Madhesh, Karnali and Sudur Paschim—the provinces where the human development index is low. “So I traveled mostly to these provinces. I spent weeks traveling to these places, slowing down my car so that I would not miss the beautiful landscape along the way. I sat in the front seat, opened the window and drove slowly so as not to miss the beauty of the country,” the EU envoy recalled those days. During those trips she met and interacted with many different people—women’s groups, farmers’ groups, young people and journalists, mayors and deputy mayors, chief ministers and others. “I found that people are very resilient though their life is hard,” she said.
Of all the trips and travels, she recalls the one in Karnali with special fondness. She was in the Api Himal Municipality in Darchula district, along with the then Finnish ambassador to Nepal. And she stayed in the house of deputy mayor of the municipality Urmila Bohora. “She was so hospitable, so kind and so friendly. I stayed in her house for two days,” Nona said. Urmila made bread for her in the morning on traditional stoves. The way Urmila fulfilled her duties as an elected representative and as a mother of the household was impressive to Nona. “She had to manage the household works and at the same time fulfill her responsibility as a deputy mayor to the people. She had to walk for two days to meet her people to reach all the wards. I was particularly moved by the hard work she did for the people,” said Nona.
Urmila did not know English and Nona did not know Nepali but yet the bonding was so deep they still communicated. “She did not speak English and we did not speak Nepali but we still communicated. I felt a new sense of human bonding with her. She opened her heart to us. Her house was not big and modern, but she made us feel at home there with great hospitality,” Nona recalled her stay at the house of Urmila Bohora. “This Nepali spirit is exceptional.”
Nona has also seen some sad situations during her trip to inspect the EU’s multi-sector nutrition program. During the tour to take stock of this program she met many young mothers and their babies who were stunting and wasting because of the lack of nutritious food. “Seeing that broke my heart. It is not only about the lack of nutrition but the lack of knowledge about what nutritious food is and what is not,” she said. In this regard, she appreciates the role played by female community health volunteers who are educating the rural women about nutrition. She also saw how women, despite working so hard for the family and children, are still bound to eat as last due to the traditional social practices which make the women as the last in the family and they have to do with whatever little food is left. “They are the ones to eat after all others have eaten up and sometimes there is not enough food left for them. Those who have to bear the burden of the household work, who have to breastfeed their children, are themselves under-nutritioned,” she said. “They are the ones who have to get the fodder for cattle. Even when they are pregnant they get food at last. This has had adverse impacts on their health as well as the health of their children. Children born of such mothers face learning difficulties later on. Babies born are underweight.” Nona hopes that the EU’s multi-sector nutrition program implemented in coordination with the government of Nepal will help to change this sad situation.
Another sad moment she faced in Nepal was during the Covid-19. When the second wave hit Nepal in April 2021, she saw the suffering of the people during the lockdown. “People were suffering, there were no hospital beds available, there were not enough vaccines and medical equipment. There was a lot of human suffering because of the lockdown,” she recalled the days of Covid-19. So she did whatever she could from the embassy to secure support for Nepal. “We made strong appeals to EU member states to provide medical equipment to Nepal. I am proud to say that 14 EU Member States through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism provided medical equipment, ventilators, oximeters, vaccines and masks. We supported Nepal through the Co-vax facility as well,” she said. The EU office in Nepal supported hospitals with equipment and trained the health staff how to operate and maintain those equipment. “I am proud that I could do whatever I could from my side to secure support and assistance for Nepal during those trying times.”
Apart from what you mentioned, what were your achievements for Nepal during your tenure? I asked.
She thinks the assistance provided to Nepal during the Covid-19 was a major one. Then comes the EU’s support to Nepal in programs related to education, gender equality and nutrition sectors followed by the green resilient inclusive development (GRIID) program which is a top priority for the EU in Nepal. Setting up of Youth Sounding Board and programs for economic empowerment of women are other achievements to note. “This is about making sure that we hear the voices of the youth and making our support responsive to their needs,” she noted. Recently over 10 billion rupees assistance in education and local adaptation to climate change was offered to Nepal by the EU. “The EU remains a steadfast supporter of Nepal’s development. There will be more such support for the country in the days to come,” she said.
Nepal’s future is bright
Nona Deprez will leave Nepal in a few days but she will do everything she can to project Nepal in a very positive way. The main reason she has a really positive feeling about Nepal is because she thinks Nepal has a huge potential in its diversity, nature and people. She thinks Nepal has a bright future but Nepal really has to make important decisions now itself on society, economy and sustainable development because Nepal’s demographic window is closing very quickly. “Youths are leaving Nepal and you have an aging population. This will fundamentally change the structure of Nepali society and even the economy,” she said.
Ten years later, Nepal may be in a completely different situation. “So now is the time for Nepal to take really decisive steps to prepare for what seems like the eventuality with the sense of urgency to implement the constitution meaningfully and to graduate sustainably to the developed country status from LDC status,” she said. In her view, Nepal should work on sustainable and inclusive development and sustainable peace, for the wellbeing of people so that no one is left behind. “If this is done, Nepal has the brightest future because you have a huge potential,” she concluded.
How much will you miss Nepal?
“A lot,” she said. “Nepal is very close to my heart, the people here and everything about Nepal is so special to me.” Nona has picked some Nepali words in these three years. “Nepal mero man mutuma baseko chha (Nepal is both in my heart and feelings),” she said in a typical European accent. “Wherever I will be after leaving Nepal I will really miss Nepal. This is a very special country and I might not be able to find such a special country again.”
She meant it.