[ “SHARE” Sept-Oct 2012 – An Eye-Opening Experience of Poverty ] FOCUS: An EXPOSURE TRIP
Author> POON Man Yan, Education and Promotion Officer
I took the exposure trip in April, seven years since my last one. To make the most of the trip, I decided to forget about the camera and use my eyes to study each scene and face, and use my ears to listen to every life transforming story.
Namaste! Greetings, Nepal!
It was already dark when we landed in Kathmandu so the view was not very clear. The streets reeked of petrol and filled with the hoots of car horns, like China’s rural roads of over a decade ago. Nepal ranks second-last amongst Asian countries on the human development index. Compared with neighbouring China and India, its development road ahead is still very long.
As the home of Mt. Everest, Nepal is indeed a mountainous nation with hills and highlands all over the country. The best route to the mountain villages during the dry season would be to drive across dried-up riverbeds. The twelve of us transformed into contestants of some adventure game show, flying across bumpy riverbeds in jeeps heading towards our destination in the mountains.
During our eight-day trip we went to the central districts of Lalitpur, Makawanpur and Dhading, and visited the Dalit (the oppressed) community and the indigenous groups of Chepang and Tamang. Amidst harsh condition of village life, the people there were cheery and appeared to be happier than those of us who were visiting.
Silent cries of the girls
The day after arrival we visited eight girls around 15 or 16 in Lalitpur. They are members of adolescent groups in the Women Empowerment Programme organized by CEDAR’s partner Share and Care Nepal.
When asked about their dreams for the future, the girls shyly told us that they would love to become teachers or social workers. Yet they knew that soon they would have to obey their parents be married off and then play the traditional female role in their husband’s household. Their own future is no longer theirs to hold and their dreams are thus unreachable. Two illiterate girls among them even remained silent. As I watched and listened, I felt cut to the hearts: do Nepalese girls have no right to pursue their dreams? After all, God sees everyone as unique and precious!
On hearing that two girls had stopped schooling, trippers already guessed the reason – it is either to give way to a son, the future head of the family, to go to school, or give the family an extra pair of hands for chores and farming. When a society fails to examine the rationale for customs and traditions, and regard belittlement or neglect of women as a natural practice, gender inequality thus becomes one of the causes of Nepal’s poverty, especially amongst women.
What is poverty? The Nepalese women made us see that poverty is not merely about a lack in material necessities but also the injustice behind a social system and traditional culture, turning the poor into those in society who are oppressed and ‘sinned against.’ Exploitation and discrimination not only hurt people, but abuse God’s righteous nature also.
The ‘untouchables’ are never cheap and lowly
Hinduism was once Nepal’s state religion and the country remains heavily influenced by the caste system. The low-castes are restricted in many ways, both in the workplace and daily life. However, the Dalit in Dhading are living with self-confidence, self-respect and self-love despite all kinds of discrimination and oppression.
During a visit to the project run by our partner Shanti Nepal in Dhading’s Gajuri district, we went to a small community hall where a dozen children were singing and playing. It is also where the office of the residents’ self-help group is located. The group’s treasurer related the changes the community had gone through in the past years.
In the past, a derogatory name was given to this place because local residents were mainly of the low-caste. Even the government paid little attention to the needs of these inhabitants. After the self-help group was set up, villagers slowly warmed to the importance of unity. They got together and successfully had the place name changed and the insulting words deleted; they began to encourage savings and pooled funds to give small loans to villagers in need. Further, group members actively help care for sick or elderly neighbours, including those who had hurled insults at them before.
What is development? Some suggest ‘growing towards urbanisation’, others ‘building of infrastructure’ or ‘developing the economy’. Yet, from the experience of the oppressed in Gajuri, we realise that what the exploited and discriminated Nepalese marginalised communities want most is to be free from discrimination, to be self-reliant, to build a society with equality where they may appreciate the value and dignity of one’s own life.
What we as visitors found most admirable was the way local Christian organisations facilitated the community’s empowerment and development. Frontline workers transcend the boundaries of the caste system and promote trust among different castes. They also encourage villagers to actively participate in expressing their needs and concerns. Self-help groups are set up to build a close-knit support network. All these stem from the conviction that all humans are born equal and the affirmation of the personal value of even the poorest.
A concrete interpretation of the Gospel
Some may ask how our efforts are linked to the Gospel if we only work on development programmes without evangelism.
One trip member spoke for all of us, ‘If the Gospel is only to redeem my soul, then I should have been taken to heaven immediately upon conversion. I am still here, so I believe there is still work to do.’ The Good News or Gospel is not only about getting people to believe in Jesus now for the hope of eternal life later. It also points to transformation of our life right now whilst we practise the Word of God in both private and public lives.
As vessels of the Gospel, Christians are themselves interpretation of the Gospel. One trip member, a minister who was once a frontline worker, said, ‘The ministry of local organisations is what Jesus talked about in Luke 4:18 – proclaim to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.’ I say ‘Amen’ to that as I think of the villagers we met, their positive attitude, courage and self-confidence.
Dhanyabaad! Thank you, Nepal!
After returning to Hong Kong, a young trip member told us, ‘One day, while enjoying the comfort of an air-conditioned room and eating my favourite salmon sushi, guilt of extravagance suddenly came upon me.’ Many others have experienced similar struggles which challenge our ingrained way of living. Her father who also went on the trip encouraged her to live conscientiously, not be restricted by an established lifestyle but bravely open our heart to explore and broaden our horizon.
Thank you, Nepal! You expanded our horizon to see the richness in God’s Word and works.
Are you ready for a breakthrough and to open your heart to see God’s manifold and wonderful works? Visit http://bit.ly/cedar_nepal2012 for more photos of the Nepal trip. We also invite you to join our exposure trip to Ethiopia scheduled for January 2013, where we expect to witness God’s boundless work among the poor.
FOCUS explores different topics, integrates theory with practice, and broadens our horizon and thinking.