I experienced, as language instructor for Peace Corps Volunteers, that teaching language is challenging on contrary of belief that teaching own language should be easier. I had not realized before, the ambiguities and exceptions of grammar and structures that virtually have no explanations. But teaching modules have been designed in such a way to ease our tasks that have been effective for trainees as well.
Pre-Service Training (PST) was conducted in the communities where trainees were placed in Nepali host families to facilitate them with real life experience. This experiential learning process is really important in adjusting themselves in Nepali society. They were also trained of technical knowledge and skills about specific work that they will be doing in their site.
Trainees also involved with different community activities. They themselves initiated Girls Leading Our World (GLOW) to motivate girls to become future leaders organizing different training, skill and entertainment programs for girls of their host family. As a part of technical assignment, they did the practicum, related to similar work, that they will be doing in their assigned site to gain practical knowledge about the potential challenges that they may face at their workplace. They also visited their future work site during midway of PST to have an opportunity to explore their future home and to identify their specific learning needs while in the training.
For the trainers also, it was tremendous learning opportunity as the interaction among trainers and trainees was not only entertaining but also informative. I personally felt that I was not only sharing my culture but also learning their culture simultaneously. This cohesion is important for creating the learning environment during eleven weeks of intensive training.
Trainees were assessed of their language capabilities at the end of formal training which was then followed by swearing-in ceremony that marks the transition point from trainee to volunteer status. Volunteers then travel to their respective sites to live and work for two years.
Volunteers involve and work in collaboration with local organizations, communities and related governmental agencies for the projects of various sectors: education, health, sanitation, agriculture, forestry, community and youth development, soil conservation and natural resource management. They contribute their valuable time and effort to provide the technical support for the development projects and to promote better understanding of Americans on the part of Nepali people. They receive allowance from Peace Corps that allows them to live like average Nepalis. Their involvement in the grass root level has supplemented the effort of the communities that has had positive impact in the long run.
Some volunteers also conduct their work as a part of their research project to earn them academic degree. Despite the real challenge in the field, they accomplish their work effectively with intense vigor, determination and motivation. With better understanding of local culture and the environment, they develop the strong affinity towards the communities and their work that lead some of them to extend their service for additional one year. Though the progress has been gradual and often intangible, the achievement was rewarding for both volunteers and the community.
Since my involvement with Peace Corps, I have had personal contact and communication with many returned volunteers. They continue to keep their eyes on the projects that they initiated and provide needed support even on the personal capacity. Many college students (volunteers) obviously find Nepal easy to conduct the field study and come back Nepal time and again for their academic research work. Some share their feeling of "culture shock" on being at home after working in Nepal for two years. Once, Ken Best, who served in Janakpur as water sanitation volunteer, suggested me to write blogs to share my work about bird and nature conservation activities to generate conservation awareness. That inspired me to start this blog 'Ranichari' (Nepali name for bird: Scarlet Minivet).
Following the excessive violence during Maoist insurgency, Peace Corps Nepal Program was postponed in immediate effect in 2004 and all the serving volunteers had to abruptly leave their site. Consequently, their ongoing projects having in various stages were in limbo that caused much frustration and anxiety for the volunteers. Not only volunteers, community also suffered from this setback. People had to see them off with heavy heart.
After seven years, Peace Corps has decided to return Nepal following the recent political development. Resumption of Peace Corps Program would certainly have positive impact on political arena in this transition phase. Moreover, presence of volunteers would be crucial in grass-root level development in changed scenario.
Country witnesses the political change but, sadly, social reform has not progressed, as expected. People have hope for radical change after decade of civil war and political instability. But, their hope gradually crumbled with further uncertainty and stagnation in all levels. Especially youths are frustrated and their will and determination is fading away. Most people even deprived of basic facility of health and education that have severe impact on socio-economic progress. Economic incentive would be essential to revitalize and motivate them in development processes.
Country is blessed with tremendous resources that we could use them for the economic progress. Sustainable development can be achieved when these resources are used wisely and the benefit is accrued to welfare of deserving people. With sustainable management of these resources (agriculture, fisheries, tourism etc.), we could enforce our potential strength on development. Development through cooperatives is vital for economic process for rural poor. What we need is to realize the resources that we have, and our potential strength to use or manage them effectively for sustainable development.
Volunteers' expertise could be blended with local knowledge to formulate the strategy to work together to achieve that goal. Along with the language, culture and technical knowledge, volunteers should also understand the diverse spectrum of social environment. That understanding could be instrumental to motive the rural communities to realize their dream.
(Photo: GLOW Program in Bhairahawa, PST N/195, 2002)