June 16, 2010 post by Dragica
I started my internship one day later than everyone else in the group (those interning) due to my office staff being in the field outside of Kathmandu in other districts. My organization is called Advocacy Forum (www.advocacyforum.org), and they are a leading Nepali human rights NGO. I joined them for six weeks to conduct a project under their transitional justice department falling directly under my research interests of victims-based approaches to transitional justice and victims’ justice, where I will be documenting the work of the victims-based groups that have been trained by my organization in advocacy on behalf of the victims in their respective districts across Nepal (most importantly, the areas that were the hardest-hit by “The People’s War”).
My first day began “Nepali time” style, when I was prepared for a full first day from 9 to 5, and ended up going to the office at 2:30pm after the director of my organization became available to meet me. I practiced patience and flexibility, atypical of my stringent “New York City style,” and both were expected to be tried in Nepal. I promptly ate my breakfast at a scheduled time waiting for one of my team leaders to pick me up, and through the serial postponements, ended up reading the newspapers, interacting with the family and staff who were going about their business in the house (everything happened around me as I was sitting in the living room and they wondered why I was still there), and writing a blog post about Kathmandu. Finally, I took my light lunch at the café I discovered on my way to work called “Roadhouse Café” (super Western) while spending some time on the internet, just before I was picked up (my host family’s house does not have internet).
Located 15 minutes from my home (walking), my office is a light-filled five-story building (very hot), and upon arrival, I was first introduced to Mandira Sharma, our Director, and a well-recognized leader in the Nepali human rights movement. I finally got to speak with her after hearing so many great things about her work. Many academics, activists, artists and others I have been meeting in Nepal thus far knew her personally. She was kind and grounded, welcoming me, and setting me up with my project before the head of my department returns from a field visit on June 18th. I got to brief her on my experience of attending a large (500-600 people) meeting at the City Hall yesterday on the issue of the Disappearances where three key party representatives met human rights movement representatives, among them being Pushpa Kamal Dahal (the infamous Maoist figure called “Prachanda”!), and Richard Bennett who is the head of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and whom Cecilia and I were introduced to prior to the event (both exciting occurrences). I reported that there was nothing new to be learned between the party leaders’ attacks on each other and banter that avoids addressing the real issue (I call this trend in Nepali politics, witnessed firsthand thus far, “turning the wheels” or “passing the buck”). No one seems to be listening to each other, and an event that had so much potential, where the human rights leaders spoke openly calling for the parties to answer why the proposed legislation has not been passed, and why the disappearances have not been answered about or the perpetrators punished, turned into a regular political game. The event was hosted by the Association of the Families of the Disappeared lobbying on behalf of the victims on the Maoist side of the conflict who were disappeared by the State Security Forces during the ten-year war (1996-2006) (note that the vast human rights abuses during this conflict occurred by both sides, but the majority of the crimes investigated, particularly the 1000 plus disappearances, were committed by the State Security Forces). The event was in Nepali and we had two wonderful colleagues from Nepal Institute for Development Studies (NIDS) translate for us. In addition to my urging desire to understand Nepali and frustration for not knowing the language, I felt extreme frustration at what I was witnessing, feeling the disappointment in the leadership and politics, and fear that the weakest, faintest voices that I am the most worried about – those of the victims – will never get heard if those representing the people in the government cannot even sit on the stage long enough to hear each other speak (this is the consensus government?)! Below are the photos of this exciting event where “everything is illuminated” (ref. Johathan Safran Foer). I veer off path..
Having met Mandira, I was taken around the office to be introduced to other staff – the “torturers”, the legals (legal aid), the admins, the documentation, and apparently my department is the “glamorous one” in contrast to say, torture (all of my favorite human rights abuses; this one is for Beth). There are about 5 other interns who are working on separate projects in other departments, all very friendly and approachable, and I ended up sitting at my department’s office on the 5th floor with Martin, formerly from Sweden, who is finishing his work with Advocacy Forum to move onto working with the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong (where I believe other Hong Kong IFPers are interning from my Graduate Program in International Affairs at The New School). I began my preliminary readings, charted a brief plan for myself for now, and created a ‘to do’ list. While sitting at that office, everything working out so perfectly with my internship, my international Field Program, with all of my passions aligned, I realized how much I loved being here, doing this very thing that I am studying, feeling passionate about human rights and justice after war, and I thought, this could be my career. Thus far, albeit early, I say: I love being in the field.
Ironically, every day between my home and work, I have to pass the army barracks, on my windy road to “justice.” I am ready to take on the curbs, even though the traffic is crazy and I have no idea most of the time what is coming up or how fast. No uphill battle is too difficult when in your heart you believe in the thing that is right. Barracks or no barracks. May they remind me why I am going there every single day for the next 6 weeks.