How a Devoted Messenger in Nepal Is Changing Her Community

How a Devoted Messenger in Nepal is Changing Her Community

How a Devoted Messenger in Nepal is Changing Her CommunityIn Nepal’s far-western region, along  the southern belt known as the Terai, a 29-year old Tharu woman makes her way eastward traveling over eight hours a day across dusty, pot-holed roads to meet with strangers. She is armed with few things. A notebook, a pen drive, a phone and her most prized possession, a Samsung tablet.

You may never have heard of Sisahaniya VDC or Sonpur VDC, but to Sita Narayan from Tikapur, visiting these places and speaking to their people, it is a dream come true.

A Big Dream Born in Tikapur

“I want to ensure that people are listening and that they understand what they hear on the radio. Sometimes I bring episodes to Listening Discussion and Action Groups on a pen drive. I often ask questions after we listen together, so I can see what they have understood, or not understood. I’ve also learned that when people hear episodes where their voices or their neighbors’ voices are broadcast, they get really motivated.

Sita’s devotion to this task though is much bigger than this project. Becoming a social worker had always been Sita Narayan’s dream. But growing up in Tikapur, in the Tarai, it might as well have been impossible.

Sita is from the Tharu community, a marginalized community that came to world attention in 2015 through human rights groups like Amnesty International, for the abhorrent human rights violations perpetrated by local authorities following an attack on a police station in Tikapur. Poverty and illiteracy have plagued the Tharus, impacting girls the most. Child labor, child marriage, and prostitution are all major local issues. Education is a luxury. As the eldest in the family, and as a daughter, Sita’s prospects in life could have been limited, had it not been for her parents’ support of her education.

“I hope that my work and my role in the community will encourage other parents to send their daughters to school, for a better life, because education is what makes boys and girls equal.”

Fueled by this goal, Sita has become one of Equal Access Nepal’s 22 Community Action Researchers.

In November 2012, Equal Access Nepal partnered with Pact Inc. to implement a five-year community engagement project funded by USAID. This project, known as Sajhedari Bikaas has leveraged the power of media to empower marginalized communities in six districts in the far-western region of the country including where Sita is from.

From the get-go, the project included Community Action Researchers. These researchers listen deeply to the community and ensure that information that is relevant to the concerns of its members are included in the radio programming – a process that Equal Access calls the ‘interactive loop.’ Through this mechanism, learning happens on both sides of the loop.

According to Equal Access’ Director of Research and Innovation, Dr. Karen Greiner, Sita, and other Community Action Reporters bring something unique to the monitoring and evaluation team.

“What is gained when you add Community Action Researchers to the Equal Access model is a stronger link to communities. They offer better support to Listening Discussion and Action Group members and an increase in the amount of information collected about how programs are received, influencing and inspiring community members.”

For Sita, knowing what those around her need matters a lot.

Changing Communities by Setting an Example

Sita’s commitment to promoting girls’ education is swallowing everything in her path. Hungrily, she learns everything and has a special appetite for technology. Pointing proudly to her tablet, she says,

“I like this tablet! I use it to take surveys with listeners, to see if they have heard specific public service announcements. I also use CommCare [tablet software] to record information about the meetings of the Listening Discussion and Action Groups. Sometimes I use the tablet to take photos.”

In her tablet, a picture of a form appears. It is a form issued to a Listening Discussion and Action Group by the local village council stating that the government officially recognizes the group and that it can participate in the local administration meetings.

While Sita speaks of these successes, working does have its challenges. The travel is long, lonely, and arduous. The roads are rough. There are times when it’s hard to form a Listening Discussion and Action Group, but whenever Sita has a moment of doubt, her father, a carpenter, and only surviving parent, is there to remind her why it all matters.

“He said to me: ‘What will the other girls in the community think if you stop doing this work? What example will you set?'”

Sita has just completed her first year of her Master’s in sociology at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu while continuing to work as a Community Action Researcher. At this rate, it looks like nothing, not even all the gods in the world, can stop her from fulfilling her destiny.

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