18-24 April 2014 #703

Mission not impossible

Even after 60 years, the United Mission to Nepal remains a major non-governmental player in Nepal’s development
Hariz Baharudin

What started as a bird-watching trip by a few naturalists in the 1950s has turned into Nepal’s biggest non-governmental development partner and catalysts in  education, health, infrastructure and hydropower development.

When Bob Flemming, Carl Freiderichs and their families came to Nepal, they were equally struck by the need for quality education and health services as by the birds that were endemic to the country. Since it was established in 1954, United Mission in Nepal (UMN) has helped set up 40 organisations and smaller NGOs that work in similar areas.  The emphasis has shifted slightly over the six decades and now the organisation, still funded by Christian organisations abroad, focuses more on inclusion and breaking down discriminatory barriers especially in rural Nepal. This includes discrimination against women and Dalits.

Rather than work upfront, the organisation partners with local communities so that people themselves realise why discrimination is unjust. “We don't want all our good work to stop or regress when we leave, so we are building long term capacities for our partners and communities to continue to multiply that change,” explained UMN’s Executive Director Mark Galpin.

In Bajhang, UMN and its partners have fought the ostracisation Dalits face by organising awareness programs in schools and local communities. When UMN went to Bajhang, discrimination was so severe that Dalits were not sold milk by non-Dalits for fear their livestock might suffer.

UMN and one of its partners decided to break down this discrimination by offering to support non-Dalits in milk production, on the condition that they sold the milk to everyone, regardless of caste. A large number of people signed up, lured by the prospect of extra income, and also sold milk to Dalits.

“These kinds of changes are what we aim for. Only when there is change in attitude, can people move forward,” Galpin told us.

UMN has continued its work through hospitals in Tansen and Okhaldhunga, treating more than 120,000 patients, performing 8,545 operations and 2,834 deliveries till date. What is even more commendable is that no one is refused treatment. Those unable to pay are sponsored by the hospital, and last year 5,106 people received Rs 19.5 million worth of free care. “Our focus is on compassionate, holistic and quality health care,” said Galpin.

Although UMN has done a lot in 60 years, they still feel they have a long way to go. Lately, they have had to deal with rising expectations. “What we do is we build capacity, but because we work long-term, people sometimes also expect us to help them build houses and other infrastructure,” Galpin explained.

Then there is also the challenge of hiring qualified staff to work in remote areas. UMN's fieldwork commitments require staff to stay in remote places for extended periods of time, which might not appeal to everyone.

Says Galpin: “Our greatest desire is to see poverty and injustice eliminated from Nepal so that people can fulfill their potential. At UMN, we want to work ourselves out of a job.”

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