GIRI RAJ ADHIKARI
If you think plans mean nothing in Nepal, think again. There is a place in Nepal where plans translate into reality, goals are achieved on time and government offices do not reek of incompetence and corruption. Welcome to Pragatinagar VDC in Nawalparasi, a model village in every sense.
Pragatinagar was once an inhospitable highway settlement 25 kilometres west of Bharatpur. Many now know it as the first VDC in Nepal to declare itself a No Open Defecation Zone. But this was just the beginning. On May 26 this year, this VDC of 2690 households added feathers to its cap by declaring itself the first VDC with 100 per cent school enrollment, iodine coverage and birth registration. Pragatinagar also has the lowest level of malnutrition (2.5%) and one of the highest levels of adult literacy (86%) in Nepal.
What do these statistics mean? Every child above five, irrespective of socioeconomic status, has access to education, every household with children consumes iodised salt (reducing malnutrition) and every child born is registered within 35 days of birth, ensuring its fundamental right to identity. The advances made in physical infrastructure are no less inspiring. The road networks are well managed, the water is safe to drink, and there are irrigation facilities as well as health and education services available.
VDC secretary Rajendra Prasad Devkota is full of excitement when describing these achievements. "There are many VDCs that receive more assistance from the government. But every change that has taken place in Pragatinagar is because of the untiring efforts of the child clubs, women's groups and community mobilisers," he says. Pragatinagar's amazing network of community stakeholders was set up with UNICEF's DACAW program over a decade ago.
Its child club network, comprising 20 clubs (including Nepal's first, Jagriti Child Club), is one of the driving forces of Pragatinagar's development. The network spearheaded the No Open Defecation campaign, conducting door-to-door visits, raising awareness, helping in toilet construction in all households, and monitoring the campaign to ensure its success. A School Sanitation Program launched 10 years ago has also been successful.
President of the child club network, Sanju Khanal, and acting secretary of Jagriti Child Club, Sagar Neupane, describe their watchdog role. "We work as a bridge between the community and the local authorities. We collaborate with the VDC in its every endeavour to ensure that the community benefits."
The community mobilisers, mostly women, are also key to Pragatinagar's achievements. There are one to three community mobilisers in each neighbourhood who go from door to door weighing newborns, distributing vitamin A capsules, sending pregnant women for at least four compulsory medical check-ups, and handing out birth registration forms. These unpaid workers have no interest other than to serve the community. Maintaining the VDC's achievements, they say, is a lot harder than reaching targets in the first place.
Kamala Ghimire, 28, had her hands full with her two children, husband and in-laws. But now she looks after all the households in ward no. 5 as its community mobiliser. In the last decade she has wheeled her bicycle to every home in Pragatinagar. She has truly witnessed the transformation of her village and her only motivation, she says, is to see that "no child or mother ever has to die for lack of proper health care."
It's not out to place to wonder at the selflessness of people such as Kamala Ghimire. But instead of providing monetary incentives, VDC secretary Devkota leads by example. His office is plastered with detailed descriptions of the VDC's expenses and sources of income, and this is updated every month for the benefit of the public. There's even a fortnightly schedule detailing Devkota's activities. He does it to instill a sense of ownership among the community and to make them feel that the VDC is accountable to them. "There is no place for irregularities and red tape in my office. If we want to involve the community, we have to earn their trust."
Devkota speaks of the challenges ahead, the limited resources and the infrastructure that is still needed to meet the targets Pragatinagar has set for itself. But going by its record, it is impossible not to be hopeful. Pragatinagar proves that all it takes to develop a place is not money or resources, but leadership and determination.
Toilets in all 2690 households
100% school enrollment (5 to 8 years old)
100% iodine coverage
100% birth registration
86% adult literacy
3 development banks
18 educational institutions
20 child clubs