So where are the heroes of Nepal? Perhaps in perusing the pages of History with a capital 'H', we are simply looking in the wrong place. In the week of his birth, we would do well to remember one such modern-day hero, the conservationist, Chandra Gurung.
A charismatic and natural leader, Gurung exemplified perseverance, dedication and the achievement of a vision that lives on beyond his untimely demise in a 2006 chopper crash. Coming from a traditional Gurung village in the Annapurna region, Gurung's affinity to nature and the natural beauty of his birthplace led him to direct the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP). This project became a global model for how environmental conservation and community development could and indeed had to go hand in hand. Gurung was also responsible for bringing the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area Project (KCAP) into being, and played a critical role in initiating the Terai Arc Landscape Project (TAL). While KCAP built on his legacy of innovation in ACAP, TAL is a completely new transboundary approach to ecological conservation work. The project protects wildlife national parks, wildlife reserves and buffer zones around them in Nepal and India. It does so by engaging with the local community through sustainable use of the community forests, livelihood development and increasing awareness through conservation education.
Chandra Gurung was as much a teacher and educator as he was a leader and visionary. Some of those he mentored now lead the conservation movement in Nepal. Others, like Manjushree Thapa, have chosen to support his legacy by bringing it to a wider audience. Her recently released biography of Chandra Gurung, A Boy from Siklis, captures not only his accomplishments and ability to inspire and lead, but also highlights the void he left behind. But the good work continues, not least through the foundation that was set up in his name: the Chandra Gurung Conservation Foundation (CGCF). The foundation seeks to continue Gurung's work of promoting people-oriented biodiversity conservation while educating the upcoming generation about conservation. Perhaps this is how heroes should be judged - not only by what they achieved in their own lifetimes, but also in their continuing influence.
The Chandra Gurung Conservation Foundation (CGCF) is holding a fundraising event at the Central Zoo in Jawalakhel on Saturday, 5th Dec. 2009. The event will feature a reading by Manjushree Thapa from A boy from Siklis, a photo exhibition on Siklis by Sara Parker, and a guided tour of the zoo. More details at www.qcbookshop.com