Nepali Times
Goodwill ambassadors


If you thought only Nepali soldiers and policemen risked their lives maintaining peace across the world, think again. Apart from the blue berets and troops serving in armies elsewhere, Nepal also has an excellent record of volunteerism-over a hundred mid-career Nepali professionals are currently serving the war fronts as United Nation's Volunteers (UNV).

UNV is the volunteer arm of the UN system, extending hands-on assistance for peace and development in nearly 150 countries. Created by the UN in 1970 and administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), UNV works through UNDP country offices to promote volunteerism around the world. Thousands of volunteers from over 140 countries, with extensive experience in over 100 professional fields, serve with the UNV each year.

It may sound surprising but little Nepal was the fifth largest source of UNVs last year, with 113 Nepalis posted at different locations around the world. UNVs from the Philippines, Spain, Belgium and Japan outnumbered Nepalis last year, but this year the UNV Office in Kathmandu hopes that Nepal's position as a source of volunteers may rise to the third position. In the first six months of this year alone, 58 Nepalis have already been posted overseas. Forty of them are in tough Kosovo, half of them working as civil administrators and the rest as registration supervisors.

"The performance of Nepali UNVs even under difficult and risky situations is superb. They have earned an international reputation for their work. Demands for Nepali volunteers have gone up," says Simon Forrester, UNV Programme Officer in Kathmandu. Nepalis are working specifically in three areas as UNVs-humanitarian relief, technical assistance and short-term observatory jobs. And it is long-term technical assistance that hosts the largest number of Nepali volunteers.

Returning UN volunteers in Kathmandu offer various explanations for the good performance of Nepalis overseas. However, they all agree on one good reason-a "positive attitude and sincerity" towards their work. (If you are wondering why not here, wait, they explain that as well.) The other reasons cited are their ability to quickly adapt to an alien culture, dedication to duty and the encouragement and appreciation they receive for their work. "Here your contribution is not appreciated. If you are posted outside the valley, you are forgotten, and opportunities for professional growth are scarce if you consent to work in remote areas," said Bimala Maskey, acting president of the Returned United Nations Volunteers Association of Nepal (RUNVAN).

Maskey worked in Botswana 1995-97 as principal teacher for the in-service education wing of the Botswana's Ministry of Health. After retiring as joint secretary from the Ministry of Health in Nepal, Maskey was rather unhappy with her job at a government-run vocational training centre, CTEVT, when the UNV offer came along. "The job as a UNV was an exciting substitute to my work at CTEVT. Working as a UNV brings you encouragement and recognition," she says. If that is the way Nepali volunteers feel about working abroad, UN volunteer in Nepal Kristiina Mikkola from Finland echoes a similar sentiment: "Professionally my duties here [in Nepal] are very exciting and rewarding."

Many mid-career technical professionals use the programme as a platform to explore their abilities in a different social and working environment in a foreign country. "I have mixed feelings working in Kosovo. I miss my country and family dearly but on the other hand it gives me an inner satisfaction that I am working for a mission to make this place better for its citizens," says Rajesh Aryal, now serving in Pristina. For some, a short-term UNV position offers an exciting break from monotonous bureaucratic or administrative jobs within the government machinery. Others accept it as an opportunity for international exposure that can turn a stepping-stone for further personal and professional progress. And yet for others, the most attractive part of working as a UNV is the money.

Former bureaucrat Bishnu Lal Maharjan earned about Rs 5,000 as salary, but as a UNV in Lesotho as Assistant Expert at the Ministry of Commerce and Industries between 1980-82 and as Trade Promotion Specialist later in 1985-87, he was paid $800 (Rs 50,000 approximately). "With high salaries and low cost of living, a position as a UNV offers an opportunity for savings. When you are economically secure your mind is freed for creativity and you can devote yourself to your work more sincerely," Maharjan said, citing economics as one of the reasons why Nepali UNVs do well in countries like Lesotho than back home. "Most of the time Nepali professionals are busy moonlighting to support their families. How can you expect sincerity and creativity from them when their minds are so preoccupied with earning for their families," he adds.

The fact that Nepali professionals perform better overseas sure speaks volume about the working environment back home. The good news is that Nepalis are earning an international reputation for their efficiency and professional excellence. Such performance, and not only by Nepali volunteers, has not gone unnoticed. The UNV programme has caused the UN to work for greater South-South volunteerism rather than foist development experts from industrialised nations on underdeveloped ones.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)