It feels unbelievable that my field research trip in Nepal has come to end. Many emotions and feelings come up as I say goodbye to the wonderful nation of Nepal, a country that has not only provided me with so much valuable material for my thesis but which has left such a great impression on me as a person. As I take a quick glance through the hard-drive of my computer I wonder how I will even begin the task of synthesizing so many pages of material, interview transcripts, project documents, not to mention my field diary which is full of impressions, perceptions and thoughts on NGO project management and the process of Monitoring & Evaluation which my research has focused on. So as my physical journey in Nepal comes to an end, the journey of thesis writing is beginning. One door closes, another opens. But somehow I think the door to Nepal is one that I will be opening again and again in the future.
The research trip has been a great adventure and I am really grateful to have been able to participate in the MFS program and for the support of SIDA without which this trip really would not have been possible. The organisation that supported me, NEAT, has been a valuable source of information, their contacts putting me into contacts with their contacts and so forth. The kind and humble nature of the Nepali’s I met on this journey have always offered helping hands, and many interviewees wished to become lifelong friends, with offers to return to visit them, stay in their homes and celebrate upcoming festivities together. I’m not sure how that fits with the independent researcher approach but I will have to deal with that in my thesis! Nepal is definitely a country that leaves the visitor with many thoughts and perceptions. The poverty is heart-breaking and NGO project management has a long way to go until it makes foreign aid truly effective, but on the other hand, people seem to be doing their best, although corruption is evident, but many are operating from the heart with little formal education, just trusting their instincts and using a trial and error approach. The landscape is both magnificent and challenging. The high mountain ranges make M&E activities difficult, especially when it can take days of trekking just to make a visit to a project location. But the warm gentle nature of the people leaves an impression on the heart and the mind, with people who have so little always offering so much. I have learnt so much as a person and have a whole new mindset with which I see the world. This is definitely a destination I recommend to others and will be visiting again.
Thanks to MAH and SIDA for all the support and I hope that all other MFS researchers abroad have an equally rewarding adventures on the field!
The last week of research is here. How fast the time has flown. As always, everything happens at once, with many emails and phone calls to say that people I had previously requested interviews from were now, right now, willing to meet and share their knowledge and thoughts with me. Jumping at the opportunity to collect so much great information before my field trip comes to an end, I managed to schedule over 12 interviews into a two week period. But these interviews were not all in the capital, Kathmandu, where I have been mainly situated. They were scattered around the country in various villages and towns. Not wanting to say no and knowing that trying to do interviews via email or phone is rather difficult here, I set myself up for a research route around the country!
First stop on the research trail was the Chitwan area on the southern border of Nepal and India, to meet with one of Nepal’s biggest local NGO monitoring & evaluation specialists. In true Nepali style, my driver who was meant to take me one hour from the hotel to the remote NGO office didn’t show and by the time I was able to get a new driver, the M&E specialist had left the office. Whilst waiting though I spotted a rhinoceros from the rooftop of my guesthouse! Only in Nepal! To compensate, I managed to secure an interview via email and spontaneously visited two other NGO offices getting much valuable information from them.
A very long and bumpy bus ride took me next to the town of Lumbini, the supposed birthplace of the Buddha. Again, having scheduled interviews I turned up only to have no one available at the office when the time came for our meetings! Only in Nepal!
Super long bus journey later (as usual 6 hours estimates journey time inevitably doubles on the high mountain roads), and I arrived in Pokhara, a lovely town set in magnificent surroundings. This time with much more luck I was able to complete all the interviews as anticipated, and even to enjoy a bit of free time for boating on the Fewa Lake and tasting some of the local culinary delights (for instance their cafes famous for wood fire pizza and Japanese pancakes – not so local really!) – Only in Nepal!
Then back to Kathmandu where more interviews than expected have been able to be completed in one week than I thought possible – as per usual, the Nepalese people (once you get a hold of them!) are more than willing to chat and to help put me in contact with more valuable sources of information. I’m still yet to secure that much coveted government interview. I continue to make calls each day to the government office responsible for overseeing NGO projects in Nepal but each time I am out of luck and the Director or Assistant Director (every member of their personnel has one or the other title – only in Nepal!) usually claims a bad line before I get a chance to tell them my full purpose of the call. But I will keep trying till the end of my time here.
Just one more week to go. This country has made such a strong impact on me that it will be difficult to say goodbye but for the meanwhile, for these last days, it is all about making the best out of the moments and keeping on the research route till the very very end!
I have returned to Kathmandu after some days exploring the valley in areas with limited internet access. It has been wonderful to meet new people and explore the beautiful surroundings of this amazing city. As usual, people I meet along the way always wish to offer help and through random encounters I have been able to secure more interviews for my field work. This place never ceases to amaze me! But now it is time for the Dasain festivities, the biggest celebration in the country where mass internal migration sees millions of people travelling around the nation to celebrate with their families in their home villages. This means that all offices are closed down for the last week and the week to come which means lots of time to begin the mammoth exercise of sorting through all my field notes and interview transcriptions to begin putting the thesis together. With so many people returned to their home villages, Kathmandu is blissfully quiet!
The Dasain festival is a Hindu celebration which celebrates the victorious goddess Durga who in mythical tales won over the forces of evil. In her honour, hundreds of thousands of goats, buffalo and other animals are being sacrificed every day during the festivities. As a vegetarian and animal lover, I was somewhat shocked to see how many animals are being killed in Nepal this week. One Buddhist group here in Kathmandu has been collecting donations to save a goat or a buffalo from slaughter each Dasain festival over the last 10 years or so. And each year over the festival period, they take the saved animals on a pilgrimage around a Buddhist stupa to try to give the animals better karma in their next lifetime. Intrigues by this unusual tradition, I offered to assist in helping the animal sanctuary to walk the goats around the stupa – the buffalo being much to big to get into the garden where the stupa sits. It was a completely unexpected occurrence in a nation which continues with the unexpected but a lot of fun and a lot of laughs as we tried to get these animals a better reincarnation!
Today marks the exact half-way point of my field-trip in Nepal. How fast time flies. It feels like yesterday that I had that kid-on-Christmas-day feeling as my plane descended into Kathmandu Airport. Now with my notebooks already getting full and so many thoughts, impressions and hours of interview recordings I start to wonder if maybe I have actually been here a very long time! In the last week I have met many inspiring individuals, from women working in empowerment programs through garment manufacture, to expats who have come here to try to make a difference on the ground, to NGO project managers that know they need more knowledge to do things right but are not sure where to turn to. Their stories are sometimes sad but always inspiring. So many insights and much data to sort through… I thought I would be able to begin writing my actual thesis by this point but things take time here, so my patience will need to extend to my drafting also. In my daily life here in Nepal I have been lucky to combine field research with reading, yoga, meditation, and many many cups of chai! I’m wondering how I will leave this place come November. But for now, I have planned a ten-day vacation. A self-imposed holiday break to mark the half-way point. It will be off to a remote region where internet access will be limited and I will have much time to gather and sort all the information that is accumulating in my brain before I head off for the last 4-weeks research voyage in more isolated areas to visit and interview local NGOs. A wonderful opportunity to see a little more of this spectacular country, a nation very small in comparison to its giant neighbours but so big when it comes to generosity, kindness and culture.
Meeting Womens Empowerment Project workers in Pokhara
Mountain traffic jams – travelling with patience
Making new friends along the way to enjoy
cups of spicy masala chai and the amazing Himalayan views
Last Thursday I made the long, windy and bumpy journey from Kathmandu to Pokhara, Nepal’s second largest city. One of my motivations for coming here was that I had been able to secure an interview with a member of the Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) team of the biggest development project here in Nepal. This projects is a 50:50 initiative between the Government and some of the biggest donors and UN agencies operating in Nepal. The project gets a massive amount of funding (over $US760 million in it’s first year) and operates in every single district of Nepal. So I jumped at the opportunity to speak with one of the 4 district cluster M&E staff members. One reason being that this would provide a great research opportunity for my thesis findings. The other being because on a personal level, I was genuinely interested to know how they are measuring the impact of such vast funding, being dispersed into so many projects at the local level, and how these projects are measured as successful when there is so much suffering and hardship visible every where I turn in Nepal. The interview got off to a good start, courtesies were swapped and cups of tea poured. But as I was able to delve into my questions, an air of defensiveness arose. This is becoming a bit common, with M&E being a touchy subject, some people often seem worried that I am secretly their to monitor their work so matter how much I reassure them otherwise.
In this project, the Nepalese Government directs where the money should go to and what the development agenda should be. Multilateral agencies seem to get a say, but it seems to only a certain degree. The M&E staff go with checklists to assess the success of these projects, but there appeared in my view to be little recognition of the corruption in the use of development funding which so many citizens keep telling me about when I state my research topic. But when I asked my interview subjects for their perceptions on the M&E systems in place, their response, “it’s perfect” – nothing that needs to be improved, nothing not working well, everything going great, nothing more to be said. Everyone else I have had the opportunity to speak with so far has recognized innumerable challenges of M&E in Nepal. This was the first time I had heard anyone say with such strong conviction that something, anything, in this country is being done the correct way. M&E is such a difficult aspect of any development project, but more and more I am seeing just how important it is to qualify the projects being funded here. I hope in the weeks to come I am able to delve further into this issue, as well as getting less hostility in my research interviews!