This is part of a recurring series in which we share reports from Harvard students who have traveled to South Asia with support from a SAI grant during the winter session.
By Yoko Okura, MPP ’17 Harvard Kennedy School
Project: Building natural disaster resilience after the 2014 Nepal earthquake by reconstructing school infrastructure and incorporating resilience education in the Ramechhap District
Fifteen hours of electricity cuts a day. Lack of fuel caused by a blockade at the Indian border. When I describe my everyday life in Kathmandu, Nepal, people tend to focus on the lifestyle deprived of the basic necessities. Looking back, I myself am surprised at how little I remember such shortcomings. The kindness and perseverance of the people are the lasting impressions I have of my three weeks in Nepal.
This winter, I had the privilege of interning with Daayitwa, a local NGO based in Kathmandu, Nepal. The mission of Daayitwa, which means self-responsibility in English, is to build a movement of young leaders through leadership/entrepreneurship programs to collectively transform societal challenges into innovative opportunities. Daayitwa has three goals: 1. Promote inclusive and enterprise driven economic growth, 2. Strengthen governance of public service delivery, 3. Foster resilience in local communities. Following the earthquake in April 2015, Daayitwa was seeking to formulate a strategy to incorporate rebuilding initiatives into their mission and effectively implement leadership/entrepreneurship programs in the affected areas.
I conducted site visits to Ramechhaap, one of the severely hit districts classified in the Post Disaster Needs Assessment, to learn about the needs of the communities and opportunities for Daayitwa to take part in the recovery process. With political haggling and an unstable government, the National Reconstruction Authority had only been authorized in December. Communities faced the question of how to rebuild without reliable support. NGOs and various donor agencies were filling this space, but communities had started to cut back on reconstruction expenses by compromising the safety of buildings. Daayitwa identified two primary schools which had collapsed in the earthquake and decided to fund the reconstruction. However, because Daayitwa did not have a field office in the area, they faced a problem of keeping the local organizations accountable for the reconstruction process.
In my visit, we met with community leaders and formed a team specifically for monitoring the reconstruction. Moreover, we together created a timeline of the process including weekly goals, and a phone follow-up to discuss whether the construction was on time or not. As we were holding a meeting with the ten community leaders, the local people started to come by to listen. Now with a large audience of sixty, Daayitwa emphasized the importance of building back better and to not compromise safety of the children. Although I knew in theory the importance of education, I experienced how strongly the community wanted a safe learning environment. I learned that one of the first actions the community took after the earthquake was to rebuild the road to the school. Following the field visit, I identified how current reconstruction support can translate into the organization’s third goal of fostering resilience in local communities, and how Daayitwa could conduct better outreach by empowering people with knowledge of the importance of resilience.
As a student studying public policy with the aim of transforming my career into the field of disaster recovery, the internship in Nepal was an exceptional experience where I learned firsthand the difficulties of strengthening resilience in communities without resources. I am very thankful for the South Asia Institute for supporting my internship; the enriching three weeks could not have been possible without the SAI’s support.