A new school helps lift hopes for peaceful future in Nepal
Dipa was 11 years old when a mob descended on her village on February 20, 2005. More than 300 houses were set ablaze leaving the village of Hallanagar without food and shelter. “Except for 12 houses, the entire village was burned down to ashes,” says Dipa.
“We lost all our belongings and we had no food to eat. We spent many nights in the open air. The early days were really bad. I had disturbed sleep, and would wake from nightmares. I used to be scared of the night and wary of outsiders. I would hide or run away from the sight of security personnel,” she recalls, her eyes filled with tears.
Her 75-year-old grandfather Chandra Bahadur Khadka, upon witnessing the killing, hid Dipa and her two cousins behind the stack of bushes and ran for his life.
“We were hiding when we heard voices and footsteps approaching. We saw a man closing in with a sharp spear pointed towards us,” Dipa recalls. “We were really scared and shivering. For a moment, we thought we would not live to see another day. However, his friends shouted: ‘They are kids. Leave them alone, don’t hurt them.’ So he turned around and left,” she says.
The children of Hallanagar, which is located in the hot Terai district of Kapilvastu on the border with India, have no clue as what led to the rampage, although the adults – many of whom are poor, generally landless migrants from the hills who moved here years ago – suspect the attack was meant to drive them off the land.
But it is lasting stability and peace that the villagers now want. “We have rebuilt our homes and life is slowly coming back to normal. We don’t want the sufferings to repeat again,” says Dipa’s grandfather. Eighteen-year-old Om Bahadur Raskoti, who lost his father, adds: “I was orphaned but an eye for an eye is not the way to go. Revenge does not beget justice. Instead we should all work towards reconciliation so that others won’t have to suffer the way we did.”
Education too was hard hit. “The mental, physical as well as psychological trauma on children was far-reaching and affected school attendance,” says a teacher at the local Bal Sikshya Primary School Pitambar Khanal. Thanks to the UNICEF-supported project, the village will soon have a new school building.
UNICEF is working with local partners in Kapilvastu and other conflict-affected districts to develop community-based mechanisms that will enable reconciliation and instigate displaced families and former combatants to return.
“Internal conflict tears communities apart. Once blood has been spilt and people have been killed, it is much, much harder to build a future where neighbours can again live in peace,” comments UNICEF Representative Dr. Suomi Sakai.
Experience in other countries has shown that it is not impossible. The solution often lies with women who, with their children, tend to bear the worst brunt of any conflict. “Here in Nepal,” says Dr. Sakai, “there is a wonderful network of what are called ‘paralegal committees’ comprising women who have teamed up to work against threats such as domestic violence, sexual abuse, trafficking, and child labour. These women may not have much education but, with the support of UNICEF and other organizations, they know how to advocate in the community to reduce such threats. Their work has expanded to help restore land and property to women accused of witchcraft and to widows and orphans from AIDS-affected families. And now they are helping with the reintegration of displaced families and former combatants. It is at the community level that the foundations for peace must be built.”
In Hallangar, the construction of the new school, amidst the desolation, has helped instil a sense of hope amongst the residents. “There is hope in education. This school stands as a symbol of a better tomorrow,” says Dipa. “Even as kids, we believe that it is the light of education which will prevail and motivate people to give up violence and live in harmony. In that sense, peace and order are not impossible to come by. After all, Kapilvastu district is the birthplace of Lord Buddha.”
© UNICEF Nepal/2006