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At least the Maoists won’t be taking power – a global perspective

August 22, 2010 – 12:18 pm19 Comments

A Maoist demonstration in Nepal

By Keren Tuch

Whilst I detest listening to our leaders belittling one another in an act of political sabotage, the optimist in me is grateful that I live in a democracy with freedom of speech.  Whilst I may not be happy with the choice of leaders I have to choose from to rule our country, the optimist in me is thankful that I know chaos and anarchy will not rule the streets.

After spending time in Nepal volunteering and learning with Tevel B’Tzedek, I began to appreciate what it is like to live in a place of political instability.  Streets and livelihoods are paralysed by unpredictable daily strikes (check this link out to find out how many strikes there were this week http://www.nepalbandh.com/).  Foreign aid is poured into the country yet the citizens don’t appear to see a rupee.  The roads remain harrowing and potholed for those villages lucky enough to use one and maternal health remains imperiously dangerous for rural dwellers.

For hundreds of years, Nepal was governed by a constitutional monarchy until May 2008 when it became a democratic republic with the Maoist party elected as rulers. Nepal’s democracy is in its infancy with an abundance of problems. For example two prime ministers resigning in two years (although one might argue that it’s better than a prime minister being overthrown!).  Nepal’s role of prime minister has been vacant since June 30 2010 and Nepal is currently arguing over a suitable candidate.

With the establishment of the republic, it was agreed that the Nepali congress would rewrite the constitution within two year.  Two years has now passed, and there is no new constitution due to internal squabbling and selfishness of parties. The political situation in Nepal is descending into political absurdness and is crippling its people from moving forward.

After returning from a six month trip in Nepal, I can’t quieten the small internal voice which espouses that our lifestyle is indulgent and materialistic.   No longer do l I look in the pantry and think there is nothing to eat.  No longer will I look in my wardrobe and think I have nothing to wear.

I also try and put politics in perspective. Health and education are very real and important matters.  But I also know that whoever gets into power, all students in Australia will have access to a school which has books and trained teachers which students can attend instead of reaping crops in their family plot.   I also know that an Australian woman will have access to antenatal care and make the appropriate choice to deliver her baby by natural method or caesarean section.  Of course we should always strive to be better and continuously improve the well being of its citizens (and asylum seekers), but sometimes it is refreshing and important to look at a global picture.  Or maybe that’s just the optimist in me.

Jewish Aid and AUJS are now offering an opportunity for people to experience life in Nepal, give of themselves and gain perspective in return.  I was fortunate enough to lead the program last year and will be doing so again this year because I saw the power this program has to strengthen one’s humanistic values and Jewish identity for life. The program is five weeks long and involves living with a Nepalese family in a remote village and helping out in the community.

Volunteer Nepal will run from 20 Dec 2010 – 23 Jan 2011.  Applications close end of August. Please contact Gary (gary AT jewishaid.org.au) or Leora (ip AT aujs.com.au) for more details.

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19 Comments »

  • Akiva says:

    with all due respect – I’ve been to Nepal, am aware of the situation there – I think that our community’s addiction to ‘programmes’ of all sorts robs us of our ability to think independently and for ourselves, to educate ourselves about global issues above and beyond those sanitised and alluringly exotic places which represent for us some sort of rustic and antique utopia. I also find the search for meaningful spirituality and sustainable balance in these places a rather banal copout.

    As a community, we rely far too much on the directives and intellectual ‘streamlining’ given to us by our community leaders and elders; our lives become a series or ‘set menu’ choices. Programmes such as this do much more for the Jewish kids undertaking them than they do for the Nepalese, and I find this equation unacceptable; patronising and exploitative all together. Also, such programmes at least partly exist to provide positive PR for the Jewish community in large – witness the awful speed with which disasters such as Haiti were used for positive spin.

    In the meantime, how many of you know that the Roma (Gypsies) are being forcibly expelled from France by Sarkozy, in a series of events which should frighten the utter crap out of any and every Jew whose life has been touched by the Shoah – yes, all of us -? The resonances and scary resemblance has been picked up by more than a few (non-jewish, mostly) bloggers – why is there no concerted community effort to help these people? The Rom aren’t as idealised, are dirtier, much more urban, more problematic than the ‘spiritual and otherworldy’ nepalese – and the whole effort would be much less glamorous. and besides, there isn’t a programme to deal with it, so it would require much more individual effort and time, not just money.

    For shame.

  • ariel says:

    Well said Keren!

    It’s an amazing country that we have been blessed to live in, where life goes on this week without a revolution in the streets…

    The (so-far) inconclusive result of our election should teach the ALP machine to stop treating their party and the country as their own personal pfiefdom whence they dictate policy without accepting critique and remove the party leader when it suits them. This type of method is how the Chinese Communist Party runs (and the Soviets before them).

    Seeing it from that vuew, it’s amazing that the Maoists were elected in Nepal!

  • frosh says:

    Akiva,

    Is there no winning with people like you?

    Some people take considerable risks and incur substantial opportunity cost in order to help the under privileged. It is rather weak for people such as yourself to criticise their motives for doing so.

    It is no picnic, for example, to go to a disaster zone like Haiti and set up and run a field hospital. These people should be admired, not belittled.

    Having said that, helping the Roma people is also a worthy cause. Please let us know what you are organising to help them, as I’m sure there are many Galus readers who would be interested in helping out.

  • Keren says:

    Akiva – I appreciate your comments and agree with you that the participants gain a lot from this program – maybe even more so than the Nepalese. But I do not agree that this is unacceptable and patronising. If these experiences provide an indelible awareness of the situation which causes participants to act upon their return to Australia – whether it be by changing their attitudes, consuming less and donating more, volunteering or educating others, then this experience is worthwhile.
    In fact, this is the exact point of the programme. The Israeli organisation Tevel B’tzedek deliberately started in Nepal as a way of attracting Israelis who are known for going to Nepal anyway and exploiting its cheap wonderland. Now there is an opportunity for those who choose it to gain more insight into the issues in Nepal and build relationships with the local people. The alumni of this program in Israel have started helping Nepalese foreign workers in Israel by advocating with unions for the Nepalese who are exploited in Israel as well as working with them to build community gardens and other such projects. Again, I do not think this is a waste.

    It’s a shame you see these programmes as a way of robbing us of our ability to think. I would like to think that as a leader on the last programme, I did quite the opposite. We had discussions every evening about all kinds of development and local issues, without having anything forced down anyone’s throat. It was an opportunity for the participants to learn and debate and come up with conclusions of their own. I think one of the beauty of group dynamics is that when you have discussions, you rarely have everyone agreeing which really challenges your own personal beliefs. You might like to look at the programme or ask previous participants before making that judgement call about this programme not allowing one to think independently.

    Travelling independently and educating yourself on global issues is great for those that have the courage and motivation to do so. Programmes are not for everyone and nor do we pretend that everyone is a suitable candidate. However, from experience, majority of travellers to Nepal will sit in a café in Thamel, buy the shanti cheap clothing, visit a Temple before heading off on an amazing hike in the beautiful Himalayas. Perhaps there are those that make meaningful connections with the locals they might on this well worn path, but your average traveller would have difficulties doing so, especially without learning the language first. It is also mighty hard as a traveller to find a family in a remote village that to host you for a month to gain a truly authentic experience rather than populating the touristy areas. Travelling by yourself may also not allow you the opportunity to meet local Nepalese that are trying to rebuild their country and hear what they have to say and build a sustainable network.

    Also, I have no qualms about this programme being positive PR for the community. This is not the programmes primary aim, although it’s great if this is an added bonus. When I have been to some countries around the world, I sometimes hesitate before telling anyone I am Jewish as newspapers tell me this might end badly. It is comforting to go to a place like Nepal where the only connection they have with Jews is a positive one.

    I agree with Frosh about the Romas – it does sound like a worthy cause, just like the hundreds of other ethnic groups around the world that are persecuted. The difficult thing is how can we help?

  • Akiva says:

    Frosh – you are correct. You cannot win – because it’s not a competition. All you can do is try harder – much, much harder – to see the bigger moral picture and conduct yourself accordingly.

    Keren – fostering the ability to think independently is not the same thing as not ‘forcing’ opinions. The very nature of programmes custom-made solely for young Jewish people means that those young people and their families expect a ‘product’ in return. I have seen these programmes at first hand, and it is my opinion that they are focused on the participant, not the recipient – this is also the view of the wider aid community – and furthermore, I believe that to change that would decimate your target customer.It may be a fabulous way of opening people’s eyes to the wider globe – at a price, of course – but that does little to actually help – although providing a happy warm feeling that one is in fact contributing a great deal. And if we’re going to talk personal observation, which I think is probably largely irrelevant, then all I can say is that I have seen very few changed souls return from such programmes, and very many profoundly altered ones who have returned from independent undertakings – although, that competition is pretty silly, don’t you think?

    Regarding the Roma – I doubt that many of you are aware of this (but would be hugely delighted to be proved wrong – and if you are aware, please do get in touch), but there is a significant community of them (they call themselves Domari) in Jerusalem; they are a group who stayed put on the way through the Middle East. They historically identify as Palestinian, although this is changing, as they foster ties with the Jewish community there. Their situation is woeful. Jews have hitherto ignored them as Palestinians, and Palestinians have shunned them as a sort of ‘untouchable’ caste. They need just about everything – money, clothing, access to medical services, optometric services, education, training in employable skills – the community is currently being led by a young woman (breaking big taboos) who has set up a programme for people from anywhere to come and volunteer in all sorts of areas. I’ve watched this woman (mostly long-distance) get the community and website running from a very difficult beginning – she is amazing – and urge anyone in or visiting the area to participate. It is, after all, on our own doorstep. Much closer than Nepal. Website here – http://www.wix.com/domarisociety/domari-society-website
    I’m currently trying to organise optometric services for the kids from optometrists here.

    Regarding the Roma in Europe – I would suggest getting onto the mailing list of the RomNews Network – http://romnews.com/community/index.php, which has heaps of info about projects and petitions etc. Or joining up to the umberella media monitoring group (RVN) run by this man (who oddly enough, lives in Israel, though I don’t think he’s Jewish) -http://www.valery-novoselsky.org/intro.html –

    Some of you may find this group a little offensive, but I would also suggest having a look at the Minority Rights Group – http://www.minorityrights.org/497/campaigns/campaigns.html

    In the absence of doing the much harder thing of independently carving out a way to help, which I understand that most people find too difficult, what these people need is publicity. Lots of publicity. Most people just don’t even know that this is happening. And I believe, given the connection forged between the Roma and the Jews in the great tragedy of the 20th century, and their suffering actually within Israel, our own backyard, we have a moral obligation to try to help.

  • Tamara says:

    Akiva – you make a fair comment about volunteers gaining more than the Nepalese themselves. I was actually a participant on the last group that went to Nepal(run by Keren). As Keren said we debated various issues each night, one of which constantly came up was the fact that we thought we were gaining more than we were giving and throughout the whole program we questioned this. It was not until the last night when we sat around in the village chatting with the locals where we found out what an impact we really had on them. I remember one of the girls from the group said something along the lines off “i hope you gain half as much as what we have gained”, to see the looks on their faces and the response that followed it was then when it hit me what an impact we had on them, one of the Nepalese men living in the village said “don’t say that you have given us so much, i wish you could stay here but i know you can’t and you will be in our hearts forever”, the thought that we have gained more than them truly shocked them. Maybe i am naive to think we made such a different to their lives but by the looks on their faces and their words I truly believe we did.
    I acknowledge that one may argue that we should not go into a village for such a short amount of time and that it may be hard for the Nepalese people but isn’t it better to have loved and loss then to of never loved before(this is another issue that was heavily debated at times). If we never went to this village we would not have touched so many amazing people and they would not have touched us. Maybe it would help if you stopped thinking of programmes like this as a volunteer program and rather as a cultural exchange where both parties gain. This village now has toilets throughout the whole village thanks to the money we donated. Now i am not saying that by doing this i have saved the world but if you do one small thing at a time whatever it is it’s a start.
    As for programs like this being a ‘set menu’ choice. For me personally I don’t think they are I would have volunteered last year regardless if the program to Nepal was being offered. At the time of hearing about Volunteer Nepal I had already done some research into volunteering in Vietnam or the Philippines. Yes I acknowledge that maybe some people would only partake in this program because it’s an easy option and the program is available to Jewish individuals. But i honestly believe that the people that go on this program want to make a difference and even if it is the easy route out at least they are trying to make a difference.
    Even though some programs partly exist for positive PR for the Jewish community this is by far the underlining reason for establishing such programs and individuals who go on this program are certainly not doing it for positive PR for the Jewish community. But rather this is an added bonus in the process of trying to do good.
    I would also like to add that after this program I stayed on to volunteer at Women’s Foundation of Nepal which has shelter’s for women and children. I will finishing my social work degree at the end of the year and I am currently researching different places I can go volunteer whether the program is Jewish or not so if you know any way I could offer my expertise to the Roma people I would be happy to do that.

  • Tamara says:

    me again…sorry Akiva your last post just showed up on my screen.

    I will have a look and sign up to the sites. But as for it being on our back door i am actually from Australia so for me helping individuals in need it is much closer to get to Nepal then Israel.

    Also i think that volunteering in Israel is all very well and good but by limiting ourselves to places that are in our own backyard. isnt this a problem in its self? i know when i went over to Nepal i had a lot of jewish individuals ask me why i wasnt going to help in Israel and for me this belief that we should only help people on our door step actually makes me ill.

  • Akiva says:

    Tamara – Of course the people who go on these programmes want to make a difference, even if they have no idea what actually making a difference entails, and wouldn’t like the doing of it much, perhaps, if they did. I’m not disputing that, I just don’t think that the programmes work.

    And while I do agree that one should look past one’s own backyard, I also feel that it is wrong to use that imperative as an excuse to ignore the huge moral sores on one’s doorstep in order to achieve an easier feeling of contribution. I feel that for Jews especially, it is a little duplicitous for us to ignore the glaring problems we have contributed to the creation of, in favour of ones for which we bear no responsibility or burden of guilt save a generalised human one. I feel similarly about Australia – people are willing to volunteer in exotic locations and places, to lend their support to causes that have a popular aura of ‘elevated spirituality’, but not to work with indigenous kids in the nasty parts of town, although some are willing to go to the more romantically remote territories. And Timor, just for starters. I think we have an obligation to try to help those whom we have damaged first.
    I’m not absolving myself in any of this, by the way, but I still believe it.

  • Eli says:

    What a load of self indulgent, arrogant pomposity!

    To insist that any particular method of choosing how to “fix the world” has any more merit than the those of others smacks of an intellectual and moral superiority.

    Whatever the method, whichever group or individual one takes on to help or assist is meritorious in its own right. To judge otherwise is pretentious.

    Let each person’s own conscience decide how they want to help. It is always the giver that will receive the greater benefit no matter what the circumstance in any case.

    The list of causes and disadvantaged groups is endless. Not one has any more spiritual credit than another, no one method more value than another, save to the person involved.

    To claim that “for Jews especially, it is a little duplicitous for us to ignore the glaring problems we have contributed to the creation of, in favour of ones for which we bear no responsibility or burden” is selective. As human beings we bear responsibility collectively for all the problems.

    However practicality limits us to addressing the ones we find an affinity with, and should be so without a moral judgment.

    As the story of the man throwing single starfish back into the sea, answers his critic of wasted energy, because there are so many how can he make a difference? Well then at least it made a difference to one he threw back.

    How that difference is measured by receiver or giver if it needs to be measured at all, is not for anyone of us to adjudicate.

  • Akiva says:

    nice theory – but it doesn’t work. History proves that if these issues are left up to individual consciences, or some sense of ‘wider collective responsibility’, nothing gets fixed.
    and you miss my point entirely – it’s NOT about the people doing the helping; who is meritorious etc etc. In a sense, they are irrelevant, often their motivations are, and so is the ‘gain’ they receive, whatever that is. It is, and is only, about getting the job done as effectively as possible.

    and I do think that if you are partly responsible for a problem, you are responsible for fixing it this idea of an ‘affinity’ guiding your choice is indulgent – if only we all had that choice.

  • Akiva says:

    People are not accessories to be ‘drawn to’, or colour schemes to have an affinity with. I find this consumerist attitude to humanitarian issues revolting.

  • ariel says:

    Akiva,

    I look forward to seeing you at Redfern station helping out locals.

    Will you then be donning a backpack and heading for Nepal, with nothing but a map, walking around asking “can I help you?”?

    Surely programs are necessary in order to guide those who want to help.
    I’m sure now that Keren and Tamara have experience with Tevel B’Tzedek, they can go back to Nepal whenever they like and help the locals, without the means of a guided program. But the program is necessary as a first step. Not everyone is as knowledgable as you; many want to help, but don’t know how to begin. These types of programs help you get started.

  • ariel says:

    PS To the Galus people: i seem to have lost the ability to encode my comments in html etc…do you know what’s happened?

  • frosh says:

    Hi Ariel,

    I believe the webmaster (RSD) removed the HTML editor, as it was incompatible with iPads and iPhones, and thus people accessing Galus via these devices were not able to comment.

    In the future, it is hoped that Galus will have a new HTML plugin that we will be compatible with these devices.

    In the meantime, you (and others) might like to try a free online tool that will convert WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) into HTML script.

    http://www.online-html-editor.org/

  • frosh says:

    Akiva,

    Were you the inspiration for the Rob Sitch character in the following sketch?

    http://www.champagnecomedy.com/multimedia/dinner

  • Keren says:

    Akiva – I’m going to have to agree to disagree with you – yes there are individuals who can do great things rather than go on an organised programmes, but I think it is a shame that you are denying the opportunity for groups to do good things as well. If you look at projects that Israelis are doing with Nepali foreign workers in Israel after learning the language in Nepal and creating a connection (as a result of the programme) you might think differently. http://www.tevelbtzedek.org/israelprojects.html. It is often easier to get momentum going when you have a network of people who understand what you are doing and can help you. Yes you need individual leaders to get things done, but you also need support.

    You claim that these programmes don’t work, but if we have already acknowledged that one of the aims of this programme is to generate passionate and educated returnees who have a social justice conscience (yes, this is the ‘product’ we would like in return), then I feel that this programme was a success (and I believe Tamara and other participants would agree). You may also want to speak to the Nepalese in the village we were in before assuming the recipients didn’t gain anything besides a warm fuzzy feeling.

    I also think it is important to clarify that as Australian Jews, the Domaris in Israel are not a local problem and not on our doorstep. Not every Jew identifies as Israel as their home. And if we did, there are a plethora of minority groups that could also merit our attention, like foreign workers like Nepalis in Israel whose working rights are often denied. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/03/world/middleeast/03children.html?_r=2 (Again, Tevel Btzedek alumni are working with an organisation in Israel to create an union for these foreign workers.)

    Yes, we should also be helping indigenous communities. There is another Jewish program called Derech Eretz which goes to the Indigenous communities of Boggabilla and Toomelah to run school holiday programmes – but then again according to your philosophy this ‘programme’ is a waste of time.

  • Keren says:

    Oh, and I find apathy to humanitarian issues ‘revolting’.

  • Michael says:

    Looks like I missed quite the comment thread! I think there’s a bit of cross purposes here. Akiva, I don’t think you’ve expressed what you mean as clearly as you could have. I imagine you to be making 2 points with which I agree. Or at least let me rephrase them to be what I believe even if it’s not what you’re saying:

    1. We should be skeptical about the actual effectiveness of these particular programs until we get sufficient evidence for them, especially since most aid programs are pretty sub-optimal on investigation.
    2. Participating in these programs does not absolve you from having contributed to problems closer to home.

    I think both of these are pretty uncontrovercial and I agree that we need to force ourselves to be much more mindful of these things. However on 1, I still don’t think this means these programs are a waste of time or self serving or do more harm than good which is what you were implying. And on 2, whilst it is true, if I had my choice between someone being oblivious to problems at home and someone being oblivious to problems at home whilst helping positively somewhere else I’d choose the latter any day.

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