Altruistic Aspirations

May 20, 2014 , by Pragya Thapaliya, Leave your thoughts
Altruistic Aspirations » My Dreams Mag


There are people who live for themselves and there are those who devote their life for the greater good. These people have a zeal for service. They believe in the fruit of their labour and they are the social catalysts. They radiate aura and act as a figure of inspiration for a million others. DREAMS caught up with two of such change makers – Radha Paudel and Purna Shrestha.


Radha Paudel is currently the president of Action Works Nepal. With her bachelor in Nursing, and triple Masters – in Health Education, Sociology and Development Management, she has been serving the people of Jumla help overcome their health and social problems. For her service during the period of conflict, she has received several awards some of which are ‘N-Peace Award – 2012’ given by UNDP, ‘Women Peace Maker Award -2012’ awarded by University of San Diego. People who hear the story of her contributions during the war have often referred to her as ‘Florence Nightingale of Nepal’.


Radha Paudel


How do you think the feeling of altruism ignite in you?

When I was young each night, I used to complain my father demanding him new shoes or notebooks. And my father used to respond that I was a privileged child. People in Jumla had it far worse than I did. He said that they had no road and no electricity and meagre helping of food. My father’s reply stuck in my mind. There was also another incident. When I was five, an Upadhyaya Brahmin came to my house. My mother was pregnant. He said that if she wouldn’t give birth to a son, she would go to hell. In a Hindu society, the incineration of a deceased person had to be done by the son and only then, the gates of heaven would be open for the dead. This concept was not clear to me. The word stung in my ear and I wasn’t able to forget the incident. As I grew up, I realized that discrimination on the basis of caste or gender or class was completely illogical. And I wanted to help people overcome the trap of poverty and create an ideal society where there was solidarity, love and respect among the members.


When did you decide that Jumla was going to be the field of your service?

I was one of the first five anesthesiologist nurse in Nepal. When I started working in Bharatpur, I saw severe cases of sufferings. I attended cases where a seven year old girl was raped by her own cousin, women dies of being unable to give birth to children. I started to think that if the situation was so bad in the urban setting, things would be much worse in the rural area. I thought that I shouldn’t stay in city for so long but go to villages where people desperately needed the medical attention. After 4 years, I left the hospital. I did my Bachelors in Community Health Nursing and also in Masters in Education focusing on Health. After my education, I decided to go to Jumla for ‘Nepal Safe Motherhood Programme’ but I neither consulted with my family nor informed them the news. I decided that this is the right time and just went with the flow.

 Radha Paudel


What was the situation of Jumla back then? Were you appalled by the scenario?

From the moment I stepped down from the plane to Jumla, I started to notice the world my father talked about when I was young. Two children came to pick up my luggage at the airport. I was bewildered. Making them carry the load might mean promoting child labour and refusing the request might mean denying them certain amount of money they needed to carry on their livelihood. In the end I made them carry lighter luggage and went to a hotel. There I learnt that the kids were from Dalit community. Their father had died and their mother had eloped with another man. The kids had to work to support their old grandparents. I was flabbergasted after I heard their story.

Poverty had hit the people pretty hard. The maternal mortality rate was high. Since it was a period of conflict, each day the curfew would’ve started by 5:30p.m. No one knew whether they would survive the night. Waking up the next morning unscathed felt like a rebirth. There seemed to be no beam of light.


What were the challenges you faced and how did you manage to leap through these hurdles?

There were a lot of challenges but the first one I faced was the one that decided the course of the days to come. Two to four days later, a person came in the hospital where I was working as a health manager and requested me to come along and attend a person who had diarrhea. At first I did not want to go, as my job was to inspect the jobs of the doctors and nurses inside the hospital and the situation seemed not as drastic but then the women repeatedly kept on saying “Gali Gali” which was the local language for ‘Please’. I accompanied the woman and went to see the patient. But unlike the information that I received the patient wasn’t having diarrhea. The woman’s placenta had retained and there was excessive bleeding and she had gone to coma. I knew the procedures to stop this. But due to the lack of medical apparatus in the entire region, I had to refer her to either Nepalgunj or Surkhet. The woman’s family couldn’t afford the travel expenses via plane so I asked for people’s help and collected 6000 for the plane fare of the visitor and the patient. But the plane had left by then and I couldn’t save her life. I felt that I had failed as a nurse and a fellow human. All night I lay in bed I laid in bed questioning my ability and whether I could really make a tangible change. The next morning I decided to start afresh. I approached the social catalysts and the stakeholders and shared them my idea of opening a blood bank. My request was appreciated and the police, armies, government officials even the passengers from the airport donated some amount that helped to established the blood bank. The integrity of people and the willingness to help each other at the times of need touched me. It was the purest forms of relations – the relation of humanity, the relation of ‘Miteri’. And that is how I came up with the idea of Miteri Gaun. I then realized that within each problem is engraved its own solution. You shouldn’t let the grief overshadow the possibilities.

 Radha Paudel


You are currently affiliated with Action Works Nepal(AWON). What sectors does it focus on? And could you clarify the concept of Miteri Gaun?

AWON was established in 2010. We use the holistic approach for rural development. We work in various levels and various sectors like women’s right and empowerment, educational support, livelihood improvement and health. We believe in principle of action over lip service.

We have currently been working on creating a Miteri gaun. The practice of Miteri is an ancient and an indigenous practice. There are epics of Krishna and Sudama being each other’s mit even though one was prince and the other one a pauper. When our ancestors used to barter with the Tibetans, they used to practice the custom of Miteri with them. The blood relation lasts for seven generations but the miteri relation lasts till 15 generations. We are working to start a Miteri Shanti Batika, Peace Commemoration in Khalanga to commemorate the 247 deceased during the insurgency period. There will be a research centre, E-library, meditation hall, dormitory, cafeteria. My idea is to make people understand that the entire globe is a village. Every human is a member and each one is obligated to contribute. We have also started a Miteri Recycle Centre where we collect clothes from people and send them to Jumla. It is a social entrepreneurship. All we charge for the clothes is a minimum operational cost.


Your book ‘Khalanga ma Hamala’ tells the story of a period of conflict. Why did you think of writing the book?

Like I said earlier, waking up each day doing the period of insurgency would feel like a re-birth. The trust people put in a new comer was almost nil. The rebels and the security forces both thought that I was a spy. There were threats. I was asked to leave the place. It was considered a matter of luck if you survived the day. There would be rumours that the head quarter would get attacked any time. On the night of 14th November 2012, Khalanga got attacked by the rebel group. There was a cross fire for 13 hours straight. There were deafening noises. I never thought I was going to live through this blood bath. But I did. A lot of people weren’t as lucky as me. The war did not spare any one, whether it was government officials, armies, police, Maoists or commoners. The friends with whom I had meeting the earlier in the same day were found dead the next money. When I was walking I saw a small burnt piece of human body. Later it was confirmed that it was the pelvic bone of the DSP of the region. I started wondering whether all these deaths would amount to peace. I was worried that innocents died and their stories would be forgotten. Since I remained, I felt it was my duty to tell the tale of the war.

 Radha Paudel


Any last piece of message to our readers?

Birth place of an Individual is not choice. No one has right to discriminate and everyone obligate to contribute for living together, no matter who you are, where you are from and what you are doing. One should always strive for peace and justice. All you need to achieve this are four things – positive mindset, passion, commitment and action.

I would also like to request the readers to contribute a stone for the Peace Commemoration. Even the smallest contributions can help in immortalizing the deceased and can act as a milestone to introduce Nepal as a land of peace to the globe.




You can learn more about Action Works Nepal,  Here

You can also buy her book ‘Khalanga ma Hamala’ from Here

Ten percent of the Royalty has been committed to construct the Peace Commemorate.




The Pedagogy Proficient – Purna Shrestha

Purna Shrestha, originally from Hetauda is Education and Research Advocacy Advisor at VSO, that helps the developing nations overcome the poverty trap with the help of its volunteers. Purna Shrestha who holds M.Phil in Education from Kathmandu University and M.Ed from Tribhuwan University has worked a s a primary teacher and head teacher and has been involved in the field of education for the past 24 years. Even though he is currently based in the UK, he frequently writes about Nepal and its educational issues, mostly on teacher’s motivation and learning, gender equality in education, social accountability and governance, civil society and teachers’ participation in policy development and reviews, technology enhanced learning, education in post-conflict and fragile states and inclusive education.




There are many other issues in the world that are as important as education if not more. Why were you interested in this particular field?

There are several development issues in the world which are as important as education.  I got involved in education because of its transformative power.  Education is the light of life.  Education lights up every stage of the journey to a better life especially for the poor and the most vulnerable.  For examples, maternal education improves child nutrition. Malnutrition is the underlying cause of more than a third of global child deaths. Educated mothers are more likely to ensure that their children receive the best nutrients to help them prevent or fight off ill health, know more about appropriate health and hygiene practices, and have more power in the home to make sure children’s nutrition needs are met.  Education leads to more concern about the environment. Education enhances job opportunities, helping households to escape poverty.  UNESCO estimates that if all students in low income countries left school with basic reading skills, 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty, which would be equivalent to a 12% cut in world poverty.


You are a part of VSO.   When and how did you get associated with one of the prime independent development organizations?

In 1995 when I was teaching in my village in Chaughada, Hetuada, a group of VSO volunteers came to my village for an in-country language and cultural induction for two months.  This was my first encounter with VSO volunteers.  As a young teacher, I was curious and passionate about learning about British cultures and education system.  I wanted to improve my teaching skills.  While they were in my village for two months, I had the opportunity to interact with them and I remained in touch with some volunteers who always encouraged me to be a professional teacher. I would like to thank VSO volunteer Mike Leahy, who was assigned with the District Education Office, Parsa as a   primary education adviser for his encouragement and support.   In 1997, I was the Secretary of Nepal English Language Teachers’ Association (NELTA) Makawanpur branch; I applied for an English Language Teacher (ELT) Trainer.  NELTA Makawanpur received a volunteer from Ireland.   When we (NELTA) applied for a volunteer, we were hopeful that we would be able to raise funds to hire a full-time Nepali counterpart to work along with VSO volunteer.  We were not successful in getting funding to support our project, a volunteer had already arrived and I ended up working as a full time counterpart  as a volunteer. This was a turning point of my professional career,  I and VSO volunteer visited several schools in remote villages of Makawanpur district – observing classes and  delivering needs-based training to improve their teaching skills.  Even though, I was not paid for my job, I was motivated and excited because of the opportunity   that I had to improve my professional skills. VSO volunteer’s coaching and mentoring for two years, exploited my full potentials. By 2000, I was not only a young teacher but a professional teacher trainer.

In 2000, I went to Kathmandu for my further study in Tribhuvan University.  I remained in contact with VSO Nepal while I was studying in Kathmandu.  In 2005, VSO Nepal was looking for a researcher to conduct a study on teachers’ motivation and morale, part of Valuing Teachers advocacy initiative.  I served as a research consultant and my initial contact was for six months and it was extended for next six months. Later, I was offered a permanent position as  Education Programme Coordinator. I served as Education Programme Manager for three years.


How difficult was it to make it to the position of Global Education Policy and Advocacy Adviser? What were the challenges you faced on the

After completing Valuing Teachers research in Nepal, I was actively involved in building a strong civil society coalition to advocate for the right to education and lobby for improving teachers’ terms and conditions.  I was an active member of Global Campaign for Education Nepal which is now known as National Campaign for Education, Nepal.  We were able to achieve some positive outcomes of our advocacy work.  When this job opportunity was announced, one of the colleagues in London who had closely worked with me encouraged me to apply for the job.  One the one hand, I was excited about this opportunity and on other hand, I was equally nervous. It was a dream job – a job which will give me the opportunity to influence global leaders and work with colleagues from several countries.

Even though, I was an employee of VSO in Nepal, it was a global open competition and VSO wanted someone who could drive its Valuing Teachers Advocacy initiative; therefore, I was not sure if I would be selected.  I was offered the job and I moved to the UK to take up this role in January 2009.  Some of the challenges that I faced on the way include – learning about new work culture. Keeping abreast of global debate- as a global adviser, I quickly needed to learn political economic contexts of several countries where VSO was in operation so that I could provide relevant professional advice.   I had wonderful colleagues at work who were very supportive when I had questions about culture and work.

Purna Shrestha


You are currently leading VSO’s Valuing Teacher’s Advocacy and Research Initiative. Can you please shed some light on the topic?

VSO started Valuing Teacher’s Advocacy and Research Initiative in 2000 which put teachers at the centre of education policy reforms.  Teachers are fundamental to achieving quality education for all. In simple words, without qualified and well supported teachers, new classrooms and new textbooks are useless. But poor salaries, inadequate training, management and working conditions are forcing many teachers to leave the profession.  In post-2015 development agenda, VSO is working with other civil societies to have an indicator on qualified teachers. Under this initiative, VSO brings the voices of teachers and other education stakeholders to improve the quality of education services.


Although you are based in London and travel all over the globe, you do manage to talk about Nepal and its issues that are mostly related to education. Do you think the feeling of giving back to your nation is even stronger when you are away?

Of course,  I keep myself abreast of  issues related to education in Nepal.  My day begins with reading Nepalese Nepali newspapers. As a global adviser and a member of the Steering Committee of International Task Force of Teachers for Education for All, I have a privilege to visit several countries and learn about good practices. Every time, I see something progressive in countries similar to Nepal’s socio-economic contexts, I feel like sharing these examples to my home country. Luckily, VSO has strong partnership with Ministry of Education in Nepal and we are currently running a flagship programme “Sister to Sister” in   Nepal. When I was in Nepal last December, I attended the Education for All review meeting and did a presentation  for M.Phil and Ph.d. students  of Kathmandu University.


Your organization helps connecting youth that wish to be a helping hand to fight poverty in developing nations. Is there a special program that helps NRNs or Nepali youths to connect back to their mother land?

VSO had a special programme for Diaspora until a few years ago.  Many NRNs benefited from this programme and shared their skills in their motherland. Unfortunately, this project discontinued a couple of years ago. However, there is a flagship programme- International Citizen Service (ICS), targeted at young people, who want to do voluntary development work abroad. ICS brings together young people from different countries to fight poverty – with volunteers from the UK working alongside volunteers from the developing world.  Each project is designed to fight poverty and make a lasting difference by working with local people to meet local needs. So when you volunteer with ICS you won’t just think you will make a difference, you’ll know you will.  This project is funded by the Department for International Development (DFID) and led by VSO, in partnership with a number of respected development organisations.  All in-country projects are run by partners with expertise in international and youth volunteering. Each partner is working towards three development outcomes. If you are between 18-14 years, you can apply for this scheme. If you are professionals such as teachers, doctors and nurses, you can apply for VSO’s professional volunteering schemes.


As an expert in education, how do you see the future of Nepali youths and the education scenario?

In the recent years, while access to basic and higher education has increased, quality of education is a matter of concern. In spite of the government’s increased investment of education, children’s learning outcomes has not improved.  I am currently in Muscat, Oman and last three days, I have spoken to 10 Nepalese youth, it’s sad to find that half of them have Bachelor degrees.  They   are working as unskilled labourers in adverse working conditions.

Nepal needs to review its education policy and invest in technical and vocational education for youth.  Every year, when the result of School Leaving Certificate (SLC)  is published , this generates  public debates  about our education policies but this debate doesn’t go any further. I have simple question- if a student who could not pass English and Maths exam for nine years, how could we expect her to pass the SLC test?   We don’t need to wait ten years to find out who will fail the SLC. The students who were not able to pass English language in SLC exam after English being taught for ten years but they are able to learn Korean language proficiently and pass the test. If they were not intelligent, how could they learn Korean language so quickly?    
Distance hasn’t acted as a hindrance for these people. They have been actively involved in the development process regardless of their location. Whether they are in Karnali or the UK, they have been driving the process of overhaul. Their interest is driven by common good and all they want is more people to act for the society. So, why not add a little effort from our side to change for the better and serve as a helping hand?


Text by: Pragya Thapaliya
Radha Paudel Photographs: Bikkil Sthapit
Purna Shrestha Images: Via Purna Shrestha

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