This story of walking alongside comes from my friend Ben Clark who works for TEAR Australia.
In many parts of Nepal, June to August are known as “Hungry Months”. No matter how hard families farm their land they run out of food before the next harvest. One solution, for those that can, is to leave the food for others and try their luck finding work in India. They might even be able to bring some money back home.
Unfortunately this migration pattern is quite literally killing Nepali.
Around 50,000 people leave Nepal every month (that’s the MCG very 2 months!) On a recent trip to Nepal with TEAR* I could see it happening on the road in front of me. As we sat on plastic chairs in front of an open roller door on the border crossing at Nepalgunj, Banke District, we saw buses, trucks, horse carts and rickshaws loaded with people moving down the road. Just metres away the border swarmed with people and 100 km away Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh, India beckoned.
Here, at the border crossing, three earnest women and an equally animated young man are busy working to walk alongside those making this journey to navigate the dangers of migration. They work for TEAR’s partner International Nepal Fellowship (INF).
Anju**, one of the INF staff, tells me about one of the dangers, known as “intoxicated migration”. She tells me that workers return home to Nepal are preyed upon. “Fellow travelers” pose as being from the same region as their victim and eventually offer to share food and drink. The drink is spiked and when the laborer wakes up they have been robbed and dumped somewhere.
This is not the only danger people face as they cross back and forth for work. In the long lonely months away from family and village many men buy sex. AIDS awareness is low and “safe sex”, unpopular. Nepali people often call AIDS, HIV and other STDs “Mumbai Disease” with reports of as many as 30% of men in this part of Nepal being infected. Once infected, they return and then often go on to infect their wives who have remained at home.
Anju and her colleagues are motivated by the love of Jesus to help their fellow country folk migrate safely. “I don’t want to see more people getting AIDS,” she tells me. Unfortunately for her and her two female colleagues their work and willingness to talk to strangers about AIDS awareness has meant that they are themselves labeled as sufferers. “Why else would they care?”, muse their communities.
This is a project of equality without the usual power imbalances of traditional service-delivery. When Anju and her colleagues see someone who they recognize as being a “hill person” they fall in and walk alongside them. Through questioning and conversation they are able to share information about how to transfer money electronically so as to avoid “intoxicated migration” on their return. They also share about labour rights and work conditions in India, and they boldly bring up conversations about STDs. They are often shamed for talking about this topic with men they don’t know, yet they are not deterred.
I was challenged by the simple yet profoundly practical work these people are carrying out on behalf of INF and their local church. They may not be changing the underlying situation that sees so many leave for work each year and yet rather than being paralysed by this; they walk alongside those taking this risky journey. And by so doing they are equipping people with the knowledge to positively effect their own lives.
This glimpse into how the Church in Nepal is engaging in “development” work has helped me see things in a clearer light. They are loving people with Jesus love and by walking alongside these people they are literally become a neighbour. That is simple and hard at the same time.
* Ben Clarke Traveled to Nepal as part of TEAR Australias DEEP (Development Education Experience Program). He traveled with a team of Australians and visited projects from various TEAR Partners.
**Anju is not her real name. It has been changed to protect her identity.