Nepal Social Work Symposium 2019
Human existence is inextricably embedded in social relationships. Our individual and collective well-being is closely linked to the quality of our everyday relationships. The distinctive attribute of human beings is their ability to go beyond the imperatives of biology to construct social and cultural worlds. Our relationships with one another, our environments and our futures cannot exist outside the frameworks of society and culture. In other words, human relationships are always mediated by the larger social and cultural forces, whose implications cannot always be predicted. Contemporary and historical events have clearly shown that humanity as a whole suffers whenever human relationships are seriously frayed. It is thus incumbent upon us to nurture and promote human relationships to prevent fragmentation of our common interests, visions and dreams.
Taking this idea into consideration, we organized Nepal Social Work Symposium 2019 under the theme 'Promoting the Importance of Human Relationships' from May 27 to May 28, 2019, at Thames International College, Kathmandu. The two-day symposium is our flagship annual event which brings together distinguished personalities to deliberate upon issues broadly in line with the annual theme set by The Global Agenda of Social Work and Social Development (The Agenda). We believe that the theme of the symposium was quite relevant as our identity is multi-dimensional and each dimension of our identity is meaningful to us, which cumulatively defines our existence in the world. By tapping into our common human interests, we can facilitate a truly cross-cultural dialogue and collaboration both at the local and global levels.
But we live in a rapidly globalizing world in which two countervailing forces are at play. The world is getting smaller due to innovations in communication and transportation technologies enabling people from one corner of the world to connect with those from another. Every country is increasingly getting integrated into the world economy, causing movements of people across nation-state boundaries for business and employment. Issues like climate change can only be tackled with a global approach. This shows that we all are in the same boat which further accentuates the importance of human relationships in today's world. Yet, there have been attempts all over the world to build walls rather than bridges under the influence of various 'isms', including ethnocentrism, nationalism and sectarianism. Most nation-states are still fixated on their boundaries, as evidenced by their zeal to stop immigrants and refugees, while various interest groups seek to manipulate our differences to serve vested interests. In this context, maintaining healthy human relationships is undoubtedly a challenging task.
Nepal Social Work Symposium 2019 aimed to facilitate an informed discussion on the issues of human relationships in Nepal and beyond from various perspectives, uninhibited by any boundaries, disciplinary or otherwise. It is our conviction that such discussions at the local level can contribute to regional and global discussions on the importance of human relationships. In this respect, the symposium is a platform for meaningful dialogue and possible collaboration among like-minded individuals and organizations. The two-day symposium featured stand-alone presentations, panel discussions, workshops, etc. In the past editions of the symposium, our speakers included academics, public intellectuals, civil society leaders, civil servants, politicians, non-profit professionals, social workers and media personalities among others. So far, we have hosted a wonderful set of speakers and very engaging audiences from diverse backgrounds at our annual symposiums. In 2019, too, we were committed to bringing together the best speakers and participants for the symposium.
Media-Populism vs. Journalism Ujjwal Prasai: Columnist–Kantipur Daily
Straining the relationship between the media and the public, news today is going through a filter of "what sounds more controversial" instead of "what is true" . Concerning this subject, Mr. Ujjwal Prasai conducted 'Media: Populism Vs Journalism' as the opening session of Nepal Social Work Symposium 2019 at Thames International College, Old Baneshwor, Kathmandu, on 27th May.
Mr. Prasai talked about populism being propaganda that misinterprets journalism. A member of the audience asked Mr. Prasai, "What is the role of the general people in populism?" to which he replied, "Audiences are the ones who decide whether or not to take in the information given by the media. It is up to the people to decide whether to take in or ignore the stuff published in the media, which either promotes or demotes populism."
Mr. Prasai surprised the audience when he named a popular journalist as an example of a professional who, according to him, actually promoted populism. "What the journalist is doing is not journalism. He is giving out verdicts that are meant to be given by the court. Journalism is not about declaring verdicts but it is a forum to create dialogue for the truth to be told," he said.
Acknowledging the presence of new media, he talked about dusting off pre-social media journalism, and modifying it into a platform to ask questions and create dialogue about the various aspects of society, instead of replacing journalism with populism, which attempts to answer questions without facts or validity, serving the purpose of producing an entertaining piece for the masses.
With a fresh and humorous take on differentiating between populism and journalism, Mr. Prasai informed the crowd about the youth's essential role in helping make journalism credible and trustworthy again, especially with the rapid rise of new media.
भुइँ मान्छेका कथाहरु-Belly Blues Screening and Interaction with Bidhya Chapagain
"I applied at factories, water companies and several places. Nobody took me. Some didn't like my mannerisms; others didn't like my caste. They wanted a 'Bhaun' (Brahmin) to make them tea and since I am a Dalit, it did not work for them," said Binod, a young boy starring in the short movie 'Belly Blues' by Herne Katha.
Paying homage to Binod's story, the second session of Nepal Social Work Symposium 2019, "promoting the importance of human relationships," was titled 'Belly Blues'. The session started off with a screening of the short movie showcasing the story of a young boy seeking his identity while struggling with poverty. The 30 minute screening was followed by an interaction session with Nepali journalist Ms. Bidhya Chapagain, co-founder of Herne Katha, at Thames International College, Old Baneshwor Kathmandu on 27th May.
Elaborating on the short movie, Ms. Chapagain said, "Though there were ups and downs in his life, he broke the stereotypes created by society and continued dancing gracefully." She also talked about her web-series on her YouTube channel 'Herne Katha', where various unheard stories of individuals like Belly are featured.
The issue of the 'Third Gender' was raised during the interaction session, as one of the audience members asked Ms. Chapagain, "What is Third Gender after all? Who ranked male to be first, female to be second and others to be third? These ranks in themselves make the other genders seem inferior," to which Ms. Chapagain replied, "I agree. We are still searching for the right word and hopefully we will find the answer someday."
Concluding the session, she emphasized on the lost stories: the stories that are yet to be heard. Placing emphasis on the fact that these stories might be about people who possess the ability to inspire thousands, if not millions, she requested the audience to help promote the discovery and sharing of these stories. She requested everyone to support and revive these tales of struggle and success. She believes in this initiative and says we should believe in it too, for it could help save those who may be enduring similar struggles.
How natural is natural disaster? Ramesh Bhusal- Environmental Journalist
We know that the 7.8 Mw earthquake that hit Nepal on 25th April 2015 caused devastation and chaos, resulting in nearly 22,000 deaths and about 9000 injuries. But did you know that the cause for the devastation and many those deaths wasn't the earthquake at all?
It might be a mind-boggling fact, but earthquakes are natural and a part of nature's cycle.Buildings, roads, barriers and so on are unnatural objects present on Earth, and in time harm us. Giving insight on this topic of disasters and hazards, a session titled, 'How Natural is Natural Disaster' was led by Mr. Ramesh Bhusal.
Mr. Bhusal is an environmental journalist and trainer. He is also the Nepal Editor of the South Asian Environmental online magazine. He was a guest speaker at the Nepal Social Work Symposium 2019, held at Thames International College, Old Baneshwor, Kathmandu, on 27th May.
From the very beginning of the session, he claimed that natural disasters are caused by humans. "There's actually no such thing as natural disaster. Most of what we call natural disasters (earthquakes, flood and landslides) are indeed natural, though human contributions may increase their likelihood or intensity," said Mr. Bhusal, placing arguments to justify his claim.
Informing people about how disasters are different than hazards, Mr. Bhusal explained that disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, etc, are natural 'hazards', something that is a part of nature. A 'hazard' becomes a 'disaster' when there are human casualties. He also informed the audience that natural hazards don't harm people. It's the man-made pollution, roads, buildings, bridges, etc, which, during a natural hazard, cause deaths and injuries.
Adding to the topic, Mr. Bhusal said, "The use of coal, which is easily replaceable by other alternatives, is a major contributing factor to air pollution, not only in the area where coal is used but also in the surrounding areas and on Earth as a whole." He explained how, over the years, several factors have contributed to the degradation of the environment. Unsurprisingly, humans are behind the changes in the environment.
"What are the daily activities that you do to reduce climate change, because I saw you drinking water from a plastic bottle?" asked a student at Thames, to which Mr. Bhusal replied, "I don't claim that I've adopted a zero waste lifestyle, but I try to use alternative methods like reusing this bottle at least three times before I throw it away."
Giving an example of how people, despite so much rationality, behave irrationally, Mr. Bhusal talked about 'dams'. He argued that dams are the best examples explaining man-made disasters. Dams are man-made restrictions on nature that confine the flow of streams and rivers. It is a no-brainer that the dam is not hundred percent safe. The water level rises and finally breaks the dam, causing floods, deaths, loss of property and chaos. Not learning from the event, people, from the very next day, start planning for the construction of a second dam
Mr. Bhusal elaborated on his cause by saying that he aims to make people aware about climate change by initiating dialogues that express the seriousness of this matter. He expressed concerns about the reality of climate change, saying that if people don't take action now, then the entirety of the human clan will be in big trouble, especially the younger generations. With the presence of a very active audience from Thames and several other colleges, the session was interactive, humorous and informative.
Words String Together-A Spoken Word Poetry
Hard-hitting imageries captured with words captivated the audience at 'Words String Together', making them visualize and almost feel the poet's emotions.
'Words String Together', a Slam Poetry session, was conducted by Ms. Nasala Chitrakar, a faculty member at Thames, with the support of the Word Warriors, a spoken word poetry collective, and the students of Thames. Ms. Chitrakar performs poetry and travels around Nepal, providing various introductory workshops on the craft of poetry. 'Words String Together' was a part of Nepal Social Work Symposium held at Thames International College, Old Baneshwor, Kathmandu, on 27th May.
Ms. Chitrakar started the session with a recitation of one of her poems, which the audience found very inspirational. Ms. Chitrakar said that she found the act of creating art cathartic and that poetry was more than just an escape for her. Adding a little humor, she said, "Poets just need an excuse to write."
A three-day workshop had been conducted before the final event. Many participated in the workshop, but only four poets were selected to perform at the event, 'Words String Together'. She added that it was a mere coincidence that all the participants were female, turning the set "unintentionally feminist".
The four participants were Ashmika Subedi, Roshni Tripathi, Krizan Khawas and Rashmi Shrestha, all students of Thames. The work that they portrayed were immensely powerful, as one in the audience could feel their passion and love for poetry. The essence of this session was to show the power of words, elevated by one's emotions.
Altogether the session was an outlet for rookie poets working on their craft. The event was both very intense and emotional, as it was filled with stories of dealing with sexual assault, physical violence and loneliness. Along with Ms. Chitrakar and the poets, the audience also realized that females, no matter the age group they fall in, have all experienced some sort of sexual harassment at least once in their lifetime.
In a post-event interview, when asked about the thing that surprised her at the poetry session, Ms. Chitrakar said that she was amazed to see the efforts students put into their poems. The ones who were rather inattentive in her class were the most dedicated while creating poetry.Adding to this, she said, "What is it about a classroom setting that is failing to engage them on that level?" According to her, settings do make a difference.
संसारलाई साँढे पाँच फन्को-Mr. Pushkar Shah, world cyclist and travel writer
"11 years, 4015 days, 221,000 kms, 7 continents, 150 countries. I have bathed in and drank water from all the seven oceans. I have touched the Seven Wonders of the World with my hands and feet. I've made Mt. Everest seem small for a while, since I've returned victorious to Nepal," Mr.Pushkar Shah said.
At the age of 25, he started his world bicycle trek,starting from a small village in Dolakha, Nepal with a backpack of essentials weighing 60kgs, a 100 -rupee note in his pocket and a bicycle. He shared his journey of bicycling around the world with the people he met and inspired.
From shivering on the Rocky Mountains of North America, where temperatures dropped to -5o C, to sweating in the Sahara desert where temperatures rose to 50oC; from subsisting on orange peels to enjoying burgers and pizzas; from sleeping on a foot-path to staying in a lavish five-star hotel; Mr. Shah shared bitter-sweet moments from his 11 year-long journey at the Nepal Social Work Symposium 2019, held at Thames International College, Old Baneshwor, Kathmandu, on 27th May.
"Life is not smooth, it is complicated like noodles," he said. "We have to survive through lots of difficulties to make it worth living." He reflected on a past life-and-death situation of getting kidnapped in Mexico. He explained to the audience the mental trauma and conflict he had gone through, and how he had felt that he would rather fight and die like a soldier on the border than accept death passively, dying like a coward.
"Travelling is not just about visiting places. It's about listening to and telling stories and making new friends," Mr. Shah said. He also added that he doesn't want to be called a traveler. Instead, he prefers to be called 'someone who has been to various parts of the world'.
As the session concluded, a student at Thames expressed how inspired and motivated he was by the session, and expressed his determination to pursue his dreams.
Democracy and Dissent Hari Sharma-Political Analyst
On the second day of the Social Work Symposium 2019, Hari Sharma, a political analyst and writer, revealed the science in politics. According to Mr. Sharma, "Democracy is a garden where all kinds of flowers are treated with equal respect and love." Director of the Alliance for Social Dialogue, Mr. Sharma talked about democracy and dissent. He also talked about how politics is gradually changing due to the impact of the previous and current generations, as well as the rise of technology and social media. Sharma believes that, today, Google is turning into a big university. Google has every answer a person is looking for, be it legitimate or not. Social media has become another basic necessity for the general public. While social media is becoming a market for elections, the data that users share online are at risk of illegal use in elections.
In this session many people asked Mr. Sharma about democracy and development, in response to which he stated, "Democracy is equal to development if rightfully applied." The session was very effective for young individuals, who sought to open up and question the government and its regulations.
Connecting Humans-Through Story Telling Jay Dev Poudyal, Founder- Stories of Nepal
On Day 2 of Nepal Social Work Symposium, Jaydev Poudyal talked about his journey of founding 'Stories of Nepal' and the power of storytelling. He believed that in order to connect with people, we need to be able to empathize with them. In this process of connecting with people, he encountered experiences that changed him as a person. Those stories and experiences were the motivation behind the initiation of 'Stories of Nepal'. According to Poudyal, "Everyone has their own story, all of them equally valuable and touching."
There were a total of six stories presented to the audience at the symposium, each of them equally touching. Among them, the story of Mina Tamang was the most overwhelming. Poudyal covered the destruction of her home during the devastating earthquake in 2017, after which she struggled a lot. She worked hard to survive and take care of her children. Tamang said, "Now the children cry in fear of the quake, but soon they will cry out of hunger."
Poudyal had a story of his own, too, of being a drug addict and getting rehabilitated. After his recovery, he wished to do something worthwhile. He talked about how he was persuaded by the stories he was covering to continue living meaningfully. He has traveled to many parts of Nepal and has given a voice to the people who want to speak up.
The symposium session of storytelling showcased various bitter life experiences of diverse people. Through the medium of stories covered by Poudyal, concerned authorities and the public seemed inspired and were encouraged to donate, which will be of great help to the affected people.
The Awakening- Poetry Session
- Ms. Pranika Koyu
- Mr. Sangeet Srota
- Mr. Binod Bikram K.C
On the second day of Nepal Social Work Symposium, three famous personalities, Mr. Binod Bikram K.C, who is a freelance journalist, Ms. Pranika Koyu, a human rights activist, and Mr. Sangeet Srota, a media person, recited their poems in the session, 'The Awakening'. While some of their poems shed light on the patriarchal reality of our present-day society, the remaining challenged the political culture of our country.
The session, which took place in the David J. Rusk Library at Thames International College, was very intense and thought provoking, as all the poems made the audience reflect upon the contemporary society and question the status quo.
उफ् यो राजनीति !
- Manushi Yami Bhattarai (Youth Leader at Naya Shakti)
- Dr. Dinesh Prasain (Socialist, Entrepreneur and Political Activist)
- Hon. Ramkumari Jhakri (Member-House of Representative)
- Moderator-Mr. Narayan Kadariya
'उफ् यो राजनीति', was an hour-long session and also the most awaited panel discussion of the symposium. It explored the importance of youth involvement in contemporary politics and challenged the political culture of the senior leaders of Nepal. "Today's politics is all about being chair-holders and facilitating the relatives," said panelist Dr. Prasain, who is a social activist. "Change is only possible with educated youths with a solid foundation. They can bring in new ideologies as per the local expectations that change with time."
The event was followed by Miss Manushi Yami Bhattarai, a panelist who is a youth leader at Naya Shakti Nepal. She talked about how elite political leaders repeatedly fail to engage talented youths in the native land. The session ended with her appealing to the audience, "Let's strengthen our voices to overthrow the tradition of youths leaving the country by providing them better opportunities."
The session also addressed questions from the audience. According to the moderator, Mr. Narayan Kadariya, it was really difficult to end the session, since each audience member had a mind-full of appreciable questions. The panelists seemed busy answering the questions even when the session was over.
Political rights ensure one's entitlement to participate in the civil and political life of the society and the state without any discrimination or repression. Sangam Tuladar, from the audience, questioned the officials about why it is difficult for the general public to read the constitution. Miss Bhattarai said, "Intellectual youths like you should ask the existing government for simplicity in paper-writing. If not, the locals will actually remain unaware of their political rights and political rights violation will continue."
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