Nepali citizenship …. finally

On International Women’s Day, you may remember me telling you the story of a mother and her two daughters and their fight for Nepali citizenship.  Let me remind you.

Nepali born Deepti Gurung raised her two Nepali-born daughters – Nikita and Neha – on her own for many years, without their foreign-born father’s support.  When she went to get her daughter’s citizenship papers in order, she was shocked to find out that her daughters were not considered Nepali citizens.  You see, Nepal is a patriarchal society that in the past, only allowed Nepali citizenship to be afforded to children through their father, never through their mother.

In 2011, the Forum for Women, Law and Development won a landmark verdict from Nepal’s Supreme Court where the court granted Nepali citizenship to a young Nepali-born girl whose father could not be identified yet whose mother was Nepali.

Despite this decision, precedence was not set for similar cases such as those of Nikita and Neha’s, primarily because bureaucrats in the Chief District Offices (CDOs) still believe and practice a patriarchal society.  In their minds, males are the dominant ones in society, no matter what the law says.  This is blatant discrimination against women.

Deepti Gurung with her daugther Neha, speaking on March 8, 2017 – International Women’s Day in Kathmandu. Photo credit My Republica

This left Deepti Gurung’s two daughters Nikita and Neha stateless.  Unable to secure Nepali citizenship, thus preventing them from doing what should be simple things in life.

Things like opening their own bank account, attending college, and to bigger things like being allowed to vote, not qualifying for a passport.

Things you and I take for granted.

Deepti Gurung and her supporters staged a sleep-in protest at Baneshwor, Kathamndu in August 2015. The Nepal Police response seems a tad excessive. Photo credit Kathmandu Post

For years now, Deepti Gurung and her supporters have been fighting the good fight, seeking a decision from the Supreme Court that allows Nepali citizenship to be passed on through the Nepali mother, without reference to the father.

This very decision came down from the Supreme Court on Tuesday, making it an historic judgement that paves the way for Nikita and Neha, along with what is estimated to be 4 million others, to secure Nepali citizenship through their mothers.  Deepti’s young daughters can now get on with their lives.

And more importantly, this verdict ensures bureaucrats in the Chief District Offices (CDOs) comply with this judgement.

A huge win for the women in Nepal as this ingrained prejudice against women is slowly eroded.

Congratulations to all involved.

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Years ago when I lived in Ireland, I used to spend a week or so in the warmth of places like Crete, Turkey and Spain to get some relief from the wet and damp of Irish winters.  But since coming to Canada, I can only recall two ‘beach’ vacations in 20 years – Mazatlan in Mexico with James and Kauai, an island that makes up part of Hawaii with Deb .

Beaches on Bowen are filled with stones and the water is freezing so for my idea of a beach, it’s not quite what I have in my mind’s eye.  Instead, Bowen beaches to me are more about hanging out on a warm evening, watching the sun set.

Rita who visited me recently, is not much of a beach holidayer either, so we were both surprised to really enjoy Mirissa at the latter part of her trip to Sri Lanka.  We spent a few days chillin’ at the beach, walking the tideline, sitting in the shade, enjoying the warm breeze blowing in from the Indian Ocean and oh yeah, sipping on cool beverages.

Tough life at Mirissa Beach

Mirissa is 150km south of Colombo and real easy to get to by train or bus (or both).  The hotels and guesthouses are set back from the beach so you really feel like you are away from the madding crowd.  But just a quick walk through a trail and you are smack dab in the middle of the town which has everything you would need.

Fishing boat, Mirissa Beach

It’s one of the largest fishing ports on the south coast, fresh tuna and snapper abound at the local restaurants.  Surfing is popular in the area too, as is whale watching, but mostly people lie on the beach all day.

Fisherman coming in from a night’s fishing, early morning at Mirissa

Mirissa, at 4m elevation, suffered much damage after the 2004 tsunami with 14 deaths reported.  I can see why, even high tide takes out the seating of some of the beach-side restaurants.  Eight years later, much of the coastline has been rebuilt and we saw a few protective dykes in place, more to slow than stop any future tsunamis.

It’s stunningly beautiful there, it feels like a real tropical paradise and although there are many restaurants right on the beach, most are not permanent structures and get a bit beaten up from the winds blowing in from the Indian Ocean a few feet away.

Picturesque shade from on of the many beach-side restaurants at Mirissa

The few days we were there, it was a tad windy and the Indian Ocean very choppy.  As in any beach around the world, it was recommended you swim in between two flags so the lifeguards can keep a close eye in case anyone gets in trouble.  But there are always some who flaunt that rule.

One afternoon, we witnessed the Coastguard save three guys who were struggling to extract themselves from a very strong undertow dragging them out to sea.  It all happened in a jiffy.

Choppy Indian Ocean

Not being strong swimmers ourselves, we paddled rather than swam that day.

In the evenings, many of the beach-side restaurants extended their seating area and spilled out onto the beach, making night-time dining at Mirissa, nicely cool with the Indian Ocean lapping at your feet.  So lovely!

We lucked out with our hotel too which was a short 10 mins walk from the beach, a trail that followed alongside a small river.  On this trail, we bumped into monitor lizards and snakes regularly, the only ‘treacherous’ part of our time at the beach!  But it was worth it all when I had my idea of bliss come true  …. making a quick coffee of an early morning, sitting on the balcony of our hotel, welcoming in the new day.

We also hopped on a local bus to Galle on one the days, and enjoyed making our way around the Fort area – a UNESCO site that has changed hands over the years from the Portuguese to the Dutch to the British and finally returned to the Sri Lankans.

It’s a lovely day trip, sauntering around the tiny streets and exploring the little stores and restaurants.

Galle Forte area has pretty little streets to browse through

It was also nice to catch the sea breeze from atop the fort ramparts and get yet another view of the Indian Ocean.

Walking the ramparts of Galle Forte, looking back to the Clock Tower

Calmer waters at Galle

And finally, many of you complain about not seeing enough photos, so here is one of Rita and I at Galle.

Photo credits shared between Rita and I.

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Results are in – local elections Phase 1 Nepal

The first Local Elections in Nepal (Phase 1) for 20 years has been deemed to be a success, and have gone better than expected.  Voter turnout was a healthy 71% nationally despite voters having to travel many hours to their home village to cast their vote and with no opportunity for advance voting.

I have heard anecdotally how some young voters were turned away at the polling station, for not having appropriate identification but I am not hearing this to be a widespread issue.

There was some election-related violence at the Phase 1 May 14 elections which was subsequently contained.  The CPN-UML Party has called for an inquiry, in the hope to avoid further violence in what is considered to be a more contentious Phase 2 elections on June 14.

Photo credit: Nepali Times

Although there is a need for improvement, it is great to see democracy at work in Nepal.  Exciting times for this young democracy.

Despite the high turnout, it was soon clear with the high number of spoiled votes, that voter education needs to be stepped up significantly.  In particular, education on how to interpret the ballot paper was seen as key.

Photo credit: Kathmandu Post who said “Many voters found a huge ballot paper with dozens of electoral symbols quite confusing.”  I can see why!

Voter Education is underway as we speak before Phase 2 Local Elections, scheduled for June 14, 2017, which are assumed will take place.

I say ‘assumed’ because the Madhesi community threatened to boycott the Local Elections unless the Constitution was rewritten to afford great political power to the Madhesi.  This is what prompted the Local Elections to be split into two phases in the first place, allowing the Government time to force a bill through the Assembly, amending the Constitution to give the Madhesi the changes they wanted.

The fragile ruling coalition Government are currently in negotiation with all parties, seeking a vote to amend the Constitution but thus far, it has failed to do this.  I have no idea what the Madhesi will do if the Constitution is not amended before the Phase 2 elections.  All will be revealed before June 14 I am sure.

Add to this is the news this week where Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal (CPN-UML) will stick to the agreement made in August 2016, and will step down to allow Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba take the Prime Minister role for the next 9 months.  One of Mr. Dahal’s goals was to ensure Local Elections took place before he stepped down.  Now that Phase 1 is complete, he is leaving (to my mind) implementation of the more difficult Phase 2 elections to Mr Deuba.

In other news this week, there was a surprise turn of events where India, who has backed the Madhesi in their search for equal rights in Nepal over the past few years, has now turned-about-face and is recommending the Madhesi to vote in Phase 2 of the local elections, even if the Constitution is not amended before June 14.

Hmm … never a dull moment in Nepali politics.

But what about the results?  Well, for those of you rooting for the female mayoral and deputy mayoral candidates, you clearly did not send enough positive vibes.  They each commanded a decent number of votes, but not enough to secure a win.  Still, they are young, Nepal’s democracy is young and I for one see it as a hopeful future for Nepal that young, driven Nepali women are keen to take part in politics – it’s so badly needed!

Results show the Communist Party (CPN-UML) securing a majority of Mayoral positions in three of Nepal’s largest cities: Kathmandu, Bharatpur and Pokhara.  The Nepali Congress, the only organized party to press for democratization in Nepal, is a close second and won the Mayoral seat in Lalitpur as expected.

Although these are local elections (and not federal), and therefore should not be impacted by the results in other municipalities, I must admit to wondering if breaking out the local elections into two Phases, and announcing the results from Phase 1 before the Phase 2 polls even open, will in some way influence voting in Phase 2. It remains to be seen I guess.

It interested me to hear both the US and UK suggest that the Government of Nepal allow international observers be involved in the Phase 2 elections, but there has been no response from the Government as yet.

In saying all this, I was heartened to hear a 3-day orientation for the newly elected Mayor and Deputy Mayor is due to take place early June.  Their training will include the topics of development planning, the process of budget formulation and endorsement, good governance and ethics, and will be delivered by 60 experts including retired secretaries, practitioners of education, health, governance, and information and communication technology.  Later in June, a similar 5-day orientation will be held for the elected representatives.

This is really good to see, as you have to remember the last local election was in 1997 with the terms for those elected, expiring in 2002.  Since then, bureaucrats have been the decision-makers where more often than not, corruption was rife in many districts.  Elected representatives have to re-learn what it is to represent their electorate and work for the people who put their trust in them.  A flegling democracy at work.  I wish them well.

The Nepali Government have, smartly postponed the National Grade 11 exams by one week  – the exam date coincided with the Phase 2 local elections on June 14, 2017.  Removing all distractions is probably a good thing.

I’ll keep you posted of anything of interest in the run up to June 14.  I’ll actually be in Nepal for the results while stopping off to visit friends there before I return home to Canada at the end of June.

Should be interesting!!

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Hiking in Hill Country

There’s some great day hikes in Ella, Uva Province that Rita and I did a few weeks back.  Ella is at a lower elevation than Nuwara Eliya so it’s still hot during the day, but it cools overnight.

My first morning waking up in Ella, I posted a photo of the early morning view from the balcony of our hotel room on Facebook.  It got a huge reaction of my Nepali friends as the view looked similar to any view of the low foothills of the Himalayas, and for some, compared to the less lush Illam district of Nepal.

Ella, Sri Lanka

Illam, Nepal. Photo credit Aakash Shrestha

Little Adam’s Peak is considered to be a little brother to Adam’s Peak further to the West.  Adam’s Peak is a mountain that is revered by many religions as it is thought to represent the footprint of either Buddha in Buddhism, Shiva in Hinduism, Adam in Islam or St Thomas in Christianity.  A multi-faith holy site if there was ever one!

Adam’s Peak is a a bit of a climb at 2,243 m (7,359 ft) and Rita and I were not up to that, so instead settled for Little Adam’s Peak just outside of Ella.

At 1,141 m (3,743 ft) elevation, it has absolutely stunning views and worth the couple of hours it took us to get to the summit and back along a much un-shaded trail.  Just go before the real heat starts for the day.  It has smashing views of Ella Rock and the twisty-turny road that leads to the flatlands of Yala.  Take a look.

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This photo is of Rita, Sameera and I at the close our of Little Adam’s Peak hike.

We don’t look too puffed! Photo Credit Sameera De Silva

From Little Adam’s Peak, we made our way cross country to Nine Arch Bridge, and ended up in a man’s back yard which provided perfect views of the bridge.

This massive bridge is 100 ft high and was built under British rule, commissioned in 1921 after the end of WW1.  It’s made entirely of solid rocks, bricks and cement without using a single piece of steel. The steel apparently was diverted to the war efforts so the locals just got on with using the materials they had.

A train was not due for some hours so we hiked back out of there rather than wait around in the hot early afternoon sun.  And anyway, late lunch beckoned.

See?  There’s more to Sri Lanka than beaches.

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A lovely update from Child Haven

For those of you who know me for years, you will remember I climbed the littlest of the Himalayan mountains back in Fall 2011 with my friend Peter and his son Connery.  It was thanks to Jangbu and Mingmar of Peak Freaks who got us safely to the summit and home in one piece.  Check out the photos from our summit day here.

As part motivation to ensure I dragged myself to the summit of Island Peak and not give up, I set myself a goal and raised over $12,000 for Child Haven – a Canadian based charity that runs children’s homes in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Tibet as well as a bunch of other meaningful projects.  Not a penny is wasted on that great big black hole called ‘Admin Costs’ at Child Haven.

Me on the Island Peak summit in 2011. And yes I carried that sign with me from base camp.

I was introduced to Child Haven by my friend Katherine Doyle, who has spent many a time caring for the children in the Kathmandu home, as well as being one of the organizers of the very successful annual Child Haven fundraiser that’s been running for years in Vancouver.  I later had the honour to meet Bonniema  (of Fred & Bonnie Cappuccino fame – the couple who founded the charity way back in 1985).  Bonniema shared her wisdom with me on the Dos and Don’ts of working in developing countries and I live by those principles to this day.

As Fred & Bonnie grow in years (but not in energy or zest for life!), their son Robin now shares the responsibility for the charity and ensuring the children’s homes are well run and the money raised is spent wisely and only for the benefit of the children and women the charity supports.

Today Robin posted a rather lovely update that made my heart melt, and with his kind permission, I am sharing it along with some photos, with you.

So from one coffee to another ….. Enjoy!

Child Haven update – Robin Cappuccino May 18 2017

Bonniema and I arrived at Child Haven’s Home for 203 formerly destitute children in Kathmandu just in time for Buddha’s Birthday. We meet Suraj’s 84-year-old grandfather, Resham, who walked 8 hours and then took a bus from his remote village to get here for the celebration. Resham explains that the body is like a machine, you have to keep using it or it will stop working. His grandson Suraj grew up in the Home and is now a much-liked Supervisor. Suraj’s aunt, Sushila, is a girl’s care-giver. This afternoon, they and many of the children from the Home will join thousands of other celebrants at the huge Buddhist stupa, Boudhanath, a short walk from the Home. They will circle the stupa three times, spinning the prayer wheels along the path as they go.

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Arrangements have been made for a Buddhist lama to come do a Pooja or Blessing at the Home in honor of the occasion. The Home’s Buddhist children and many others gather in the Dining Hall and throw small handfuls of rice as the lama chants blessings punctuated by the chiming of his ceremonial bell and flourishes of his thunderbolt dorje. A tall pole with prayer flags is laid out before him which will later be hoisted from the roof, joining many others in the valley.

Efforts are made to support the religions of all of the children in our Homes. This is especially easy in Nepal where Hindu, Buddhist and Bon religious practices and holidays are all widely embraced. One of the temples in Bhaktapur, where our Home was earlier located, houses statues of both Hindu and Buddhist deities.

Another young man who grew up in the Home with Suraj, Dhruba, has also begun working as a Supervisor for the Home. They both recently graduated from University with degrees in Computer Engineering. Bonniema says if they find a better job she will let them go. In the meantime, their experience in the Home has prepared them well to facilitate the loving upbringing of the children now in their care.

Among the children we spend time with is a 10 year old girl who was brought here from another home that was closed by the Government for unscrupulous practices. Apparently, no one knows where she came from, or who her parents might be. Ads with her picture have been placed in newspapers, but so far no information has been found.

Another 9 year boy was brought to the Home several years ago after a nurse visiting a remote village discovered that he was an orphan with no one there to care for him. Yet another was brought to the Home by his mother after they were abandoned by her second husband. She was at a loss as to how to make a living for herself let alone care for her son.

The bright smiles and ready laughter of these children attest to the remarkable resilience of children surrounded by love, understanding and as the Buddha might say, compassion.

Robin Cappuccino

If you would like to learning about Child Haven, feel free to visit their website  And if there is a fundraising event happening near you, I would highly recommend going – they are a ton of fun with an array of entertainment and the food is always, I mean always delicious.  And, it’s also for a great cause.

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Oh the cool, the cool

When choosing the Hill Country as part of the trip Rita and I were taking, little dd I know it would include one of the best nights sleep since my arrival to Sri Lanka nearly 9 months ago!  Ahhhh, the cool and tranquility of Hill Country, leaving the stifling heat and humidity of Colombo at this time of year, behind us – bliss!

Early morning shot of the veggie plot showing companion planting of carrots and leeks, at the gorgeous AirBnB we stayed at in Nuwara Eliya

Nuwara Eliya (pronounced new-ar-ail-ia) is in the Central Province of Sri Lanka and sits at a 6000 ft elevation, hence the cooler climate.  It’s perfect weather for tea plantations and for growing produce – it’s the market garden for Colombo, supplying much of the fresh fruit and veg to the city.

Tea is cultivated by the contour planting method, where the contours of the land are followed

At the recommendation of my friend and BIZ+ colleague Yohan, we stopped off at Blue Field tea plantation just outside of Nuwara Eliya, to check out how tea is grown.  We were keen to not only visit a factory where the tea is processes, but also spend a little time on the plantation itself, checking out the tea bushes themselves.  We got exactly that.

Blue Field Tea Plantation.  The 4-story building is the factory where the tea is processed

The tea plantation covers the hills behind the processing factory pictured above.  Black and white tea is grown, no green tea here.

The tea is hand-plucked (not picked!) primarily by women.  Sri Lanka is one of the few places where tea plucking is not mechanized, making the tea more pure and therefore of higher quality and more expensive.

Photo credit: Ceylon Tea Board

After plucking, the tea is dried for 12 hours, then rolled to improve the quality of the tea, after which it is fermented with the use of a hot furnace .  Point of Interest:  the Blue Field furnace was manufactured in Belfast at the turn of the last century believe it or not!

The leaves are further fired to protect the copper brown coloration, graded, weighed and then packed and shipped.

Drying the tea

As you can see it was a gorgeous blue-sky day at a balmy 28C when we visited Blue Field.  Such a peaceful, restful place.  Although the factory was in full swing, it was quite the relaxed atmosphere with many smiling (mostly) ladies.  Always makes me happy to see happy workers.

I particularly enjoyed understanding the tea processing process – yeah I know … more feeding of my geeky process tendencies.   And although an avid coffee drinker, I really enjoyed the cuppa afterwards!

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Latest news from SIRC

Drs Peter and Claire were recently at SIRC and prepared a great update for their blog, which I am sharing with you now.

They were in Nepal to help in Dr Raju’s return to SIRC, now that he is a qualified PM&R!  The blog post also gives an update on Dr Prakash and his neurosurgery work, and his plans for Fellowship.

Photo credit SpiNepal


Exciting times ahead for these Doctors!

Congrats to Peter and Claire, and their many supporters of SpiNepal for the tremendous support they have provided to these two talented Doctors.

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