Migrating towards a better future

Many of you reading this post would likely say that you enjoy travelling overseas.  For individual reasons, there are those of us who are not always satisfied keeping within our own country borders, held back from roaming around new places, discovering new things.

As an Englishman living in Vietnam, there have been times when the systems have felt against me here in Saigon (the acquisition of Martha’s birth certificate a particular low point).  There are days when you want to close your eyes and re-open them back amongst more familiar surrounds and comforts.

At the same time, the benefits on offer to my family living over here are significant, and there are so many things I cherish about my day-to-day.  I am lucky: I have a good job; access to credit and to purchasing power; access to information; the ability to set up a bank account in a matter of minutes; a driving licence; a work permit.  All of which give me a sense of security and belonging here.

Several years ago, CARE launched a project in Bangladesh, India and Nepal, exploring ways in which we could support Nepali migrants who were forced to travel, live and work in India and Bangladesh.

The project is called EMPHASIS, and perhaps unwittingly, for anyone in the UK reading this who has ever bought a National Lottery ticket, you yourselves may have helped contribute to the work of EMPHASIS, as the initiative was funded by the Big Lottery Fund – http://www.biglotteryfund.org.uk – which uses some proceeds from UK Lottery ticket sales to invest in overseas programmes.

Last year I was in Kathmandu, Nepal, working with colleagues there on extending this project, and last week I got to visit one of the EMPHASIS Community Centres in outer Delhi, and in doing so got to meet an incredible group of people…

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Rita and Kiran from the Women’s Group

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Asha, Shalun, Neetu, Nisha, Munni and Sabita from the youth group

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Other members from the youth group (Rocky, centre)

As I have seen in the past when visiting CARE’s work in the flesh, the essence of what it is that we do, on the one hand, is very simple.  The Community Centre I spent time at provides various services to Nepali migrants – who it will not surprise you to hear struggle with a range of issues from the moment they arrive in India, and suffer the opposite experience to that which I had when first encountering life in Saigon.  When we arrived in Vietnam in February 2011, we had a bank account set up on Day 2, a place for Florence at a great school on Day 3, and an apartment arranged by Day 5.

For those in the photo above, life overseas is a very different matter.  One of the boys I talked to, named Rocky, is hoping to get a job as a driver, but he faces many hurdles in achieving this – not least because of some of the cultural, social and economic barriers which prevent so many Nepalis from landing on their feet when they attempt the move to another country.

People such as Rocky migrate away from their home country in search of job opportunities elsewhere, as the extent to which these exist in Nepal is dire.  Nepal is a landlocked country, reliant on rural agriculture trading, and crippled by poor infrastructure and corruption at the highest political levels.  Most of the income earned by migrants is sent back to families in Nepal in the form of remittances, leaving very little with the individual who is abroad – but this is still a preferred option than staying put in their home country.

India and Bangladesh offer Nepalis income oportunities, and hope.  However, there are many challenges facing those who arrive in cities such as Delhi, in search of a livelihood, and this is where EMPHASIS has been so successful.

The project itself has gradually developed an intimate community for Nepalis, enabling them to draw on specific information and skills training services, as well as on the compassion and solidarity of being amongst others in a similar situation.

The location of the EMPHASIS Community Centre I visited is just outside Delhi’s inner suburbs.  

Street outside EMPHASIS Delhi's Community Centre

Street outside EMPHASIS’s Delhi Community Centre

Local vendors rule the streets

Local vendors rule the streets

Open sewers, and heaps of garbage are strewn down the river banks outside the Centre. Each street is ordaned with market based traders, selling small satchets of household products, rice, grains, and vegetables.  The temperatures at this time of the year hit 45 degrees.  

For those Nepalis I met, not everyone was 100% settled into their new lives in India.  Many held onto the ambition to return home.  But for all of those who hosted me so well that afternoon – providing details on the different vocational training skills they had accummilated, or talking about their understanding and awareness of HIV/Aids issues, or waxing lyrical about the recent football tournament that the boy’s team had entered – there was a genuine commitment to the integrity and resilience that this project had helped inspire amongst those who use the Centre as a safe and empowering place of refuge, reflection and learning.

The group of young girls in the picture above had formed a dance troupe.  They are currently looking to enroll in a dance competition.  The girls themselves spoke out during our meeting with confidence and panache about their futures.

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Maya, one of the project team leaders

Perhaps what I was left running over in my mind when I left India, was that for all the hype across our sector about “innovation”, “sustainability” and “value for money” (all of which are commendable and valid topics) there are examples of development interventions such as this one, which offers these things, but without the hype.

The ultimate ‘owners’ of projects like these aren’t those who first invested the funding, or those (CARE) who established the frameworks for how things would be managed, but people such as Maya (pictured below) who have helped pass on valuable skills, mentoring and encouragement to an eclectic mix of old and young, male and female, all of whom spoke directly to me about how the spirit of this work would long continue – with or without any further investment or support from the “outside”.

Just as Maya has show leadership in her responsibilities to EMPHASIS, so too are those participants in the programme now doing the same.  They have clearer focus about their lives, their roles in society, and their influence in terms of the future of the Community Centre itself.

All of which is a testament to various indivduals and organisations involved with EMPHASIS, for sure, but also a reflection on how our focus as development folks needs to perhaps be more centred around the issue of ownership.

Enabling ownership from the outset can produce truly impactful results.  Long may the work of EMPHASIS continue – its legacy is already an inpsiring one.

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Closing ceremony led by the girl’s dance troupe

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