Leaders From The Field: Problem-Solving Towards Independence in Lathaiya

By Brett McNaught, Vice President of International Programs

[pullquote]Promoting self-reliance internationally requires a great deal of creative problem-solving on the part of all parties involved.[/pullquote]

On the surface all villages in which buildOn constructs schools look exactly the same, and suffer from the same problems — poverty, illiteracy, and low expectations. But these universal blights only characterize the tip of these  global communities. The individual personalities of villages even within the same country can vary wildly due to differences in culture and experience. They all have the same goals — to send their kids to school, to learn how to read and write, and to achieve socio-political autonomy — but the path to success in each instance is marked with distinct challenges and solutions. Promoting self-reliance internationally requires a great deal of creative problem-solving on the part of all parties involved.

In the nation of Nepal, buildOn just completed its 400th school, and I’m reminded of the particular challenges we’ve experienced there in the past. I think back to the village of Lathaiya, which was settled in a cleared jungle. Every citizen of Lathaiya was once an indentured servant working off an unpayable debt to a “landlord”; like the Zamindar mentioned in Jim Ziolkowski’s blog post last week, these landlords are higher caste families who come from prosperous, educated backgrounds and take advantage of those without self-reliance or opportunities for schooling. In 2000, the Nepalese government cracked down on indentured servantship and excused several outstanding tribal debts. Dozens of families walked away from their emancipators but had nowhere to go.

[pullquote]The shared experience of slavery had an intense influence on the daily lives of these people…their desire to learn became a solution.[/pullquote]

Lathaiya was formed by 50 families who were lucky enough to procure land from the government. But after the settlement, community development stalled. These people only knew life in slavery; they weren’t decision-makers and worked together as a group uneasily. Still, they knew that they wanted better for their children, and when they became aware of buildOn’s international school building program, the fires of communal problem-solving were lit. They held village meetings to discuss how to bring education to Lathaiya, and then chose a representative to speak on their behalf. The possibility of getting a school built brought them together in profound ways.

When we entered Lathaiya, we knew it was unlike any other village we’d previously been in. The shared experience of slavery had an intense influence on the daily lives of these people, and they viewed both their independence and the need to work with others with an understandable amount of skepticism. But their passion for education proved stronger; their desire to learn in this case became a solution. And buildOn’s methodology is designed to illustrate the immediate and positive effects of collaborating: After spending each day managing their resources, the people of Lathaiya could see the fruits of their construction labor. Slowly but surely, they began to build confidence in themselves, and in one another.

Lathaiya is also special because of the number of other initiatives that have since taken place there. Some of buildOn’s NGO partners, such as BASE and Save the Children, have set up preschools and adult education centers, and have started irrigation and forestation projects as well. We’re happy to report that Lathaiya has no child laborers as a result of this development, and it is currently educating a new generation of leaders who will further evolve their community. But it all started with that first school. The school that taught a group of former indentured servants how to push the boundaries of their newfound freedom.