The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee advances human rights through grassroots collaborations.
Partner Profile: Chetana in Nepal
July 8, 2015
The earthquake that devastated Nepal in late April completely destroyed 5,000 schools and left the human right to education of more than 1 million students in danger. UUSC partnered with Chetana, a grassroots teacher-run organization, to ensure that students who already faced barriers to education before the earthquake are returning to their lessons.
Because Chetana consists of a network of teachers already on the ground and familiar with the social landscape and current conditions, the organization is ideally poised to identify the students most in need and efficiently act to meet those needs. Rachel Gore Freed, senior program leader for UUSC’s Rights at Risk Program, says, “We eagerly partnered with Chetana because it is run by teachers. If we’re going to support schools, working with teachers makes the most sense.”
With support from UUSC, Chetana has already enabled more than 700 students to return to school by setting up temporary classrooms, helping run classes, providing materials like paper and writing utensils, and offering nutritious midday meals. Chetana is focusing on junior schools in the Gorkha, Lamjung, and Tanahu districts of Nepal, where student populations are respectively 38%, 70%, and more than 80% from scheduled castes and tribes (Dalits), who are historically discriminated against in Nepal.
“Chetana is a small organization, but they have big dreams. . . . These teachers are hyperactive right now in the face of enormous need,” shares Sunil Pant, a Chetana supporter and member of Nepal’s parliament who assisted UUSC in connecting with Chetana.
Pant worked with Chetana teachers for several years through the Blue Diamond Society (BDS), a group he founded that advances the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people in Nepal. From 2011 to 2013, BDS worked with Chetana to train several thousand teachers on gender, sexuality, and reproductive justice as well as the challenges that LGBTI students face and how to create friendly school environments for these students. In part because of this work, the Nepal government moved in 2013 to include gender and sexuality into standard curriculum.
Pant describes what inspires him about Chetana: “Their genuineness and almost kind of revolutionary spirit. . . . They’re innovative, always willing to learn and broaden their knowledge. . . . They’re very proactive and inclusive.”
In its work with Chetana, UUSC recognizes that enabling students to return to the classroom not only restores the human right to education, but also can help normalize life in the face of trauma. The earthquake, which killed than 8,6000 people, destroyed entire communities, and left many surviving families with few, if any, material resources, is a significant source of trauma. To further support students’ healing in the wake of the disaster, UUSC plans to include Chetana teachers in a trauma resiliency training with the Trauma Resource Institute in Kathmandu in August. Chetana teachers are eager to ensure that all teachers understand how to help children suffering from psychosocial trauma.
UUSC looks forward to deepening its partnership with Chetana as its relief and recovery work in Nepal continues, thanks to generous donations of more than $320,000 to the UUSC-UUA Nepal Earthquake Relief Fund. As Pant points out, “Chetana is preparing the future of the country, so [this work] is hugely important and hugely influential.”