This is the fourth entry in our recap of summer internships completed by SIPA students working in the Admissions Office this year. Erisha Suwal is a second-year SIPA student from Nepal. She is pursuing an MPA degree with a concentration in Economic and Political Development and a specialization in Advanced Policy and Economic Analysis.
Internship with Search for Common Ground in Nepal
This summer I interned with Search for Common Ground (SFCG) in Nepal. Search for Common Ground is an international non-governmental organization that works in conflict transformation and peacebuilding. I knew about SFCG because a friend worked there. But, I found out about the internship opportunity through SIPALink. After two interviews, I succeeded in getting the internship. My experiences in diverse cultural settings, language and writing skills and deep interest in SFCG’s work helped me get the internship.
Nepal’s peace process started in 2008 after a decade long civil war. As someone interested in development, I realized that effective development could not happen without moving beyond the post-conflict situation. At the same time, lack of development or rather unequal development was among the many reasons that contributed to conflict. I wanted to learn about conflict transformation and peacebuilding and its relation to development. I also wanted to gain more grassroots experience and see more of Nepal.
The first month was a crash course on conflict transformation and community peacebuilding. Attending trainings and workshops that SFCG gave to its partner organizations, local political leaders and youth active in their communities; I gained theoretical knowledge on conflict analysis and transformation. I learned how SFCG’s produces radio shows and now a TV show as means for peacebuilding. Once acclimatized, I worked on compiling information for the first draft of SFCG’s annual report. I collected case studies and success stories.
The highlight of my internship was the final month. I was based in Lahan, a highway town in southeastern Nepal. I was responsible for researching on ways to enhance young women’s role in peacebuilding and to recommend possible strategies and ideas to be used in SFCG’s future programs with women in peacebuilding. Majority of the women in southeastern Nepal are Madheshis, a marginalized group treated as second-class citizens, much like immigrants in the United States, until their movement in 2007. I was also responsible for assisting in organizational capacity building for Samagra Jana Utthan Kendra, SFCG’s implementing partner.
To give a sense of my day in the field in Lahaan: Wake up at 7 a.m. Drink black tea with Tulsi leaves and black pepper. Talk to my host sister about the situation of women is Lahaan or other gossip. Have lunch at 10 a.m. Walk about 15 minutes to Samagra by crossing a stream dotted with shadowy figures defecating and passing a vegetable bazaar. Read newspapers and talk about Nepali politics. Once everybody drops in, confirm on the plan made for the day since plans change very fast. Select villages to visit. Arrange for a mode of transportation. Once in the villages, gather women for a focus group discussion. Talk to them about what they think women’s rights is, or what women’s role in peacebuilding should be, or why women are not allowed to leave their homes. There can be heated debates between the mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law, which often is when the truth comes out. Listen to stories. After talking to the women, talk to men including village elders. Return to the office. Drink tea. Debrief with Samgra’s staff on the day’s happenings. Plan a new strategy for approaching women for the next field visit.
Dalit mother and daughter in Lahan, Siraha