Advocating for Disability Rights in Nepal’s Remotest Mountains
December 15, 2023
KARNALI REGION, Nepal – Himalayan Education and Development (HEAD Nepal) is a nonpartisan nonprofit that has been working on disability rights in the remote mountains of the Karnali region of Nepal since 2011. Tsering Palmu Lama is a disability rights and women’s rights advocate and a project coordinator at HEAD Nepal. At HEAD, Lama leads the “Our Voice for Our Rights – disability rights advocacy project in the Himalayas,” funded by the Disability Rights Fund (DRF) since 2022. In this edited interview, Lama talks with DJP Fellow Chhitup Lama about the challenges people with disabilities encounter in the Himalayan region of Nepal and how her project addresses those challenges.
Question: Can you tell us about some of the challenges of people with disabilities in Nepal?
Answer: It is really tough [for people with disabilities] in the remote mountains like Karnali regions. The problem which is faced by them in the region is that there is inaccessibility in the public area or even in the working area. And due to the remote mountains and tough geography, there is inaccessibility on the roads also. The families of people with disabilities are [unaware of] the rights of people with disabilities. In the local government, there are a lot of policies for the rights of people with disabilities and the inclusion [of] people with disabilities. But they’re not [being implemented].
Question: What are the goals and objectives of the project “Our Voice for Our Rights – disability rights advocacy project in the Himalayas”?
Answer: The main goal is to raise a voice for disability rights and there are four objectives of our project. Objective one is to increase our OPDs’ (Organizations for Persons with Disabilities) and relevant CSOs’ (Civil Society Organizations) capacity to participate in advocating and decision-making regarding development and rights. Another objective is promoting the inclusion of persons with disabilities in government programs like health education, justice, and budget planning and implementation. The third one is advocacy to ensure the inclusion of a disability perspective in governmental implementations and monitoring of UNCRPD (United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) and Nepal’s Disability Rights Act of 2017. Building the institutional capacity of HEAD is our fourth objective.
Question: What are the key strategies you use to ensure these objectives are achieved?
Answer: Under those four objectives, we have many strategies. Under the first objective, we have capacity-building training for the OPD and CSO representatives and advocacy skill development for them. Under the second objective, we have training for people with disabilities about their rights like in education and the health budget, training on UNCRPD, the Nepali Disability Rights Act 2017, and SDGs. Under the third objective, we have meetings with the local governments and authorities. We also do UNCRPD, SDGs and Nepali Disability Rights Act training for local governments and authorities. We have developed policies and a 5-year strategy plan for HEAD under the fourth objective.
Questions: What are the major achievements of this project so far?
Answer: Implementing a project is very hard in this region. But, we have achieved many outcomes. Before implementing the project, even the local government representatives were [unaware] of the rights of people with disabilities. [Now they] are a bit sensitized and more responsive towards disability-inclusive development. We have a vision that people with disabilities [should be able to] actively participate in society with a high position and respect. [Persons with disabilities] are [now] happy to [have a place] in society because their families are more positive than before. The community people are also positive [about] people with disabilities because they are able to claim their rights. The CSOs are also becoming active in responding to the needs of PWDs.
Question: What are the challenges you have experienced while implementing these projects?
Answer: There are a lot of challenges. [Initially], the families of people with disabilities did not understand the rights of people with disabilities. There are still challenges in the local government [because of] the newly elected representatives. They have little knowledge [of] the rights of people with disabilities. [Some] families of people with disabilities are still [unaware of] the rights of people with disabilities. They are [unaware of] the services and inclusion policy of the local governments. There is also inaccessibility in public areas.
Question: What are the plans to continue the outcomes of the project?
Answer: We have formulated 26 self-help advocacy groups of persons with disabilities who will further develop their capacity to advocate for their rights. HEAD Nepal is collaborating with the CSOs who will be further trained for disability-inclusive development. Our close coordination with local government will be continued for the formulation of new policies and implementation of the existing policies including UNCRPD and SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). The second phase of the project is planned to sustain the outcome of the project.
Chhitup Lama is the founding executive director of HEAD Nepal. He spearheads overall management, institutional development, strategic direction and the vision and mission of the organization.
News From the Global Frontlines of Disability Justice
Often dismissed as individual problems, mental health issues are societal issues, says Srijana KC, a psychosocial counselor at the Nepali non-profit KOSHISH. Growing up, KC experienced mental health challenges due to a seizure disorder. Because of discrimination in school and the workplace, she become a street vendor to pay for her medication. At KOSHISH, she facilitates peer support groups across various regions of Nepal. “It is crucial to instill hope in society, recognizing that individuals with psychosocial disabilities can significantly contribute,” she says.
Over the summer the DJP trained Indigenous activists with disabilities from the Pacific on the iPhone camera to create a documentary series on disability and climate change. With VoiceOver, the iPhone provides image descriptions for blind and low-vision filmmakers and offers other accessible features. “If you think about it, it doesn’t make sense for a blind person to use a camera,” says DJP filmmaker Ari Hazelman. “The iPhone gives you more avenues to tell your story in a more profound way as a blind person.”
DJP mentor Kishor Sharma is known for his long-term photography and film projects exploring community and change. Over the last 12 years, he has been documenting the nomadic Raute people in mountainous Nepal. With any project, Sharma aims to actively engage participants, sharing photography and videography techniques. In September, Sharma became a mentor to DJP fellow Chhitup Lama. He was eager to connect “this idea of sharing the visual technique with the storytelling idea and the issue of disability inclusion.”
Recent flooding in Rwanda has left many persons with disabilities without homes and jobs. “Sincerely speaking, I [am] left with nothing,” says Theophile Nzigiyimana, who considers himself lucky to have escaped the flooding. The flooding demonstrates the disproportionate impacts that disasters have on persons with disabilities, which will only intensify as climate change continues.
DJP Fellow Sita Sah interviews Neera Adhikari about starting the Blind Women Association Nepal (BWAN) and the steps BWAN has taken to advance the rights of Nepali women who are blind and low-vision. Women with disabilities, particularly those living in rural areas, “face discrimination from family and society which prevents them from venturing outside their homes,” says Adhikari. “In a household where there are two children, one disabled son and one daughter, societal beliefs often favor sending the son to school while neglecting the daughter’s education.”
Nepal has between 250,000 and one million Deaf people, but most do not attend school. In many schools for Deaf individuals, education ends at 10th grade, and higher education is rarely available and often inadequate. DJP Fellow Bishwamitra Bhitrakoti interviews Satya Devi Wagle from the National Federation of the Deaf Nepal about the strategies, challenges and successes of her work on inclusive education. “Because hearing teachers are not competent in sign language, there is no quality instruction in a resource class in Nepal,” she says. “We are working … to create a Deaf-friendly curriculum.”