Involving local communities in the decision making process
The locals do not work for us – we work for them. Often this is not the mentality people in development and not-for-profit organisations carry where decisions are often solely made in the capital city or made "professionals" without enough input of the locals. For real development to happen, our belief is that we must pay proper attention to what the locals have to say and understand it so that we are truly empowered to create a project on their behalf. We do not own the school or community we are working for - our role is always limited to helping make things happen. How could we make a decision for something we do not own? The consequence of not abiding by this principle is damaging the locals’ self-esteem – something that no project or funding can ever buy - and, unintentionally perhaps, promoting an authoritarian culture, expecting the locals to accept that decisions made without consultation are fine.
Making sure resources are applied efficiently, and where they are needed most
We avoid unnecessary tasks or things which don’t make a lasting difference. On the surface, this may be hard to determine but it is crucial to be attuned to what is happening on the ground. The people whom we serve are being served mainly because they are vulnerable to a large degree, which also means that the people are willing to accept just anything that comes to them. They find it difficult to reject what is being given to them even if they do not like it in the fear of losing future support. But, it is not right to take advantage of people's inability to express their feelings. Where people are sufficiently well off they can afford to say no but where people are not and have nothing, they just cannot think of alternatives or afford to say what they cannot accept. In such situations, the onus lies on us to be respectful of their inner feelings and work by careful understanding of what the people need, as opposed to what we think they need.
Remaining open and clear about all of our activities
Shamefully, Nepal is one of the world's most corrupt countries and this contributes to Nepal's under-development and poverty. The gap between haves and have-nots keeps getting larger. While we cannot do much to resolve the big sharks out there, we can exhibit and encourage a new wave of culture where lack of transparency is not tolerated at the local level. In the long run, it is our hope that this will build bottom up pressure on the big wrongdoers. As government funding happens at a school level, eradicating mismanagement of resources must be tackled here. We therefore strictly demand our local partners to be neat and tidy in keeping the records of their finances. Not only do we expect our local partners to do it, but we act as an example and present our reports to them.
Just keeping the finances in neat and clean order is not sufficient; equally important is to ensure that the people in authority and the main stakeholders are accountable for their actions and decisions made. Therefore, just as we expect reporting to be done to us and from us to our donors, we also engage our local partners to be accountable to their own people. Only through this culture can we build fully trusting relationships, earn due respect and combat the lack of transparency and accountability endemic to Nepal.
Development occurs best when it comes from within
The key is that everything we do must contribute to people's empowerment where they can decide for themselves what is right and wrong even to the extent to say that a certain type of aid is harmful/damaging if they feel it that way. Empowerment can and should be made to work at the level of the relevant populace as a whole, where there are enough people to agree and disagree within democratic norms. In our work, we pay special focus on this area, hence we put School Management Committees and other local entities in the forefront of the discussions, planning and decision making. We avoid treating the people we work with as ‘beneficiaries’ as we don’t wish to create a hierarchical relationship with them. They are thus our partners, not our clients. Community empowerment cannot be achieved overnight; it is an evolving process in which relationships are built out of mutual respect and trust.
HELP is a registered Nepali NGO established in 2009 with the aim of improving education in government schools across the Helambu region where government provision is scarce.