HOMELESS IN YOUR OWN COUNTRY: ABOUT A LIFE WITHOUT A CHANCE
Already in 2010, Back to Life decided to start another project in Nepal under our guiding principle of ‘helping people help themselves’. The small Himalayan country with its 28.5 million citizens – located between the two aspiring powers India and China – is not only one of the poorest countries in Asia, but unfortunately also worldwide. The United Nations have ranked Nepal 144th (out of 188 states) in the 2017 Human Development Index. Overall, poverty rates have decreased, yet there are large disparities between geographic regions and ethic groups in the country. Hence, the latest poverty rate for Nepal is 25.2 percent, yet almost double that amount - 43.6 percent - of the ethnic group of Hill Dalits live in poverty.
Urgent action is needed in many areas. For example, our project area Chitwan in the district of Terai is a completely impoverished region in Southern Nepal. Many Dalits, who belong to the lowest social caste and are also known as ‘untouchables’ or ‘casteless persons’, live here. They all are considered ‘outcasts’, or ‘impure by birth’, and are often discriminated and forced to do the lowest kind of work because of their social background. Thus, they are often seen picking-up rubbish, sweeping streets, carrying heavy loads, or cleaning toilets and drains. Those tribes who now live in these project villages, were once relocated from their natural habitat, the jungle, and are now socially excluded as untouchables that belong to the poorest social class in Nepal. Usually, they do not have access to education due to economic constraints and social restrictions, whilst their manpower is systematically exploited.
With promises of better prospects or simply by expulsion from their native forests, the families were relocated to the Terai area. Some received little pieces of land from the state as compensation. Yet, these were and are far too small to cultivate enough food to live. Importantly, they lacked any agricultural experience. Therefore, even today, most men have to work far away as labourers, while women and children take care of the crops of wealthy landowners, in addition to their own little plots.
Their only chance to a dignified life as an equally accepted citizen is education. However, poverty makes it necessary for children to help their family make a living, and the costs of attending school are simply too high for them to afford. On paper or in legal texts, the ‘outcasts’ have equal rights, at least officially, and there are even quota regulations in public service that are supposed to guarantee jobs for them. Yet, of course, there is a big gap between theory and reality. Without the appropriate education and a lack of awareness of such legal provisions, these rights can hardly be exercised.