A few years ago, the village of Narainapur in Banke was as rural as any other village in the country. The road to the village was dreadful. Consumer goods had to be transported from Nepalgunj and some shops in the village did not even accept Nepalese currency.
Even though the village was in Nepal, it had a lot of Indian influence. Remnants of this are still quite evident in the area. But as Nepal drafted the constitution in 2015 and adopted federalism in 2017, the village of Narainapur has had a facelift.
The village that had nothing has a bank and that has helped the people of the village a lot.
“With the creation of Sunrise Bank, we no longer need to travel for hours to earn money. People who go to work abroad send the money directly to the bank. It helped us a lot,” says Umesh Bista, a resident of Narainapur, recalling how the village was completely dependent on India ten years ago.
Basic products like rice, flour, salt and oil had to be brought from India. Why? Because getting to Nepalgunj was difficult. There was no road because the villagers had to walk for three days to get to the district headquarters.
It was after the 2017 elections that residents asked their local representatives to build a road linking Nepalgunj and Narainapur. The rural commune obliged and paved a road by building nearly a dozen bridges. Today, buses run regularly on this road.
“Things have improved over the past two years. Not all of our requests have been met, but local representatives have worked to improve this rural municipality,” says Bista.
Before the construction of the road, people only traveled to Nepalgunj for administrative or banking work. For everything else, they went to India.
But, since the 2017 elections, things have changed. They got roads, electricity and drinking water. With that, people started coming to set up shops around rural municipalities. A brickyard was also installed. The Rural Municipality has also started researching the possibility of starting an agricultural industry in the area to create more job opportunities.
There are five brick kilns in Narainapur. Each kiln employs around 200 people, says Ahmed Mukeri, the rural municipality’s employment coordinator. But only half of them are Nepalese.
“We are asking them to hire more Nepalese from Narainapur so that we can be sustainable,” says Mukeri.
He says that since the Covid pandemic many people have come to his office looking for work, and he hopes his office and the rural municipality can provide them with jobs.
On April 4 last year, 16 families lost their homes to a fire. As soon as the fire was announced, the Rural Municipality sent its fire truck to bring it under control. But since the roofs were thatched, there was little firefighters could do to save them. To help them, the Rural Municipality distributed relief materials, food and tents.
Such incidents are common in the area and to prevent them from happening, the local government has launched a campaign to replace thatched roofs with zinc sheets. It also distributed gas stoves to 1,000 families so that firewood would not cause more such incidents in the area. But, the risk of fires gutting houses is still widespread.
Residents agree that life has been easy thanks to the local government helping out on a regular basis. If there had been a fire three years ago, a team from Nepalgunj would not have arrived until three days after the incident. Help would come a week later. But, thanks to the presence of the local government, they did not have to starve or sleep homeless.
Focus on children
A few years ago, girls in Narainapur rarely went to school. But, over time, more and more people started sending their daughters to school. Masud Ahmed Sah, chairman of Nairanapur 2 ward, says girls make up 40% of the total number of students in his ward.
“There was a time when the number of girls in our schools was zero. This change we have seen is encouraging,” says Sah, saying that only 5% of children in the Rural Municipality are out of school today.
To encourage girls to go to school, the rural commune distributed free bicycles to all schoolgirls. A free bus service has also been launched by the rural commune to encourage residents to send their children to school.
Until 2018, the rural commune was only educated up to the 10th grade. But now Narainapur also has a high school where adults have enrolled.
According to Lachhuram Kumar, a teacher, since federalism, the people of Narainapur are more aware of what is happening around them. They realized their rights, he said.
“The condition of the schools used to be poor, but now that is changing. Parents want their children to go to school,” says Kumar, adding that there are 21 schools and 27 madrasas in Narainapur Rural Municipality.
He says people also send their children to schools in Nepalgunj and India. “But, there are people who still want them to stay home and help and not go to school. But that number is few and far between,” Kumar says.
Lalit Chandra Prajapati from Narainapur-4 says a lot still needs to improve, including the quality of teachers in the region. He says he is running for local elections this time and if he wins he will improve the quality of teachers in schools in his neighborhood.
“When you don’t have an education, you become a slave in this country. I don’t want the children of the next generation to be slaves. I will improve the condition of schools in the region,” says Parajapti
Leaders who want to lead
Before 2017, Narainapur had no rulers. They only had voters. But since the local level reached Narainapur, people have realized how much good leadership can create change in a place. Like Prajapati, there are women in Narainapur who are planning to run for local elections this year.
Prajapati promises that he will manage more teachers and toilets in every household and provide safe drinking water for all.
“Change must start at the local level. If I receive help from political parties, so much the better! Otherwise, I will run as an independent candidate,” says Prajapati.
Puja Baniya also plans to run as a parishioner. But, she couldn’t share this with her husband as she fears they won’t take it well. “I will ask them and if they agree, I will say on my behalf,” Baniya said.
There is a general feeling among the people of Narainapur that they can still do better. “We saw a hospital, schools and roads being built. But we can do a lot more,” says Baniya.
Listening to opportunities
The citizens of Narainapur are also looking for ways to develop the region. Residents actively participate in speeches to see how they can change their locality. They collected the signatures of the inhabitants to push the rural municipality to establish an industry, explains Umesh Bista.
“It’s cheaper to buy than to produce. Why? Because we haven’t used the technology and we don’t have a commercial market,” says Bista.
The locals are hoping that their demands can be presented to parliament as they hope this will spark more interest and development in the area.
Pleasures after the pandemic
Narainapur is located on the border area. During the first wave of Covid, the rural commune had become the epicenter. Hundreds of people have started returning to the village after losing their jobs in India and other parts of Nepal.
With them they also brought the virus which spread rapidly. But, the place did not have the infrastructure to deal with the virus. The local government did its best. He built temporary isolation centers and used schools to treat patients.
“Of course, it created problems, but I think we also did a lot of development work in the area,” says Laxmi Kanta Mishra, the Rural Municipality’s disaster management chief.
Mishra says the pandemic has paved the way for infrastructure development in the region. He says the local government even brought a generator to run these isolation centers in the middle of summer. As the use of a generator was impractical, local officials were then put under pressure to bring electricity to the area.
But to get electricity, they also needed roads. Wards 2, 3 and 4 had no roads and as they needed electricity, roads were built.
“Scarcity helped development. Everyone in the area helped out. It was a joint effort to fight Covid and develop the region,” says Mishra.