Saga of the three conservation heroes
Risking her life for conservation
With her hands on her lap Nanda Devi Kuwar waits quietly and as her name is announced to recognize her bravery and courage, she walks slowly amid the echo of applause, holding her hands that are still recovering from injury.
On April 21, 2012, Nanda Devi was trying to prevent forest encroachment in Madhumalati Community Forest when she was brutally attacked by a gang involved in the encroachment. They cut her hands and tried to kill her. Despite the serious injury and risk to life, she selflessly continued to work for community forest conservation.
"The pain in my hands has reduced but I cannot work as I used to before. I am still dependent on others for everyday tasks like bathing and changing clothes," said Nanda. "I am happy to be recognized at the national level but the gravity of conservation issues at local level that I am fighting for daily is yet to be understood by my own community. We still have a long way to go but I am positive that people will understand the importance of conservation soon," added Nanda with determination.
Nanda Devi wakes up early in the morning to patrol the forest and talk to people about forest conservation and sustainable forest management. She is also fighting to ensure community forest users’ rights to meet their needs. Despite the incident in the past, her courage and determination to work for forest conservation are still intact.
Mocked and ridiculed, but never abandoned hope
Durga Gole, 22, from Makwanpur, Churiyamai VDC was mocked and taunted by villagers for patrolling the forest and protecting local natural resources. "They used to demoralize and challenge me, telling me that they had cut trees to see whether I would dare to file a complaint to the police," reflected Durga. That was four years ago. Today things have changed in Churiyamai.
"My family used to be completely dependent on the forest for our livelihood. We cut trees and made alcohol for money to pay for our education and food. The entire local community was cutting trees and while it was lucrative, it had serious consequences for our forest," she said. "I was introduced to the idea of a sustainable future through conservation by WWF Nepal's Terai Arc Landscape (TAL) project. It helped me to question our community’s way of life and made me realize the need to use our forest responsibly and conserve it. There has been no looking back since then."
Today, with a group of 23 women, Durga marches forward as the secretary of the 'All Women Anti-Poaching Unit' for regular patrolling of the Churiyamai Forest. She is currently also a youth leader in her community and is active in encouraging and mobilizing women's participation in conservation and anti-poaching activities. The unit coordinates with local officials to report illegal activities. They have also started microfinance cooperative to lend money to women interested in alternative livelihood options to reduce pressure on the forest.
"Today those who mocked and threatened me are working with me to conserve the forest. The community is not as dependent on the forest as before. I feel blessed and could not be happier," said Durga, a smile spreading across her face.
Breaking tradition for women’s leadership
Ek Bahadur Budhathoki Magar is breaking with traditional thinking and is encouraging women into leadership positions in the Bhuwanisthan Chhipchhipe Community Forest in Gorkha. "Since women can manage their households and surroundings perfectly well, why should we doubt their leadership capability in managing our forests?" says Ek Bahadur. "By increasing the engagement of women, we ensure participatory forest management and improve our conservation efforts. However, while I have been trying hard to increase and promote female leadership, it has been difficult as they are mostly occupied with household chores," he added.
To attract women’s participation, Ek Bahadur initiated a folk song competition on the theme ‘Importance of women’s leadership today’. “This proved to be a great way to generate awareness on women issues and boost their participation,” he reflected.
When Ek Bahadur became the chairperson of Bhuwanisthan Chipchipe Community Forest Users Group four years ago, he immediately worked to change the gender ratio of the male-dominated executive committee. Today with his creative work, four out of 11 executive members are female. He smiles with a hint of satisfaction and says, "It is difficult to believe that we now even have a female vice-chairperson in our community forest users group."
By Pallavi Dhakal, Communications Officer, Hariyo Ban Program, WWF Nepal
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