Helping Communities Discover Their Power
As social mobilizers, one of the first tasks carried out by an LRP is to establish a Community Learning and Action Center (CLAC) in the community. This is an informal platform for the most disadvantaged members of the community, predominantly women. The group meets once every week, and under the guidance of the LRP, members discuss issues related to their every-day challenges, learn about their rights as community forest users, and talk about the importance and practice of good governance. The group also covers other topics including biodiversity conservation and climate change impacts and adaptation.
After 16 weeks of regular meetings, the CLAC emerges as one of the strongest tools for social mobilization in rural communities. No wonder then, that almost all of the participants of the second annual Review and Reflection for LRPs cited CLAC as the mechanism that changed the mindset and eventually the actions of entire communities. Bhandari was one of the participants of this meeting, held on 23 and 24 June 2014 and organized by CARE Nepal in the Hariyo Ban Program. She claims, “Thanks to their CLAC participation, the women in our community are now aware that at least 50 percent of the executive committee of the Community Forest User Group (CFUG) needs to be made up of women. They are all pleasantly surprised by this and eager to claim their right.”
Nodding her agreement is 48-year-old Bishnu Thapa, an LRP from Rajapur-6 in Bardia district, who participated actively in all the review and reflection sessions. Thapa led the Bal Ganga CLAC, and then led the women of her community when they decided to demand their rights. “We visited various government agencies and queried about the benefits. People tried to demotivate us in the beginning, and we were even threatened. But we persevered because we knew we were on the right path. Eventually, those who opposed us had to relent and treat us as equals,” she says. Meanwhile, Thapa is not only a motivator but also an entrepreneur. When she came to know that a member of her CLAC could make a gundri (traditional woven mat), she encouraged her to pass on her skills to others. Thanks to this initiative, the CLAC members are now producing gundris, the raw material for mats which is found in their own forest. Thapa’s face shone with pleasure as she handed over one of their mats to Lex Kassenberg, the Country Director of CARE Nepal at the event. “Women should be helped to stand on their own feet, and then they can do anything they want,” says Thapa. She is quick to add, “We also need supportive men to build the community as a whole.”
One of those supportive men is 21 year old Santosh Pariyar from Ruchang in Nawalparasi district. Pariyar, who ran a CLAC for 25 women in the locality, is astounded at the changes in the women. “The members were mostly older than me, and also quite passive when we started out. It was an arduous task to even get them to speak up. However, by the end of the CLAC sessions they were eager to interact and communicate. This confidence and ability to speak up for themselves in any group is the major achievement of a CLAC.” Sangita Lamichhane, a 19-year-old LRP from Syangja, also believes that women start taking an interest in the outer world once they discover their own strengths. “Thanks to the CLAC classes, community members started discussing the community forest regulations, and now the women know more about the regulations than me,” she laughs. This new-found confidence has led the women to believe that they are as capable as men in leading the CFUG. Eighty-five percent of the executive committee members of Thado Pakho CFUG, to which Lamichhane belongs, are now women.
Almost all the LRPs who attended the event spoke about how a single word of motivation can create a turning point in people’s lives, and encourage them to build better lives for themselves and the community. “We just have to make the community members feel a sense of ownership for the environment at large, and they will take it up from there,” says Pariyar. He adds that it is even more important nowadays to educate women about the importance of their involvement in conservation, since men are rapidly leaving the country in search of employment. “However, people cannot save forests on a hungry stomach,” he concludes. “Hence, along with conservation, it is equally important to impart information about livelihood opportunities and benefits gained from the community forests, so that everyone is all the more eager to keep them safe.”
By Richa Bhattarai, Communications Officer, WWF Nepal, Hariyo Ban Program
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Disclaimer: The Hariyo Ban Program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this article are the responsibility of WWF and its consortium partners and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.