Nurse by training and social worker by calling, ‘Nepal’s nightingale’ Radha Paudel grew up knowing what it meant to be powerless. Her mission, she tells Healthntrends, is to support the rural poor, worst affected by the country’s problems, whether it’s the Maoist conflict or the devastating April 2015 earthquake.
Over 10 years ago, Radha Paudel, then one of the fi rst anaesthetic nurses in Nepal, found herself in the thick of a civil war between the Maoists and the government army in Nepal. Day after day, she found herself tending to hundreds of women in the Karnali zone, a mountainous, confl ict-ridden area. To make matters worse, she was targeted by both the Maoists and the government, as each side suspected her of assisting the other.
Eventually, the armed groups started to trust her, and she started a dialogue for peace between the two parties. Radha went on to write a book on life during the 10-year-long civil war Khalanga Ma Hamala (The Attack On Khalanga). In an e-mail interview with Healthntrends, she talks about what spurred her to start her crusade.
Tell us a bit about your organisation Action Works Nepal (AWON)?
AWON is a borderless campaign for peace and justice at the global level. In November 14, 2002, I witnessed a huge massacre during the Maoist insurgency and somehow
I survived. It spurred me to take responsibility for representing the poor, rural, non-political people, especially women. Right now, we are working on seven projects related to peace building, human rights and women empowerment in the most remote, poor, war-affected and geographically desolate areas, like Karnali, Nepal. Besides this, training, research, lobbying and advocacy work are going on at the national and international levels. AWON also provided immediate response and aid for a month to 1,200 families from eight earthquake-affected districts in Nepal.
What is the situation in Nepal now, post the earthquake?
This is a time of recovery and reconstruction. There are some gaps and lapses in earthquake response related to policies, donors, media and others. Various forms of sexual and gender-based violence are being seen, including traffi cking, abuse, rape, etc. The problem is two-fold: firstly, policies are not being enforced. Meanwhile the young people in Nepal, who are unaware of safety nets and the modus operandi of criminals are falling into the vulnerable bracket.
Your book received the Madan Puraskar, Nepal’s most prestigious literary honour, last year. What it is about?
My book Khalanga Ma Hamala is all about reframing or redefining peace and justice— because the absence of war is not peace, not at all. It is about 10 years of Maoist conflict in Nepal and gives the perspective of a civilian woman, from the battleground. I wrote this book to help policymakers understand the pain and struggle of people during war, and also to urge others to be responsible for the welfare of the rural, poor people. Through the book, I urged everyone to rethink their every action and whether it’s contributing towards peace or conflict.