When one thinks of Nepal, images of Himalayas and mountains come to mind. However, Nepal also comprises of plain land where about half of the population lives, most of these people have never seen a mountain, let alone seen the Mount Everest.
If you want to see how Nepalis living in flat plains, known as Madhesis, go about their daily lives, consider visiting a village in southern Nepal. It brings out many nostalgic feelings. Farmers appear busy tending crops in their fields. They still perform agriculture using beasts of burden such as oxen and buffaloes. Similarly, they still use traditional tools like wooden ploughs to plough their field and bullock carts for transport. Many of them still process their harvest manually. The pace of life in general seems slower, neighbors find time to chat with each other, old men chat among themselves leisurely, children play on the streets, women work inside their homes, and everyone is curious when a stranger visits their village. Anywhere you look, the village seems to be full of activity.
Amidst all of this activity, one cannot help but notice the absence of young men. Large numbers of young men have left villages to work as migrant workers in the Gulf region. Their absence has completely changed the demographics of villages.
According to the Nepal Living Standards Survey conducted in 2010/11, 55.8% of young men between the age of 15-29 years are absent in their household. Similarly, 45.8% of men between the age of 30-44 years are absent.
The migration rate has increased rapidly since 2011, it has almost doubled and thus the percentage of young males absent is much higher today than it was reported in the NLSS.
More than half of young men in Nepal have gone abroad. So, their children are brought up by their wives and parents. The children get to see their dad for a few months once every two or three years. Some of the photographs below capture the lives of children in Khairba village that lies in Mahottari district of Nepal.
Mahottari district has the second highest number of migrant workers who have gone abroad.
When I started my education, there was only one school in Khairba and it was run by the government. The school had earthen floors so, I used to carry jute bags to school and sit on them. The classrooms had openings for windows but windows were not installed. My parents allege that since I used to escape from these openings, they had to put me in a private school in the nearest town at an early age. My faint memories suggest they might be right.
In 2017, there are two private schools in addition to the government school in Khairba. Parents spend more to send their children to private schools where the medium of instruction is English. Due to labor migration, families in rural villages are now able to afford a higher quality of education.
I grew up in Khairba village but left at an early age for education in the nearest town of Janakpur. From there, I went to Kathmandu and then came to the US. When I returned to Khairba after several years in 2011, I was surprised to see the transformation and ubiquity of brick and mortar houses. Most of the mud huts were gone. This change had taken place rapidly. In the photo below, you can see another brick and mortar house under construction. The tremendous growth in influx of remittances is responsible for the booming real estate and construction industry in rural regions in Nepal, even more so than in the urban regions.
Most of Nepalis in rural region are involved in subsistence farming and this is becoming increasingly inadequate to sustain their family. As a result, many young men have chosen to migrate to foreign countries for employment. After visiting a village, Khairba for instance, it is apparent that labor migration has brought prosperity to families. However, the price for this prosperity is separation from their loved ones and sometimes even life itself.
I traveled to Nepal and United Arab Emirates (UAE) in December 2016 for documenting the stories of Nepali labor migrants. I grew up in Khairba village and it is very dear to me. After witnessing the impacts of labor migration in my village, it served as my primary motivation for conducting this research project.
This work is part of a student media grant by the Center on Conflict and Development at Texas A&M University. I would like to thank The Center on Conflict and Development at Texas A&M University (ConDev, condev.org) for its funding and support. ConDev seeks to improve the effectiveness of development programs and policies for conflict-affected and fragile countries through multidisciplinary research, education and development extension.
I would also like to sincerely thank Jeet Kumar Sah, a volunteer at Madhesh Relief Fund (MRF) and Er. Krishna Chandra Sah, the coordinator at MRF for extending their support during my field trip to Khairba village.
All of the photos in this piece are original and have not been edited or enhanced before publication.
To read more: see The Conflict and Development Center at Texas A&M University.
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