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LEARNING BY DOING: Public health expert Rita Thapa demonstrates the hazardous effects of smoking to eighth graders in Padma Kanya High School last December.

Retired international civil servants return to a Nepal that isn’t too keen on taking advantage of their experience

Thirty-two years of experience with UNICEF as a supply chain management professional took Narendra Shrestha to Denmark, India, Iraq, Mozambique, Nigeria and even North Korea. By 2010, Shrestha had had enough and he headed home to his family and country.

He approached government agencies with other returned international colleagues and offered his help, but although most promised to get back they never did. There are many Nepalis who have retired from their jobs in the UN, World Bank, or the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and have returned to Nepal to help in post-earthquake reconstruction and post-conflict only to find the government had no need for their expertise.

“But we are still available,” said Shrestha, who is now involved with Rotary Club and after coming back has worked with the UNICEF country office in Nepal as well. “Nepal is like a piece of heaven but we have not been able to utilise its full potential.”

Bhairaja Panday worked for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in hotspots like Bosnia and Burma, gaining valuable experience in post-conflict reconciliation. He offered his help for Nepal’s truth and reconciliation process, and even met the Prime Minister, but has now realised that exploiting the experience of retired Nepalis is not a priority for the government.

Rajesh Neupane also amassed 14 years of understanding of transitional justice while based in Rwanda with the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal. Seven years after returning to Nepal, he is disillusioned about what he sees.

“Politics has penetrated every sphere of life, your abilities are not taken into account,” said Neupane, who now spends his time attending Rotary Club meetings and activities, and is currently the President Elect of the club.

While hundreds of thousands of Nepali youth migrate for work and education every year, many experienced and well-educated Nepalis are headed in the opposite direction. The more committed among them say that government foot-dragging and apathy is a given, the trick is to work around it.

Bindu Lohani who was the Vice-President in the Manila-based ADB, the first Nepali in the position so far, retired recently after 30 years. He says he feels like a doctor on call waiting to be asked to help in the development field.    “I had a great opportunity to witness developments in Asian countries and that is where my main expertise and interest lies. I believe that there are many lessons Nepal can learn, successes as well as failures,” said Lohani, who says he would like to focus on empowering Nepali youth.

Public health expert Rita Thapa started her career in Nepal, worked for the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) offices in Manila, Geneva, and retired as a program director in the WHO regional office of Southeast Asia in 2001. After retirement, she has been in Nepal designing experiential learning modules for school children among other things.

She does the rounds speaking to students in Padma Kanya High School and others about the dangers of smoking. Using just a straw, discarded Coke bottle, a pen refill and tissue paper, Thapa demonstrates the deadly effects of smoking to Eighth Graders.

“My wish is to see fewer people landing up in hospitals, and I use every opportunity to help the government with policy planning,” says Thapa, who spends her free time on the golf course.

Bhairaja Panday is also often on the greens at Gokarna, and undeterred by official disinterest, has been lecturing and designing a water supply project in Dhading. He also serves on the board of the Institute of Crisis Management Studies and is Managing Director of Invest Nepal.

Said Panday: “Nepal is a bonanza for people like us. It is here that we can do what we want to do.”

Shrestha, Panday, Thapa and 60 other returnees are members of the Forum for International Professionals of Multilateral Organisations (FIPMO), which is chaired by Bhim Udas, who worked for the World Food Programme (WFP) for 30 years and was recently named Nepal’s ambassador to Burma.

“As a group we can come together and give back to the community and nation. Collectively, we have the technical knowledge and skills in different areas,” Udas said of FIPMO. “Nepal’s economic development should move forward and should not be derailed because of changing governments.”

Suresh Raj Sharma, the first Chief Financial Officer of Tribhuvan University (TU), who worked as Director of several divisions at WFP in Rome and in Sri Lanka, is also in FIPMO. He said: “Nepal has changed significantly since I served in TU thirty years ago. I am eager to contribute with the knowledge and experience I gained with the United Nations overseas in the new Nepal.”

By Smriti Basnet