Upcoming April 25 could be Nepal’s MLK Day, a day of sadness but also plenty of hope when we come together to plan for and achieve better Nepal
January 21 was the special day for the United States of America and for the entire humanity. There were celebrations commemorating the birth of the civil rights hero, Dr Martin Luther King Jr, who helped change for better the destiny of millions of American citizens. It could become a source of inspiration for Nepal as well.
Dr King helped frame a new understanding of human rights and civil liberties, strongly advocating for peaceful disobedience. Dr King never waived his firm determination to bring justice and fairness without using violence. The MLK Day, as it is widely known, is celebrated as one of the few public federal holidays in the US, on third week of each January close to Dr King’s birthday on 15 January. This is not a “day off but rather a day on” because it is considered as service day where citizens from all backgrounds join community initiatives to volunteer and help out.
It is the day when people are supposed to come together to spend time helping out those in most need. If you do a quick search on internet you will soon realize the magnitude of this special day with literally thousands of events and initiatives throughout the states.
Dr King’s strong renunciation of violence, his unshakable belief in mobilizing the oppressed communities to gain justice and dignity in a peaceful fashion, offer a remarkable blueprint on how those oppressed and vulnerable can gain a new life. There are reasons why similar day should be commemorated worldwide, including in Nepal.
Worldwide there is a rising trend where despite a positive economic growth, societies become more and more unequal. It is not just about a fair share of economy’s benefits being equally redistributed among the population but it also a call for action when deep, often hidden but real discriminatory attitudes still prevail.
If you belong to a vulnerable group—Dalit, disabled, or sexual minority—in Nepal, there are still mountains to overcome in order to live with dignity and equality. While equality is about creating a level playing field, equity is much deeper and sensitive because it clashes with old structures and systems that have been in place since centuries.
Yet while calling for more rights is paramount what is also essential is to have those living in vulnerability access to opportunities to show their skills, their passions and their determinations to transform the country.
Here comes a second important point why Nepal should celebrate a day like MLIK Day: it is a day of service where every citizen commits to volunteer for their communities and contribute. Volunteering can be the one thing that can help a person living in vulnerability to gain confidence and build a network of new relationships. Serving for and with others can help a disadvantaged youth to learn new things, proving her skills and abilities.
Being involved in community work means that everybody can contribute, including those normally considered being at the receiving ends. Surely one volunteering day in a year is not enough but being able to bring on board also those citizens not used to thinking of volunteering as a way of life, is significant.
Perhaps the same persons, not so far familiar with community work, might be motivated to set and maintain some small service commitments throughout the year. Nepal has a wealth of traditions in terms of self-help and community engagement but too often we might end up assuming that serving local communities is just a duty of those working in not for profits or for the students of social work and development studies. That’s a wrong notion. Everybody has a duty to be an active citizen, including the big shots working in the banks and those hoping to find venues to emerge and thrive.
Day of service
Imagine a national day of service in Nepal inspired by the endeavors in the US. Yes, Nepal celebrates International Volunteering Day every year on December 5, but we could do more and better and find another special day that reflects some accomplishments that Nepal made as a nation. For example, it could be the day when we commemorate the victims of the earthquakes that hit the nation in 2015. On that occasion of despair and crisis, the citizens of Nepal showed the best of themselves, providing an indispensible service throughout the rescue efforts. What a better way to celebrate the nation when people rallied together to help each other.
Justice and equity are complex end goals but every single daily steps make a difference. Celebrating and promoting volunteering opportunities, including among those persons whose rights are still neglected, can help change the status quo, turning upside down old misconceptions and attitudes. The upcoming April 25 could be Nepal’s MLK Day, a day full of sadness but also plenty of hope when we come together to plan for and achieve a better Nepal. Being together and helping each other is what will define the cohesion and unity of the nation in the years ahead.
The author is the Co-Founder of ENGAGE, an NGO partnering with youths living with disabilities