Having worked for a long time in the civil society sector, SANGITA NIROLA has brought her experience to bear on the work of HelpAge Nepal. Nirola, the country representative of the new INGO, spoke to Debesh Adhikari on various issues. Excerpts:
In what areas does the HelpAge International-Nepal work?
HelpAge basically works with the older people. It has been working in 60 countries. We have recently established it in Nepal too. It has been some 4-5 months now. We have one project running at the moment. There is a social pension facility in Nepal for the old people. Every old people above 70 gets NRs. 500 per month as social pension. But what we have been hearing is that the money allocated for the old people has not reached their hands. They are not being able to use that money. So to solve this situation, we have started a project: older citizen monitoring group that monitors these social pensions and makes sure that more old people of the community receive the pension. We are also coming up with another project. We have already opened a group, but what is the main concern is that they want to group from the lower level, from ward level, not directly from the district level. We are planning to activate that group, involve older people’s group actively in other fields. NRs. 500 that they receive is not a big amount, so we are planning to involve them in other income generating activities. The new projects will look after these issues. HelpAge International Nepal is the first INGO that is working for the people in old age; there are NGOs but no INGOs. It’s a new concept and challenging as well.
Some old people might have the potential and they might not need that much care, so what are your thoughts?
Normal people think old people cannot be active, so we are trying to change this notion. We are advocating that old people can be a part of the society. Old people also have some criteria. There are people who retire after the age of 60, especially in the cities and central levels. People retire after the age of around 60 from government offices, but they still have the potential to work. Some are very knowledgeable, while some even have PHD, but their knowledge is not used properly. They come under active group. So we are considering 60-70 as active group but above 70 people might have problems and so we are working for that.
What should be done to make old people more involved in the society?
Old people should be brought to the mainstream like the way women have been brought. Old people should be kept in mind before making any policy or any program. Aging should be brought to the main frame and that will bring changes in the society.
How is the government’s response in these issues?
The government response is basically good. They are willing to change the policies. There are different criteria regarding old age. For example people of Karnali get social pension after the age of 60 whereas people from other areas get pension only after the age of 70. At some level, we might need to consider 65 as the old age. Overall the government has been cooperating well and they are positive.
What is the status of overall INGO’s working in Nepal?
We are part of the Association of International NGOs (AIN). There is an important role of INGOs in the developmental issues and I think they are doing well.
Currently there are negative vibes surrounding the INGOs. How are you planning to tackle this?
Yes, there have been negative talks. But, we are trying to convince people. Recently, we held a meeting with the Social Welfare Council. The ministry people or the government should also do something for us. We are working even in the low level. Our work should be highlighted. It’s not that we only claim. If anyone analyzes our documents or things that we have done, they can know for themselves. So INGOs are doing good work. If there were no INGOs then I don’t think we would have access to these many districts and these many remote places in many ways. I think INGOs have done quite well but we still need to make people understand that INGOS are working for the good in society and are making good contributions. We still have to raise awareness about the positive works of INGOs because we have done more than we are credited for.
How much favorable is the overall environment for INGOs to work properly?
We have been pushing for one window policy. We want everything be taken care by Social Welfare Council (SWC) and the whole AIN is pushing for that. Due to lack of that our projects are taking a long time and we are facing difficulties in starting level. And due to that even our works have been affected.