Ambassador (ret.) Scott H. DeLisi
Remarks before the Association of Nepali Taraian Convention
Edison, New Jersey
May 27, 2017
Thank you, Dr. Karna, for the rm welcome, and thank you to the Association of Nepali Teraian in America for the invitation to join you today for your fourth bi-annual convention.
It is my honor to be standing here today to share a few thoughts about Nepal, about the challenges of development in the Terai, and about the role that you, as members of the Nepali community in America, can play to help build a more positive and promising future for your families and friends who continue to struggle at times in the Terai.
They struggle to have their voices heard in the ongoing political discourse about the future shape of the governance in Nepal. They struggle to identify a vision for the future that transcends partisan interests and meets the needs and aspirations of Madeshis and the country as a whole.
They struggle with identity issues, and with the perceptions and misperceptions of those, in other parts of the nation, who often view residents of the Terai as pro-Indian or as being of divided loyalties.
They struggle with development challenges that seem particularly vexing in a region with tremendous potential for agriculture and for economic growth.
They struggle with competing communal, political and economic interests in the Terai itself that create divisions among the communities living there and that are exploited by those who seek power for themselves to advance their own interests.
Life in the Terai is, indeed, tough. But, ladies and gentlemen, I would argue that many of the concerns that people articulate as the challenges of the Terai — and that you seek to ameliorate — are not dissimilar from challenges that communities across Nepal have faced for decades.
Discrimination and marginalization are not just a function of where one lives in Nepal. Corruption, weak leadership, and failures of governance are not just issues in the Terai. Unemployment, underemployment, and inadequate service delivery — whether in education, health, or infrastructure — are problems across the nation. Changing cultural norms, changing gender roles, and a changing population in which youth account for over 70 percent of the citizenry…these too are issues that affect people across the country.
It seems to me then that, in your interest and desire to help bring peace, prosperity and development to the Terai, you must ask whether this can be done in isolation from the uplift of the nation as a whole.
Now I know that we cannot transform Nepal overnight and I’m not asking you to try. But I do know that, individually and collectively, we can all make a difference. We can make a difference in the lives of our families, our communities, and in Madesh if we are truly committed.
I say this all the time, but I know it to be true. We can touch lives, we can change lives and we can save lives. The effort has to begin somewhere…why not with you? Why not today?
Nepal needs you to be engaged. Nepal needs you to fight for policies that build a better future for all, rather than for self-serving schemes that undercut the nation’s dreams. Nepal needs you to debate the best path to development…not path to the slippery slope to political power. And Nepal needs you to offer a vision that defines the best of the nation, rather than one that caters to narrow partisan viewpoints.
For me, the path to Peace and Prosperity in Madesh lies in cooperation, not competition, and I’d like to offer a few additional thoughts about moving along that path.
First, in your efforts to have a positive impact in Nepal, the voice of the Nepali diaspora in America will be stronger, more effective, and more meaningful if you speak as one, especially in urging our own leaders in the US to be thoughtful about our engagement with, and policy towards, Nepal.
Ambassador Teplitz and her team in Kathmandu already work unceasingly to encourage vibrant political discourse, an open and democratic society, and equal opportunity and equal protections for all citizens in Nepal, including the Madeshi community. But we need to ensure that leaders in the administration, in Congress, and in the American public are sensitive to your concerns about our policies towards Nepal, our engagement in Nepal as a development partner, and our commitment to build on the 70 years of ties between our nations.
How much more powerful would your voice be if you spoke as one. Not as Madeshis, not as Congress Party wallahs, not as Rais, or Tamang, or Tharu or Dalits or the countless other identity-driven communities that defined you in Nepal, but as Nepali-Americans, with a common message and a united voice?
When I was Ambassador in Nepal we created a Youth Advisory Council, drawn from a diverse group of Nepalese youth, my belief was that young people in Nepal had more in common with each other, as youth facing the challenges of the future and seeking to transform their society, than they did with the traditional identity labels of caste, ethnicity, tribe, language, faith or geographic place of origin, which is how Nepalis in the US still too often divide themselves.
What mattered wasn’t the language you spoke at home or where you lived in the country. What mattered was building an alliance committed to addressing the challenges of the future successfully. What mattered was building a new Nepal together. And that is what should matter to you. Shaping a future of peace and prosperity for all Nepalis, including Madeshis. “Stronger together.” It was a slogan recently used in Hillary Clinton’s campaign but it resonates on many levels and in many ways, and there is truth in that phrase for Nepal.
Unity of voice and effort, matter. But you need to recognize that you also have the advantage that your voice and effort are backed by considerable financial clout that you should not ignore.
All of you in the diaspora make a huge difference in terms of the Nepali economy through your remittances back home and you need, again, to find a common voice to translate your tremendous economic impact into an agenda for constructive change and growth. Not a political agenda, but one that calls on leaders to be accountable and responsible and that ensures that the funds you send home are not stolen through corruption or lost to incompetence.
Being apolitical is not the same as being unengaged. I believe that you can empower constructive and responsible social activism and that is a form of engagement that is critical to the future. Letting those who are prepared to take a stand on behalf of Nepal’s future know that they are not alone is also critical.
,, knowing WHAT you stand for, is perhaps most critical of all.
It is not enough to just build a school, or fund a new temple, or support an orphanage. These things are good and they matter to the communities you support and I applaud them. But a one-off project does not bring change or transform the future. We must focus on policy, on social and economic transformation, and on the development of capacity.
And, what I hope you will understand as well, is that if you seek to be transformational you must not only know what you stand for, but who you will stand with; — who will you empower to lead change for peace and prosperity in Madesh?
It is the youth, I believe, that you must truly reach. Youth in Nepal still make up the overwhelming majority of the population and they will – inevitably — lead the nation and shape its policies. We can either empower them with hope and opportunities or we can ignore their voices and ideas until they give vent to their frustrations and alienation in ways that are destructive to society.
You can give them a chance to engage and to learn leadership. You can mentor and you can share your skills and your experience.If you seek to transform Madesh, you need the energy and vision of youth who live there. Their ideas and vision are as relevant, if not more so, than those of people like us, no matter how well-intended, who sit thousands of miles away living a very different reality.
Along with the youth, I would encourage you …urge you…to also ensure that your programs and engagement also empower the women in society. I recall that when I was Ambassador we sent a bus load of Newari kids to the Terai to look at development programs that USAID was sponsoring. They came back stunned. Their perceptions of the Terai had been shaped by elders who conveyed the misperceptions and discriminatory attitudes I discussed earlier. What they saw flew in the face of all they had been told and redefined their “reality.” Most striking to them? The women. Women in villages who had been empowered, through training and support, to run businesses, to manage their farms, to invest in the future and …most importantly…to lead.
Our engagement as part of our development effort, was, I believe, transformational for those whose lives we touched. And that is what I want you to be. Transformational. But transformation is hard work and there is no magic wand that I know of that will transform Nepal or the Terai overnight. We must engage in a determined and focused and sustained effort, pressing forward on every level.
Bringing Peace and Prosperity to Madesh must be more than a conference theme today that you forget about tomorrow. You need to commit yourself, knowing that, although the task is hard and change may come slowly, with commitment and engagement it will come.
That is the same commitment and engagement we at Soarway bring to our work in Nepal. And I believe that success in transforming the Terai will be advanced by organizations, like the Soarway Foundation that are committed to strengthening and uplifting all Nepali’s and making the Terai, and all of Nepal, stronger, safer, and more resilient before the next earthquake strikes. We know that the time to act is now, when we can still save lives and make a difference. Inaction will result in lives being lost that could have been saved. It will mean far more homes and schools and temples and shrines will be destroyed than need be, and it will mean that the hopes of a generation will be crushed, not realized.
At Soarway our mission is more than just building strong homes and schools. It is to help build a stronger society and stronger communities in which people from every corner of Nepal have the chance to be empowered, to contribute, and to be part of the nation’s future – a future we hope that they will face with confidence rather than fear. To help build that future, we are working with colleagues from the Institute for International Development and Nepali investors. We’re empowering women through entrepreneurship programs that are giving substance to women’s dreams in Biratnagar and we hope to see this program grow and expand in the Terai. We’re supporting the expansion of the Nepal Ambulance Service to Butwal where the life saving cadre of skilled emergency medical technicians will staff modern ambulances to save lives and to train others. We are working to create disaster awareness and education programs that will save lives and protect the investments we make in development today by ensuring that we can overcome the disasters of tomorrow.
I spoke earlier as well about building a platform for the future. A platform from which we speak with a united voice. A collaborative platform for all Nepalis who want to share information and speak out together and find greater impact through unity. Soarway is becoming such a platform. And as we work, like you, to create a future of hope let me just note how much the Soarway Foundation would welcome your partnership. Like you, we’re a 501(c)(3) charity so your contribution is tax deductible and, although any donation helps, I’d like to ask you to consider the small, but vitally important step, of joining the Soarway 1000. We are seeking across our nation, 1000 people willing to commit 33 cents a day — 10 dollars a month — to make a difference in Nepal. With that sustained commitment from 1000 people we can expand our work in rebuilding homes and making schools safer. Join us here (select the monthly option and your amount)
We can continue to work with Anuradha Didi of Maiti Nepal to protect vulnerable girls from the Terai and elsewhere who are being trafficked into sexual bondage. We can continue to support and expand our women’s empowerment program in the Terai and we can make the effort to empower people to choose shape their own destinies. And there is so much more we can do with your help.
33 cents a day. For most of us, that’s nothing. For the people we touch in Nepal? It’s priceless. If you are willing to be part of our team, I have more information on the Soarway 1000 with me and I will be happy to talk with you
Once again, thank you for giving me the opportunity to be with you today. It has been a tremendous honor. Transforming the future of the Terai is a long-term endeavor that requires persistent commitment, focus, and leadership. However, over time, I am convinced that together we can succeed.
At Soarway, our mantra is Engage Nepal. That is what I urge you all to do, in the broadest sense, in you work on behalf of the people of Nepal. Permit me to salute you for all you do. Please keep up the great work. Please join our movement as part of the Soarway 1000, and please, engage Madesh and Engage Nepal!