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Getting deep and critical

Our days in Kathmandu have started to fall into a pattern. Tasks that initially stretched the limits of our comfort zones, such as traversing across the city on public transport, or interacting with homestay grandmas in a combination of body language and broken Nepali, has become routine. The new challenge that we decided to open up this week is more of an intellectual one, as we started exploring the deeply complex and much-contested topic of International Development.

Our discussions had different entry points – a snapshot of global inequality represented with biscuits, an understanding of the complex and loaded terms we use to describe poverty and disadvantage, and a series of ever-deepening questions to challenge our perspectives. The questions that came from the group included: Are there enough resources in the world? Does everyone want development? Is it human nature to be selfish? Why does inequality exist – and what can be done about it?

Actions that we assume at first must be “good,” turn out to be more complicated upon further inspection. Building a school, giving clean water to a slum, donating to an orphanage: all these are actions for development, right? But what if the school stands empty without teachers or running costs? What if the slum is populated with earthquake victims who would rather have a clean water supply back in their village? What if the orphanage is corrupt and responsible for trafficking children?

Our discussions this week have been rich, and the diversity of opinions and perspectives within the group has been an asset. The conversations have been buzzing and each one has closed with many more questions than we started with. And as we sit down for a delicious dal bhat lunch cooked for us by Pemba dai and Nima didi, it has not been uncommon for the same topics to re-emerge or for even more complex issues to be thrown into the mix.

Yesterday, the question at lunchtime was: “If this is all so complicated – what CAN we do?” The answer was provided by another member of the group: “Well, I guess we can start by just asking that question.”