In early 2006, I was a troubled 23-year old and didn’t know what I wanted from life or where I was going. I guess I was still searching for my own light, my own glow. All I knew back then was that life is chilling in the sands of Miami. I hadn’t come home in almost 5 years.
I came to Nepal in November 2006 to attend my sister’s wedding and had my own personal reasons. But I didn’t plan to stay longer! In December 2006, when the first draft of the Interim Constitution was being circulated, dissenting voices in Madhesh over the degree of inclusion were coming together. In January 2007 the first Madhesh movement for equal rights, dignity and identity erupted.
Although I was born in Birgunj, I hardly ever stayed there. I was among the privileged so-called upper-caste Madheshi to study in Kathmandu and after high school could afford to leave for the US. These protests seemed surreal to me. I was naive and ignorant about my own community.
One early morning, as I was drinking chai on a roadside, a group of young boys stopped a motorbike and started vandalizing it. The biker pleaded but the boys didn’t listen. In reflex, I intervened and all hell broke loose. As they say, in a mob one may bark at you but everyone attacks. I learned that in a harsh way in 2006 when I was beaten by a mob, in my hometown.
I was traumatized. I couldn’t believe what had happened. But this incident served as a catalyst for me to find my own light. Now, I wanted to be my own light. I wanted to do something. I wanted to question. I wanted action. I just didn’t know what that action would be.
Concept of Sano Paila
After a couple of days, I gathered my childhood friends at a chai-dokan and requested them to join me in forming an organization a network that would initiate a grassroots movement for development. A friend suggested the name Sano Paila. Another one added – A Little Step. We all agreed.
As the days passed and the protests intensified, I took to the streets and started recording and documenting the protests, the people, the communities. I engaged in conversations with the young and with those who were leading the protests. This journey for me was like a river stream coursing its way into the sea. The protests ended after a few months.
In 2007, I met Sadhu Ram Khadgi, who had been an injecting drug user for 40 years. I would tag along with him to places where young drug users gathered and started interacting with them. It was evident that drug abuse and involvement in crime were ripping the lives of young people in Madhesh. I knew I had to do something.
What I felt was, ’If these youths who are meant to be the backbone of the country are not able to take care of themselves and are not being cared for, how can we expect them to look after the country.” This though kept on provoking me. For me to see development in my country, I had to get these youths stands on their own.
When we started working with this issue, It took a lot of effort for us to be able to change the scenario. Society was not ready to think of drug addicts in a positive way and the struggle was real.
A vision of Sano Paila
Sano Paila started off with an ambitious target. We contacted a widely known drug user who had an image of being a “godfather” amongst local drug addicts in the area. It took the team about a year to convince him to join our recovery process but when he did, many others followed in his steps. My wish is not only to get them over addiction but also make them a part of developing the nation.
We still struggle with acceptance levels of families and society, but we accept the challenge. We are moving forward to meet our vision. Given the opportunity and support, people do change. And, I am moving forward with my trust in the goodness of people.