UMN 50th Anniversary

The work of United Mission to Nepal began in 1954 with an invitation from His Majesty’s Government of Nepal to open a hospital in Tansen and to start women’s and children’s welfare clinics in the Kathmandu valley. The purpose of UMN was defined as Christian witness, development work and training of Nepalis in professional skills and leadership. Education work was added in 1957, and engineering and industrial development followed in the 1960s, with pioneering work in building hydroelectric plants. Rural development work was added in the early 1980s, since when UMN has acquired a reputation for effective approaches to community development.

Interserve (Bible and Medical Missionary Fellowship in 1954) has been part of UMN from the beginning. It is not possible here to describe the contributions that hundreds of Interserve Partners have made through UMN. Instead, here are brief insights into the lives of just three of them.

Dr Pam Dodson served with UMN from 1958 to 1975. In 1970 she came to know Devi Prasad: that was the year his village acquired a grain mill, and Devi rushed with the other children to watch it operate. His scarf got caught in the machinery, and he was instantly pulled in. When he woke up in Tansen Mission Hospital, he saw to his horror that one arm and one leg had been amputated; fifteen days later, half his remaining leg had to be amputated. His family had always been too poor to send him to school, but after two years of rehabilitation Devi was desperate to study. With Pam’s help he completed seven years at school, and finally, after many rejections, secured a job as a schoolteacher in his own village. ‘Compassion and courage have given me a new life,’ says Devi.

John Finlay has served with UMN since 1973. At that time the forests of Nepal were being rapidly consumed for firewood. John pioneered the development of bio-gas plants, which produce methane gas from a manure/water mix that is added daily to an underground tank. The slurry from the plants provides an excellent, odourless fertiliser. Today there are over a hundred thousand bio-gas plants in Nepal, and over fifty small companies employing villagers in their construction. Deforestation is curbed, more homes have fertiliser, and health is improved.

David McConkey taught science at UMN’s Gandaki Boarding School (GBS) from 1976 to 1985. Sita Tiwari studied at GBS, though as the youngest of four children born into a farming family she had never dreamed that she would be able to go to school. When she was seven, a school opened nearby and her father succumbed to her pleas to attend. She excelled there, and the headmaster entered her for a scholarship exam to attend GBS. The day she was accepted she wept with joy as she ran home to tell her parents. After receiving the ‘Best All-Round Student of the Year’ award, Sita went on to complete a degree in agriculture. Today she works for an agricultural organisation serving marginalised people in mid-west Nepal.

Today In 2001, UMN began a Strategic Change Process that culminated in a Strategic Plan 2003-2008. This Plan builds on UMN’s decades of work and experience in Nepal to respond in new and different ways to the changed environment here. Since the 1970s, infrastructure and coverage of basic public services such as health and education have improved, and people are living longer, but poverty and hunger have increased in rural areas. The pace of change has accelerated in the last five to ten years. Since 1996, an armed conflict has ravaged the Nepali countryside and caused deep wounds among the people. The deteriorating civil situation due to the insurgency, while presenting many challenges (including reducing project activities or closing some projects), also presents opportunities to work differently and in new areas of work.

The growing Christian community in Nepal provides increasing opportunities for partnership. UMN wants to increase its cooperation with Nepali Christian groups, learning from them and building their capacity to be involved in holistic mission. Nepali Christians have an important role to play to promote peace, reconciliation and social development in Nepal, and to bring hope to individuals and communities in despair.

Tomorrow UMN’s Strategic Plan can be summarised in the form of eight Strategic Directions, under two headings, that will guide UMN over the next five to ten years:

What UMN will do – addressing the root causes of poverty; addressing injustice; peace and reconciliation; and relief.

How UMN will do it – through partnerships; through relationship with the Christian community in Nepal; through capacity-building; and through contributing to national policy development.

These Strategic Directions will be realised through seven Areas of Work:

1) Food security. The major strategic challenges for food security in Nepal are to enhance incomes of the poor, reduce vulnerability to disasters, and increase availability of food in hill and mountain areas. Potential responses include: social mobilisation and advocacy to improve local governance; research and training that is relevant to poor farmers; food for work programmes linked to income generation; and support for migrants.

2) Women and children. Women and children are disadvantaged in Nepali society, and their situation gets even worse in times of political unrest, economic decline or natural disaster. Potential methodologies in this area include: mobilising local health workers as ‘safe pregnancy advocates’; child-to-child health education; technical training to health service providers; and involvement in national policy development.

3) Education. Potential methodologies here include: enhancing the quality of teaching in primary and secondary schools through training teachers and school managers; facilitating community involvement in school management committees; improving the water and sanitation facilities in schools; and facilitating non-formal education for adults and children who have not received a school education.

4) Peace and conflict transformation. UMN believes that the gospel can heal relationships and restore hope, so UMN wants to work with the Nepali Christian community in this area. Awarenessraising, training and networking will be key elements in the work.

5) Relief. Nepal is prone to floods, landslides and earthquakes. The armed conflict in recent years has forced villagers to flee their homes to seek refuge in urban areas. When these situations arise in its cluster areas, UMN wants to respond by meeting basic needs in ways that encourage interdependent communities and do not undermine development.

6) HIV/Aids. Without effective intervention, Aids may become the leading cause of death in the 15-49- year-old population by 2010. UMN may: support awareness-raising activities; work with churches in family life teaching; support community and home-based care; and promote advocacy for those affected by HIV.

7) Enterprise support. Work is crucial for poverty alleviation. UMN will concentrate its enterprise support in rural communities, on small familybased enterprises that help individual households to survive and mediumscale businesses that can create jobs. Methodologies will include: training in business management, technical skills and marketing; microfinance; and advocacy for disadvantaged groups.

UMN is changing, as you can see; but it looks forward to continuing its long-standing partnership with Interserve.