Sunday, May 31, 2015

Kathmandu-Eugene Sister City Committee: Taking a Trip Down Memory Lane

Dr Rabin Man Shakya
Former Secretary of the Executive Committee
Kathmandu-Eugene Sister City Committee, Kathmandu, Nepal

Former mayor of Eugene, Oregon Mr Les Anderson had paid an official visit to Kathmandu in 1975. Nepal was still in the grip of the authoritarian Panchayat system. Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) was then known as Kathmandu Nagar Panchayat (KNP). It was during mayor Anderson's official visit to Kathmandu that a memorandum of understanding on establishing sister-city relationship between Kathmandu and Eugene was reached upon.

Kathmandu's mayor at that time was late Juju Bhai Rajbhandari who was the acting Pradhan Pancha of the Kathmandu Nagar Panchayat. Anyway, the memorandum of understanding on establishing sister-city relationship between Kathmandu and Eugene was signed by Les Anderson and Juju Bhai Rajbhandari.

Dr Rabin Man Shakya and his family at the Miteri Garden on the premises of Eugene City office,  Eugene, Oregon.  Naveena Shakya (standing on the left) was also a member of the executive committee of the Kathmandu-Eugene Sister City Committee (1992-2002) in Nepal.                                     (Photo: Daya Shakya)
I have had the honour of serving as Secretary of the executive committee of Kathmandu-Eugene Sister City Committee (KESCC) from 1992 to 2002 for ten years. It goes without saying the KESCC is under the Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC). The president of the KESCC was Venerable Vichhu Maitri.

Shortly after the formation of the sister-city committee in Kathmandu in 1992, a big 10-member friendly delegation of the Eugene-Kathmandu Sister City Committee headed by the then chair person of Eugene City Council Dr Shawn Boles, visited Nepal. Daya Shakya, the then president of Eugene-Kathmandu Sister City Committee was also a member of the US sister-city delegation. Our Kathmandu committee had hosted a dinner reception in honour of the Eugene delegation at Hotel Yak and Yeti with a  cultural program. I remember popular Nepali singer Prabesh Man Shakya stole the show while dancer Charan Shrestha did a fabulous performance of classical and traditional Nepalese dances. And I still remember my two year-old son Ranjan Shakya had danced with the American guests that evening.

Meanwhile, our committee's delegation headed by the then Deputy Mayor of KMC Nabindra Raj Joshi had visited Eugene and other US cities in 1993 as per the invitation of Eugene-Kathmandu Sister City Committee. The other members of the delegation were our president Vichhu Maitri and Dr Shree Shaha.

The launching of Safa tempos in Kathmandu back in 1990s  was inter-connected with the activities of  Eugene's sister-city leaders like Dr Peter Moulton and Marylin Cohen of Global Resources Institute (GRI).

Likewise, the Eugene sister city  committee had provided financial assistance for launching scholarships to 22 girls of Siddhi Pokhari High School in Pokhari village of eastern Nepal. The project that started in 1990 lasted until 1996 and was instrumental in consolidating female education in conservative eastern Nepal.

Likewise, Eugene-Kathmandu Sister City Committee has also provided help in power systems for health clinics in Nepal and waste management and recycling.

Meanwhile, EKSCC has also been able to raise $32,000 as help to the earthquake victims in Nepal. As far as I remember, the contributions and help of EKSCC were applauded by the then mayor of KMC and other top KMC officials. Besides, EKSCC has won accolades from a lot of people in Nepal.

By the time, the second big delegation from Eugene came to Kathmandu in 2000 AD to mark the 25th anniversary of the sister-city ties between Kathmandu and Eugene, our committee already had a new president - Sunil Shakya, a noted hotel entrepreneur. But I was still working as the Secretary of the executive committee of the Kathmandu-Eugene Sister City Committee. And the mayor of Kathmandu was flamboyant Keshav Sthapit.

A dinner reception was organized in honour of the Eugene delegation at the official residence of the Kathmandu mayor at Lazimpat. Besides, the delegation took part in some cultural and artistic activities at Babar Mahal Revisited as well. Likewise, the committee president Sunil Shakya also hosted a dinner reception in honour of the delegation at his Kathmandu Guest House, Thamel.

It is to be noted that the US recognized Nepal on April 27, 1947 when Joseph C. Satterthwaite presented a letter to His late Majesty King Tribhuvan from late US president Harry S. Truman. The diplomatic relations between Nepal and the United States of America was established on Feb 16, 1948 and we can say that the trajectory of the sister-city ties between Kathmandu and Eugene is a good part of broader Nepal-US friendly relations.

Nepal today is in deep political and socio-economic turmoil. Kathmandu just like other cities of Nepal was left in lurch without any mayor for about 20 years.

Meanwhile, a KMC delegation visited Eugene in May, 2012 in connection with the issue of partnering in waste management sector. Kedar Adhikari, a former chief employee of KMC, who headed the delegation, was mistakenly referred to as the mayor of Kathmandu in a news story published by The Register Guard, a newspaper from Eugene. A mayor is an elected official, but Adhikari was just an employee appointed by the government.

By the way, Eugene is the only sister city in the US with which Kathmandu has the sister-city relations. When the sister city relations between Kathmandu and Eugene was established in 1975, the number of the Nepalese living in the US in general and in Oregon in particular was very negligible.

As a matter of fact, a remarkable event in the history of sister city relations between Kathmandu and Eugene was the installation of Nepali style 'stone spout' (Dhunge Dhara) on the premises of the Eugene City Council garden, called as 'Miteri Bagaicha' (Friendship Garden). It is a matter of great satisfaction that this scribe was at the Miteri Bagaicha twice.

In fact, the people-to-people contact between the people of Kathmandu and Eugene, Oregon dates back to 1955. Although a group of eight Nepalese scholars Trailokya Nath Uprety, Krishna Raj Aryal, Bhuvan Lal Joshi and so on were the first Nepalese to embark on educational odyssey at the University of Oregon in Eugene in June, 1955, they all returned to Nepal in 1956 after successfully completing their Masters Degree at the University.

Anyway, the history of Nepalese immigrating to the US is not very old, comparing to the people from other countries. But the process of globalization and global migration have definitely a tremendous impact on the Nepalese people too. In fact, the number of Nepalese people who immigrated to the US started to increase after the US government launched the Diversity Visa lottery. Today, there are approximately 1,000 people of Nepalese origin in Oregon alone, majority of them living in Portland and its periphery including in Eugene. It is a matter of great satisfaction that some community leaders of the Nepalese living in Oregon are in constant touch with the activists of the Eugene-Kathmandu Sister City Committee in Eugene.

It is to be noted that the sister cities are working across the world to promote and enhance cultural and commercial relations, and to encourage trade and tourism between the different cities. Although the campaign of sister cities was launched after the Second World War to consolidate friendship among cities across the world, in the US, sister city drive kicked off only in 1956 when President Eisenhour launched a people-to-people diplomacy. I am so proud that I was a part of the sister-city activities spanning over ten years.

*Shakya who is the former associate editor of the The Rising Nepal  is Advisor of Nepaa Chhen, a non-profit in Portland and  is also State Education Director, NRNA-USA Oregon Chapter, Portland, USA.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Earthquake Coverage and Journalism

Dr. Rabin Man Shakya
State Education Director, NRN NCC USA, Oregon chapter,
Former Associate Editor,  The Rising Nepal.

To be a real, truthful and honest journalist has always been a challenging job. The apocalyptic disaster  of April 25 has proved to be a big humanitarian crisis for Nepal. It posed a major challenge for the government and the mainstream political parties of Nepal.

As Nepal faced a catastrophe of apocalyptic proportions, the government's move of aid delivery and disaster management are going on at a snail's pace. The Nepalese people are frustrated with their government not without reason.

The challenges facing the journalists covering the post-earthquake issues are formidable. A basic tenet of journalism is to report all sides of a story - no matter how ugly or difficult. If there are heroes doing great job to the quake-affected people, they should be prominently highlighted by the journalists in the media.

Journalists have challenging job  to make sure the financial and other assistance pouring from friendly countries are moving in the right direction, make sure help is reaching the really hard-hit people of the Kathmandu valley as well as remote districts.

Already, there are news stories in the mainstream media and in the digital journalism about the protests and demonstration of Nepalese people against the wrong approach and slow pace of aid delivery.

Obviously, going by the views of the people from the social media sites, much of the rising disdain for the government has to do with the perception among media, social media and the public of the callous and inept handling of the disaster management.

 No wonder, the peoples' frustration with the Nepal government over the slow distribution mechanism   of financial help to the affected people is palpable from the pages of the social media. As the custodian of democracy and rule of law, journalists should always be vigilant enough to point out irregularities in distribution of aid to the needy and affected people.

The government and its ministers have been castigated for moving too slowly to help people affected by the quake.The main political parties have lost the confidence of the people and their credibility.

Journalists should be able to play a role of a bridge between the government and the people in this hour of big calamity There is no doubt that the earthquake on April 25 was the country's worst catastrophe.The government and the mainstream political parties should  understand the need to avert social and economic catastrophe that may arise in the event the aid distribution, is not carried out in an effective and honest way, and effective and honest strategies are not implemented.

Believe me, a lot of important journalism related to the earthquake and other disasters may begin with the  news stories about the ordeal of the affected people. If some affected people get the much-needed help because of a pen of a journalist, the journalist can be called himself a hero. That is to say, journalists' pen should be used in such a way as to boost the morale and confidence of the quake-hit people.

Horrific earthquake and after-shocks certainly have an impact on perceptions and perspectives of the people. The media cover them intensively, which is only right. But sometimes news stories business  is not blameless. The news stories about the quake issues should be accurate and balanced and should not play with the sensitivities and vulnerabilites of the affected people.

Media coverage of post-earthquake situation should be honest, unbiased and balanced. Well, hard news about the earthquakes is over. News and news analysis  on the post-earthquake issues are drawing extensive coverage not only in the national media of Nepal but  in the international media as well.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Is Al Jazeera America a Bit of a Damp Squib?

Rabin Man Shakya
Former Associate Editor, The Rising Nepal

When Al Jazeera America was launched on August 30,  2013, it occurred to me that the scenario of new world information order is changing fast in the age of globalization and that finally a TV channel - owned by Al Jazeera Media  Network, funded by the ruling family of Qatar - is making inroads into millions of US homes.

Well, Al Jazeera America which was launched amid much fanfare about two years ago hiring creme de la creme of American television journalism is in turmoil today,  judging by the news stories in the mainstream newspapers. Meanwhile, the crisis and turmoil in Al Jazeera America was culminated by the ouster of its powerful chief executive officer Ehab Al Shihabi recently.

The reality of American television journalism is that the polls, ratings and views, not quality, merit and excellence determine the destiny of the TV channels and TV programs.

Meanwhile, with a news story under the headline "Turmoil and Exodus Rattle Al Jazeera Network" on May 6, 2015, The New York Times reported:"Almost two years later, the ratings have not come, nor have the profits. The station has been a nonfactor in news, drawing about 30,000 viewers a night."

The New York Times story went on: "To make matters worse in the last week, a lawsuit and an exodus of top executives have brought to the surface a series of grievances that employees say reflects a deep dysfunction in management of the newsroom, undermining the network's mission."

Well, Al Jazeera America or Al Jazeera may have some weaknesses. News reports suggested that the newsroom of the Al Jazeera America was in total "disarray behind the scenes, a view echoed by almost a dozen current and former employees interviewed."

It is to be noted that during the crisis in Egypt, nearly two dozen journalists of Al Jazeera quit after claiming the network told them to provide favorable coverage to ousted Egyptian president Mohammad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Likewise, former Al Jazeera journalists claim that the network had biased coverage in favour of the rebels in Syria's prolonged civil war. These are just the tip of the iceberg.

Al Jazeera America is the successor to Current TV that Qatar regime bought from Al Gore in January, 2013 for about $ 500 million. And although the channel is available in about 43 million households, it is drawing about meager 30,000 viewers a night.

According to media analysts, even though Al Jazeera America has access to the Al Jazeera's 60 global correspondents, 76 per cent of its coverage emanated from Washington DC or New York city.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Earthquake in Nepal and the Social Media

Dr Rabin Man Shakya
State Education Director, NRN NCC USA, Oregon chapter,
Former Associate Editor,  The Rising Nepal.

I was  both humbled as well proud to be part of a fundraising for earthquake victims in Nepal launched in Portland, USA by International Open Friendship Taekwondo Championship (IOFTC) at the initiatives of people like Diwakar Maharjan and Sita Rai of Hollywood Taekwondo School. Likewise,  my spouse Naveena Shakya and daughter Palistha Shakya also took part at a  candle light vigil organized by Mercy Corps recently in downtown Portland in memory of quake victims in Nepal. The candle light vigil was attended by hundreds of Nepalese and Americans in Portland.

Earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, volcanoes and tornadoes etc are natural disasters which play havoc on the lives of the people and nations. Recently, the powerful earthquake in Nepal with 7.8 magnitude has claimed the lives of more than 8,200 people so far.

At a time when people in Nepal are still confronting the after-shocks, thousands of people becoming homeless and facing unimaginable agonies, the Nepalese diaspora across the world including the  Non-Resident Nepalese Association (NRNA) are sincerely striving to help the earthquake-hit people of Nepal. Equally overwhelming was the help and aid provided by the friendly nations.

Meanwhile, the Nepalese blogosphere and social media sites were abuzz with news, information, photos, YouTube and other visuals related to the devastation of the earthquake. Social media is fast changing the perspectives and lifestyles of the people across the world. So many Facebook friends and relatives in Nepal have been marked as safe giving a sigh of relief to the Nepalese living abroad. This is also a new technological innovation.

But it is also true we are not seeing a lot of original materials on social media because much of the information on these sites originate from mainstream media. However, it goes without saying that we are seeing much more live debate in the social media about the news and views published and broadcast in the mainstream media.

Just ten years ago, before the advent of social media, the mainstream media (newspapers, radio and TV channels) had the monopoly over news and information. Not any more. Today more than ever, the social media has become more ubiquitous and omnipresent than the mainstream media. As a matter of fact, the mainstream media has, somehow, been eclipsed by social media and digital journalism.

Of course, mainstream media and social media have some kind of symbiotic relationship. News organizations are in the early days of figuring out how to most effectively use social media for their news stories. Today mainstream newspapers and TV channels are profusely using the quotes from the Facebook and Twitter as the important source of information. Well,  recent experiences have demonstrated that the social media is the most effective medium in showing the world the devastating consequences of the natural catastrophe and disasters like the one in Nepal.

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