From my desk to yours: Kala Rai from Nepal
Posted: 17 June 2020
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are sharing the experiences of Australia Awards alumni and scholars while they navigate a new normal.
Whether working or studying from home, schooling children while also juggling professional duties, or providing frontline COVID-19 support, these scholars and alumni open up about their struggles, silver linings and dreams for the future.
The reflections below come from alumna Kala Rai in Nepal. Through an Australia Awards Scholarship, Kala completed a Master of Development Studies and Culture Change from Macquarie University.
Can you tell us about your current role, what you are up to and how you are contributing to your country’s development?
“I am currently working as a Gender and Social Inclusion Specialist in the Electricity Transmission Line Project (ETP) implemented by Millennium Challenge Account Nepal, a Government of Nepal agency under the Ministry of Finance. Large construction activities involve risks associated with compensation and resettlement, migrant labour, child labour, forced labour, labour supplied from third parties, and human trafficking. In my role, I review contractual documents to ensure that contractors are aware of these risks and have mitigation measures in place. I am also preparing project impact assessments and risk mitigation plans to safeguard the community, particularly disadvantaged people. Through utilising my expertise, I work towards safeguarding the interests of social groups who are vulnerable due to implementation of the ETP. I am also working on creating opportunities for marginalised groups to benefit from this project.”
How did your Australia Awards Scholarship help you get to this point in your career?
“I received my Australia Awards Scholarship in 2013 and completed a Master of Development Studies and Culture Change from Macquarie University. My Australia Awards experience provided me with an opportunity to learn from highly qualified professors and make friends with people from diverse backgrounds with common interests in equity and justice. My time in Australia helped to build my ideology for the contemporary development sector, and also showed me how I can contribute to improving the wellbeing of vulnerable and marginalised groups in Nepal. The most significant knowledge I gained from my Master’s degree was an introduction to the discipline of ‘Development Anthropology’, which has guided my career as an applied practitioner.”
“My time in Australia helped to build my ideology for the contemporary development sector, and also showed me how I can contribute to improving the wellbeing of vulnerable and marginalised groups in Nepal.”
How are you finding the ‘working from home’ experience?
“After more than a month of lockdown, I learnt to enjoy my ‘work from home’ experience. I am now balancing my time between office work and physical activities. I can exercise or do yoga during my breaks from work, and even take a power nap after lunch if I need it. All these activities help me to filter my thought processes and have made me more productive.
“That said, the first two weeks of the lockdown were difficult for me. I was adapting to a new work culture and it felt unfamiliar; many things were new and uncertain. With time, however, I got used to working from home. Because I live alone, the thing I have appreciated most during this period is the emotional support I have received from my work colleagues, who have kept in touch with me though personal calls and messages. Most importantly, I appreciate the effort put in by my office to arrange my travel back to my hometown. I would not have been aware of this level of kindness if we were still engaged in normal routine and not in a lockdown.”
What are you doing (outside of your work) to look after yourself and keep your mind active?
“Because I am living in Kathmandu without my family, being confined to my home means I have time to do anything I wish. I am mostly engaged in self-care activities, such as yoga, intermittent fasting, and trying new recipes for healthy cuisines from around the globe. I am also trying to learn to make foods such as mayonnaise, tofu and pickles. I often talk to my family and friends; we discuss COVID-19 updates and how to be safe and prepared. We listen to each other’s problems and support each other. In addition, I have been writing love letters to my husband. All of these activities have been good coping mechanisms for me.
“After more than a month of lockdown, I learnt to enjoy my ‘work from home’ experience. I am now balancing my time… I am [also] engaged in self-care activities”
“My routine also involves housecleaning and taking care of indoor plants. I have even had time to get around to tasks I had been putting off. I’m going through photos on my phone and computer and filing them properly. I am also finishing blog posts that I began long ago but never completed.
“I am reading books and sometimes take part in online book reviews and other discussions relevant to my interests. At other times, I am watching movies and TV series for light entertainment—nothing too serious or heavy. I recently watched a South Korean TV series, ‘Crash Landing on You’, which is a romantic drama about a South Korean woman who accidentally crash-lands in North Korea. I also finished reading a memoir, ‘Without You, There is No Us’ by Suki Kim, which is about her English language teaching experience in North Korea.
“Meanwhile, I am participating in social campaigns such as the Declutter Challenge, an initiative by Anushka Shrestha (Miss Nepal 2019) in collaboration with the No Thanks Minimalism Movement. This challenge encourages citizens to donate reusable clothing and household items for a sustainable future. I plan to declutter my home of useful items I no longer need and donate them soon for reuse, upcycling or recycling.
“Finally, I have a passion for tea and have been enjoying brewing and photographing my range of tea varieties. On sunny weekends, I have been relishing having a late brunch, prepared and served by me for me, on my terrace surrounded by plants.”
Is there anything new you are hoping to learn while you are required to stay at home?
“For a long time I wanted to practice yoga and meditation as my everyday routine, but for various reasons it hadn’t ever happened. Now that I can’t leave the house, I have started doing yoga on a regular basis and want to take this to the next level so as to increase my flexibility and become proficient in more poses.
“I have another overdue task: launching SHARE, a community-led project that my friends and I conceived while in Australia. The project has already been implemented by my friends in Mexico, Indonesia and the US, and I want to introduce it in Nepal. The SHARE methodology is inspired by Contact Theory and Applied Anthropology; it aims to enable people to be more empathetic and be able to work together to support people from different cultures and backgrounds. My plan is to start the project by October 2020, with the hope that the pandemic will be under control by then.”
Do you have any tips to offer fellow alumni on working remotely and living well during these uncertain times?
“I suggest thinking of lockdown as a ‘forced vacation’—one with no planning and limited resources. This attitude will make you think about how you can enjoy this situation. Think of the things you have always wanted to do but have never had a chance to. Think about a book or movie that you always had on your list but never found time to read or watch. Try different recipes, plant new seeds—even check if you can make tea from plants you already have! Clean your house, especially those areas that you don’t clean regularly. Look at old photo albums, mementoes and gifts and revisit your fond memories.
“If you are with your family, do all the above activities together. If you are alone, just let your mind wander. You can always contact a friend to share your thoughts and feelings with. You can also write a ‘Things To Do After Lockdown’ list.
“That said, it is perfectly okay to not do anything, to not feel motivated, to not be productive every single day, to simply not be fine. It is okay to be inactive, it is okay to be quiet, it is okay to be sad. We all have our own story and it will take time to recover and get used to being in this difficult situation.”
“We all have our own story and it will take time to recover and get used to being in this difficult situation.”
What is something you hope to achieve either professionally or personally when the COVID-19 crisis subsides?
“I have set two goals for after COVID-19. First, I have made a plan to take a week-long forest trip next spring (March–April) in the hills of our village, Jhumlawang. After being inside the house continuously for more than a month, bombarded with online meetings and seminars, I want to be close to nature and explore the diversity of the forest with my husband. My other goal is to start SHARE in Nepal and expand it to its full potential. I want to do this because the methodology has significant relevance in our diverse society, where there are prejudices and socially-constructed taboos that result in hate, discrimination and even crimes.”