Back and better

Features Issue 129 Aug, 2012
Text by Asha Lindsay / Photo: ECS Media

The CIM Returnees project is helping avert some of the brain drain that is stunting Nepal’s development.

Brain drain or brain gain: In some ways Nepal suffers from brain drain but in other ways it is enhanced by brain gain. There are plenty of stories lamenting the brain drain but Nepal also stands to gain from its nationals who leave for education to return, in time, as specialists.

He came back from Germany with the hope of transferring some of the knowledge he picked up, to Nepal. Surendra Gautam maintains that he didn’t return for patriotic reasons, but rather, because he felt that he would be able to get a prestigious job in Nepal with his international education and exposure. Arriving back in Kathmandu in 2010, Surendra felt he had a lot of ideas and knowledge to offer Nepal.

Over the next eighteen months Surendra trooped around offices knocking on doors, literally begging for jobs. While he lived in a flat with friends, he sent his family to live with his parents because he couldn’t afford to take care of them. Volunteering kept Surendra going but he became very frustrated with his situation and thought of moving back to Germany for better opportunities and perhaps further education. Eventually Surendra came across a programme called, The Returning Experts Programme of the Centre for International Migration and Development (CIM).

Focusing their efforts on brain gain, CIM hopes to “harness the great potential of well-trained, well-educated returnees for the development of their countries of origin”. CIM is a programme funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, (BMZ) and operated by the Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and the International Placement Services (ZAV).

On applying to the programme, Surendra found that since he had already moved to Nepal he was not eligible for the benefits CIM provided. Fortunately, however, through the Nepal CIM Programme Co-ordinator, Shusmita Malla, his application was approved. With the contacts and networks Shusmita put him in touch with he was able to get a job. Surendra is now working for Welt Hunger Hilfe or, World Hunger Help as Project Co-ordinator. He is presently in the throes of building a Millennium Development Village in the Tarai focusing specifically on water and sanitation, women and community development.

After being needs-assessed, Surendra now also receives some of the other benefits which CIM provides. These include, counselling, the salary top up, networking opportunities and training sessions. “When I was struggling myself nobody helped me but when I got back up from CIM everybody was calling me,” relates Surendra. He is clearly incensed that on return to the country that he belongs to his extensive qualifications and experience did not speak for themselves. However with CIM to vouch for him, he had organisations getting in touch with him about jobs.

Having come from a good position in Germany, to no position in Nepal Surendra is conscious of the ups and downs of life, having to start again from the beginning after losing connections in Nepal when he moved to Germany. His biggest problem on return was not having networks or friends who could help him get jobs and this is where CIM stepped in to fill the gap. Despite his struggles and frustrations, Surendra maintains that there are a lot of job opportunities in Nepal but people need to care about what they do and need to be willing to struggle to get where they want to be. “It is really important to be innovative in how you find or create work for yourself” he advises. “Young people need to identify their responsibilities to their country and contribute whatever way they can. Think, ‘What should my role be in Nepal?’”

Bibek Karanjit’s advice holds a similar message, “People should absolutely come back to Nepal to work but they should keep their options open abroad as well.” According to Bibek, finding work in Nepal is incredibly tricky without well placed contacts. There are, however plenty of opportunities for those who manage to charm their way through the nepotistic system. Bibek is another CIM returnee who had always wanted to come back to Nepal to work with water in a professional capacity. “Since returning from Germany and in doing my Master’s thesis in Hydrodynamic-numerical Simulations, I see the possibilities of hydro-power in Nepal in a new light. Nepal, being the second richest country in the world in water resources, with more than 6,000 rivers and rivulets, has a hydro-power potential of 83,000 MW. Unfortunately, due to the poor economic condition of Nepal and the lack of sufficient water resources and hydro-power experts, we have only generated around 650 MW to date which is not even one percent of the total potential.” A bi-product of the potential of hydro-power is the opportunities for employment and Bibek thinks that job opportunities will keep opening up.

As a Project Engineer for Nyadi Hydro-power Ltd, a sister company to Butwal Power Company (BPC), Bibek believes the key requirements for hydro-power development in Nepal are, good government policies on hydro-power, an interest from national and international agencies to invest in hydro-power, a proper design team for each power plant to ensure money and time is efficiently spent; and careful consideration of the topography when choosing power plant sites because the risk of natural disasters is so high as the recent flash flood in Seti illustrated.

In his office, he spreads a location map of the Nyadi Hydro-power Project (NHP) out onto the floor and explains, “This is the Geographic Information System, (GIS) and it’s so much more than just a mapping out of the area we are working in, it is a database and an analysing tool. This map contains all the information for each parcel of land which needs to be bought if the construction of the power plant goes through the area, it holds all the design information on the project components and it can be used to assess how people will be affected by the construction and operation of the Nyadi Hydro-power Project.” Bibek is solely responsible for the GIS of the Nyadi Hydro-power Project and heads up the Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) which have to be undertaken to analyse how the environment of the surrounding area will be affected by the NHP.
On the civil works side of his job, he and his team give design requirements for work to consultants, checks their designs, manage the project and contractors as it is under-way and liaise with the government on the progress of the project. Bibek enjoys all aspects of working on the NHP, which, as well as water management, involves consideration for the environment, road building, disaster management and relational skills. His variety of skills enabled him to be more competitive in his application for the job at Nyadi Hydro Power Ltd. Bibek is also thankful to CIM for being an enormous help in providing him with contacts, support, finances, guidance and exposure.

Whereas Nyadi Hydro-power Ltd can be classed as a client, Hydro Lab, where Suraj Thapa is employed, is a consultancy. As a Hydro-power Consultant, Suraj builds a hydro model on his computer with the topography data stipulated by his clients. He then performs computerised tests before building a small scale physical version of the river and hydro plant at his lab. At present, Suraj is working on the Upper Seti Hydro Electric Project (USHEP) for a Japanese client. The plant he is building is designed to have a storage area for surplus water to be used when there is no rainfall. Only one plant in Nepal can store water which means there is always a lack of electricity when there is less rainfall, especially in the dry seasons. At full capacity, the plant he is modelling should be able to produce 127 MW of energy.

Similar to Bibek, Suraj had always intended on returning to Nepal post education. Wanting to be near his parents in their later life, he returned to Nepal only a year ago and found his job at the Hydro Lab himself, without too much difficulty. “The support from CIM has been the icing on the cake for me and I am very satisfied in my job. I enjoy the research, my five colleagues are like a family and my boss is happy for me to initiate a numerical modelling department in the company.” Since returning from Germany he has observed that there are indeed a lot of job opportunities in the country. He feels that Nepal needs the talent from people trained in their expertise abroad to take care of their home country. Both Bibek and Suraj recognise a misuse of the money put into Hydro-power which seems to disappear, the low salaries in Nepal and the short term outlook of a lot of villagers means that they look to their individual gain from the projects that are being implemented rather than the long term benefits that comes from developing their area.

Since his return from Germany, Ashish Gajurel has been working as a Transport and Traffic Consultant and part time lecturer at Pulchowk Engineering College. He regularly writes articles on transport and traffic for newspapers and he has just begun to visit schools in Kathmandu giving students talks on road safety. “There are no job openings in transport and traffic - you have to create them yourself. If I was only working with traffic I would have had to return to Germany by now.” In his role as consultant, Ashish specialises in reviewing the layout of the road, its spacing, slopes and other aspects which will affect the flow of traffic. Ashish came back to Nepal after ten years of education in Germany as he had always intended equipped with the tools he wanted, and has not regretted his decision.

Ashish firmly believes that hard work will bring results. He has not found work in his exact skill set here but he is satisfied, and is proud to have procured a job with no references or contacts. “People feel that there are no opportunities here in Nepal, people say that abroad is the land of opportunity but Nepal is the land of opportunity.” As with the other CIM returnees, Ashish has received support from CIM in the form of contacts and technical and financial assistance. Through his contacts at CIM he hopes to be able to work in some way with the mass media promoting ways to improve the traffic and transport in Nepal.

When asked what he saw were the fundamental steps towards developing the transport and traffic Ashish responded immediately, “Firstly, we need to manage the traffic flow by installing traffic lights at all intersections and junctions. Secondly, we need to promote the use of public transport. If public transport is cheap and reliable people will use it.” Interestingly Ashish sees the flow of traffic as a problem on the roads but says that the density of the road is not an issue. He thinks that if the traffic were to be properly managed by traffic lights there would be far fewer hold ups. In light of the road widening going on all over Kathmandu Ashish says, “With wider roads people will just buy more cars and in a few years we will be faced with the same problem. Having a car means you have status, it means you have achieved something.”

Since coming back to Germany Ashish feels that anything is possible. He has begun to visit different schools to give presentations on road safety. He asks students to consider the safest way to cross a road and to reflect on the consequences of drunk driving, or not wearing a seat belt in a car or a helmet on a bike. Traffic education in Nepal is not regarded as necessary and is not taken seriously but Ashish thinks it vital that people know how to drive safely, take precautions and be more aware of the consequences of bad driving.

The aim of CIM is to provide a platform for Nepali nationals returning to the country to help them network and find jobs. On return so many people get lost and frustrated with no networks of information or contacts within which to move. Shusmita is career minded and relates to young people’s desire to have a good job, to keep developing professionally and earning. She doesn’t think people are obliged to stay in Nepal forever to make a difference, but she does call out to people to contribute, “Come home; contribute something. You can do things on your own, under your own initiative. Stop blaming or waiting for the government: this is a country in need.” ■