All our yesterdays
Photographs taken by Peace Corps volunteers a half-century ago offer a stark reminder of how much Nepal has changed in 50 years
Nepal was one of the first countries to request American Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) after the program was announced by US President John F Kennedy. The first volunteers arrived in Nepal in 1962, and many groups of PCVs followed. They were sent to live and work for two years in many towns and villages throughout the country. About 3,800 PCVs have served in Nepal and most had cameras to take pictures to send back to their families in the US or to keep as personal mementos. There are currently 68 PCVs serving in Nepal, all working in intensive agriculture and nutrition education.
Doug Hall was a PCV in Nepal in 1968-1969. A few years ago he digitised some of his old Nepal photos and posted them on Facebook. A few Nepalis commented that he should preserve those photos because they had historic importance. He then realised that hundreds of PCVs from the early years also had photos that should be preserved. His wife Kate Rafferty Hall was also a PCV in Nepal, and together they began a project to collect, digitise and catalog as many Nepal photos from the 1962-1975 period as possible.
“We realised that there was some urgency to do this as the volunteers posted in Nepal in the 1960s are now aged 70 and older,” Hall told Nepali Times. “Some have died and their old Nepal photographs have been discarded by their heirs, thus lost to history.”
After three years of work, the archive now has over 19,000 photos from more than 120 volunteers, adding to the existing collections of period photos from Kathmandu Valley, the Ranas and Shahs, and studio photos of families from much earlier than 1962.
The unique nature of the collection that the Halls have put together is that its focus is the lives and events of typical Nepalis in towns in the Tarai, Hills and Himals from half-century ago. There are photos of tea shops, men fishing, children shepherding animals, weddings, building of bridges, Panchayat elections, mud fights during rice transplanting, families at their homes, porters carrying heavy loads, local festivals, women bringing home fodder for their animals, pujas, craftsmen making brassware, haat bazars, etc.
The collection is searchable by keyword, description, location, date and contributor. The Halls have provided Nepal Picture Library, Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya, Taragaon Museum and others with complete searchable sets of the photos.
This week Nepali Times has images from the Halls collection and more recent ones from the Internet of the same places to provide a sense of how much things have changed.
Says Hall: “Change and development may seem slow to people living in a community, and they may not realise how much their town has changed over 50 years. Old photographs can be informative and perhaps even startle the viewer.”
For the archive, visit the PC Nepal Facebook page and http:/roundsimaging.com/galleries/nepal-photo-history-contributors/contributor-display-albums/
The big change in Nepal’s mid-hills over the last 50 years has been the spread of community forestry. Pictures taken half-a-century apart by Peace Corps volunteers.
The Peace Corps came to fruition after Senator John F Kennedy delivered an impromptu speech to students at the University of Michigan in 1960 in which he challenged Americans to “break the bonds of mass misery” by volunteering one to two years in the developing world. Kennedy would be elected president, and training began for the first batch of Peace Corps volunteers at US colleges, universities and private agencies.
Nepal was one of the first countries to accept Peace Corps volunteers in 1962, and since then nearly 3,800 have served in Nepal. Despite the differencesin culture, language and economic status between Nepal and the United States, PCVs have made great strides in the area of small business development, education, health, environment and youth development. They have served in Pokhara before it was linked by highway to Kathmandu, in Janakpur and Nepalganj in the Tarai, from Ilam in the east to remote Humla in the west.
“Our true legacy can be found in the relationships made between the volunteers and the Nepalis they came to know, live and work with. These bonds of friendship and mutual respect produce a better Nepal and a better U.S.,” says Troy Kofroth, Director of the Peace Corps in Nepal.
The Peace Corps continues to build upon its agricultural development program through new volunteers by focusing on four activities: soil management and improvement, bio-intensive gardening, fruit and nut tree production and nutrition education. In addition to these activities, it intends to put additional emphasis on gender and youth participation.
The program was suspended abruptly in September 2004 after two improvised explosives were set off by the Maoists at the US Information Centre in Gyaneswor. The Embassy immediately withdrew all volunteers from Nepal, deeming it unsafe for them here. In 2012, six years after the peace agreement was signed, the Peace Corps returned to Nepal to work mainly in nutrition and agriculture.
“We shall return”, Naresh Newar
End of an era, Marike Hippe