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Community Networks 7 April 2022

Connecting the Uprooted and Overlooked in Nepal 

Naveed Haq
By Naveed HaqRegional Infrastructure and Connectivity Director

Seven years after the devastating Gorkha Earthquake in Nepal, it’s unclear how many people are still uprooted. The estimated number of Nepalis internally displaced by the earthquake range from 800,000 to 3.7 million. Among them are families that have been relocated to the village of Laharepauwa, a hilly and remote area near the Nepal-China border. They are living in makeshift corrugated tin shelters with poor access to infrastructure and essential services, including connectivity. Many young men from the village have been forced to migrate to cities or abroad for work, leaving their families behind. 

makeshift corrugated tin shelters between mountains

The internally displaced in Uttargaya are still living in makeshift corrugated tin shelters.

Laharepauwa village is located in Ward No. 5 of Uttargaya Rural Municipality. Up until November 2021, the 600 villagers had limited Internet access. They were struggling to get essential information, communicate with loved ones, and access basic services—setbacks that have been especially challenging since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. But a community network they established with support from the Nepal Internet Foundation and the Internet Society changed that. 

This community network initiative was led by Bikram Shrestha, founder and president of Nepal Internet Foundation. He’s been instrumental in establishing and steering the Internet Society Nepal Chapter over the past 15 years. With a Beyond the Net grant the chapter received from the Internet Society Foundation, he has helped establish three community networks in the aftermath of the Gorkha Earthquake.

During one of my travels, I learned about the plight of internally displaced persons in Uttargaya, and I made a commitment to help improve the lives and build the resilience of these uprooted communities.
Bikram Shrestha, Founder and President, Nepal Internet Foundation

Shrestha believes community networks have the potential to broaden opportunities for displaced people to improve their own lives. For Uttargaya, connectivity was especially needed for students during school closures. Access to the Internet allowed them to keep learning

Planning for Sustainability from the Start 

Learning from past community networks in Nepal, Shrestha knew they must be sustainable. Mahabir Pun, an Internet Hall of Fame inductee and winner of the Ramon Magsaysay Award, shared that they require ownership from the community. Because of this gap, only about half of the community networks he helped established in Nepal are still in operation today. As a result, Nepal Internet Foundation focused on ensuring the sustainability of the Uttargaya community network from the start. 

They appled Nepal Internet Foundation’s strategies for community network sustainability, including: 

  • Local government buy-in and engagement. 
  • Local community training to operate, maintain, and use the community network. 
  • Local community engagement to agree on a governance structure for the community network. 

Local Government Buy-in Is Key 

The Uttargaya Rural Municipality has five wards. At the start of the initiative and throughout, Nepal Internet Foundation engaged the Chief Administrative Officer of Uttargaya and all five ward chairpersons in several rounds of meetings. They were briefed on the initiative and consulted on installing, operating, and maintaining the community network.

Internet access is more important than ever today. Students will be able to learn during school closure and local businesses can market their products globally, enabling our community to thrive.
Arjun Khadka, Chief Administrative Officer, Uttargaya Rural Municipality

All five of the ward chairpersons wanted to have the community network established in their area, but there was collective agreement to prioritize Ward No. 5, where many internally displaced people are located. After many conversations with the local government officials, they decided to support the initiative. They even offered a centrally located building for free to house the network equipment and to create a hub for villagers to use, with three connected computers, a printer, and a scanner. To resolve a local issue of intermittent availability of electricity, the community, with the help from the government, installed solar panels at the hub to power the equipment. 

People installing a solar panel on a roof (top images), people sitting in front of the computers in a public open space

The Community Network Hub, a free space provided by the local government for villagers to access the Internet.

Developing Local Capacity to Build, Operate, Maintain, and Use the Community Network 

The Nepal Internet Foundation worked with villagers and trained them to build, maintain, and operate the community network using Wi-Fi technology. They chose Wi-FI because there were no regulatory barriers to use the 2.4GHz and 5GHz spectrum frequencies.

To promote the use of the Internet, Nepal Internet Foundation installed Nepali-language educational content on the computers for students, and trained 17 women entrepreneurs on how to grow their businesses online using various platforms and applications like social media, e-commerce, and online payments. 

Contains 4 photos: 
on the top one people extend a ladder; on three bottom ones (from left to right): a person earthing, a person on a ladder installing a router on pole, a person setting up the network in a room

Top photo: Villagers extend a ladder for installation of a router on a pole. Bottom images (from left to right): Earthing to protect equipment and network, installation of the router on pole, and setting up the network in the Community Network Hub.

When the villagers apply local innovation to extend the ladder so that the router can be installed on a high pole, it clearly shows they are taking charge to connect to the Internet.
Naveed Haq, Regional Infrastructure and Connectivity Director, Internet Society

While a number of men from the villages have migrated to cities and abroad to seek employment, the majority of women in Uttargaya work in agriculture and hand loom traditional Dhaka fabric and products.

The training program, organized in collaboration with the Women Entrepreneur Association of Nepal, focused on improving the women’s digital literacy and introducing them to online applications that can help them improve and grow their businesses.

Interviews with women entrepreneurs

Community Engagement and Ownership Are Key to Sustaining Community Networks 

In addition to providing a solar power system and computer and network equipment, the initiative also covered a year of payment to the Internet service provider for a broadband Internet connection. 

To help sustain the community network and ensure that funds are available to pay for Internet service and equipment maintenance, Nepal Internet Foundation worked with the community to agree on a governance structure for the community network. They established a committee to manage the community network. It’s made up of the chairperson of Ward No. 5, who serves as president, and community representatives serving as vice president, secretary, and treasurer. 

What Next? 

The Nepal Internet Foundation will continue to stay in contact with the community at Uttargaya. They’ll help with technical troubleshooting and support the sustainability of the community network. Nepal Internet Foundation also wants to mobilize resources for community networks in the other wards of Uttargaya. They’ve been working with Nepali online content developers to develop more online educational content in the local language as new variants of COVID-19 continue to prevent the full opening of schools. 

Years after a devastating earthquake, connectivity found its way to displaced people. The community network brings the chance for a new beginning. 

Learn more about community networks and how to get involved.
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Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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