A Medieval-Modern Awareness Informs An Essential Social Practice: Interview with Manoj Giri (Chairman, Alternative Volunteer)

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A Medieval-Modern Awareness Informs An Essential Social Practice: Interview with Manoj Giri (Chairman, Alternative Volunteer)


1) How does Alternative Volunteer plan and implement its voluteering and cultural tourism activities?

Okay, as I have some experience in running volunteering programs in Nepal via Alternative Volunteer where volunteering is a part of tourism. In accordance with international practices, it is known as voluntourism, cultural exchange or ethical tourism. We can give the sphere any name based on the nature of its practices but it is an integral part of cultural tourism. Volunteering itself is not separate from or an isolated practice within tourism. It stems together with cultural tourism.

Alternative Volunteer has specific plans and implementation ideas to recognize, acknowledge and identify volunteerism and volunteering as cultural tourism. We are planning awareness-raising activities via media publicity, workshops and seminars. During my meetings with Governmental authorities in Nepal, it is evident that there is confusion regarding volunteering practices. There is a prevalent misconception that volunteering is service without selfishness. The term "VOLUNTEERING" was practiced as a social phenomenon and it was, rather, service to society without any selfishness. Due to wholesale commercialization of Nepali social practices, its nature has been twisted and commercialized. Now 'volunteering' has also changed into 'voluntourism'. We are planning to shape the essential practice of volunteerism at the policy level as 'cultural tourism' practices.


2) In macro terms, what are the seen and unseen benefits and pitfalls in cultural tourism and voluntourism?

Cultural Tourism involves a broad spectrum; we have been practicing it over a long period of time. In the near future, Nepal's tourism is projected to grow from eight hundred thousand to two million. You can analyze the Chinese tourist arrivals since 2011 when it was approximately 68000; in 2014 it grew to 178000 per annum. Similarly, Indian tourist arrivals also grew significantly. Due to direct air connectivity with Europe and other countries, Nepal is going to be a ‘crowed country of tourists’.

To engage more tourists in Nepal, we must divert tourism’s dependency on the Himalayan Region to other cultural interests. This creates new jobs in the tourism market. Tourists may have other points of Interest but are limited to adventure tourism. Nepali entrepreneurs have bargaining opportunities because of this massive influx. Opportunities will also be extended to different ethnics groups. Mass publicity is, thus, generated for National Tourism. So, many seen benefits exist within and for Nepal. In terms of pitfalls, foreign entrants gain access to facts and values that result in infringements of Intellectual Property Rights. Our weaknesses may become opportunities to exploit our problems and vulnerabilities. Nepal must learn from this and must strengthen the Cultural Tourism Policy to protect our cultural capital, assets and norms.

3) As a changing traditional society, how does Bhaktapur fit into the larger paradigm of the Nepali way of life and culture?
Bhaktapur is the only city where you can see Nepali medieval society and social ideals. UNESCO has declared Bhaktapur Durbar Square as a Cultural Heritage Site which has great meaning from a tourism perspective. Locally-made bricks are now used extensively instead of blacktopped roads across the city. Houses built before 500 years are still inhabited; public resthouses and shades (the pati) and along with the buildings possess a strong medieval design, history and character.

As a people, Nepal must make conscious efforts to preserves its uniqueness and heritage. Nepali society is changing and, similarly, Bhaktapur is also on the road to change and to accommodate the modern way of life. But, Bhaktapur has maintained its unique character as well as lifestyle and culture. The nature and pace of change is minimal because of its special settlements and landscape. External hindrances are also unable to cross or alter this unique character.


4) What forms and functions do Bhaktapur's handicraft traditions take in present-day Nepal?

Bhaktapur is very popular and well-known for locally-made handicrafts. Most people living in Bhaktapur are from a farming background and operate local businesses. They are skilled at locally-available work. In the future, Bhaktapur can potentially be a hub for the Handicraft maker and for the Makers’ Movement. Many exporters and buyers from the US, Europe, Australia are attracted to Bhaktapur’s crafts which is defined by purity in making - the current scenario evidences regularity in the future too.  The importance of Handicrafts has increased and acquired more value because of modern manufacturing goods for use.

5) How does the Public Private Partnership (PPP) ideal inform and operate in Bhaktapur's Handicrafts Sector?

PPP holds relevance in Handicraft production in Bhaktapur. I conducted a PPP case study in Dhulikhel on urban environment management practices in 2009. An unexpected finding that emerged from the study is that, in the present context, PPP is not a suitable model for success in Public Park Management and in the Hotel Sector. I found that, under the Public Private Partnership scheme, the Public Park was excessively exploited and hotel businesses suffered due to the Worker's Union putting unnecessary demands.

However, in Handicraft production, the PPP model can be successfully applied because of the inherent nature of the practices and crafts. The handicraft business worker and the owners are usually the same people. The owner himself/herself is the worker. The Nepal Government must initiate well-thought out PPP initiatives and measures for Handcraft manufacturing in Bhaktapur.



Position: Writer

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