Diversity and enthusiasm: My take on Digital Nepal Conference, Janakpur

27 Apr 2017 - Nikesh Balami

As we know, things are pretty unpredictable in Nepal. Right before the Digital Nepal Conference – Janakpur, because of unfortunate and tragic events, a strike was announced. After monitoring the situation closely, talking to people, and considering the high demand from youths in the region, Code for Nepal decided that it would be OK to go forward with the conference.

I had only been to Janakpur once as a child many years ago. As someone who had not really explored the southern parts of the country, I decided to go to Janakpur despite the challenges of the strike. Frankly, my friend, Avinash, and I were both a bit nervous. However, we were also very excited.

We decided to fly on March 8. I almost did not make it to the airport on time because of heavy traffic on the road in Kathmandu. After all the hassle, when we landed safely in Janakpur, Ravi and the Code for Nepal team were there to greet us at the airport. It was so reassuring to see familiar faces. Half of the passengers who traveled on that plane were attending the conference. Isn’t that amazing?

From the airport, we took a Tuk Tuk. It was my first time riding a Tuk Tuk. On the way to the hotel, I realized how clean and beautiful Janakpur had become (Ravi says the town used to be cleaner when he was growing up there). Most importantly, the weather was perfect. Later that day, we also visited Janaki Mandir and surrounding ponds. Janakpur is such a religious and historical town. People are friendly.

That evening, there was a journalism workshop for local journalists of Janakpur. It was a normal kind of workshop, similar to ones I used to see more frequently while attending events in Kathmandu. The workshop was facilitated by Dietrich Ayala, David and Ravi Kumar Nepal, where participants learned about using technology for storytelling. But it was when the team of Accountability Lab started the discussion about Open Government, that I saw the enthusiasm of participants. They openly discussed how the concept of Open Government can be helpful for all Nepalese citizens. Some also shared problems that they are facing, which can only be solved by governments.

Since there was a strike that day, there was nothing much to expect. But thanks to Pratap Adhikari from Association of Youth Organizations Nepal (AYON) who made our night awesome. He took us on a Janakpur tour, during which we visited almost all the important temples and ponds of Janakpur. We also enjoyed watching puja happening at Ganga Sagar, and more importantly enjoying the taste of Janakpur lassi was an awesome feeling.

On the 2nd day of the conference, I joined Alisha Chettri from the Women Development Advocacy Center at the registration desk. This gave me a chance to understand how diverse the conference was going to be. Yes, diverse – which is hard to see in Kathmandu-based events. Young students, housewives, shopkeepers, journalists and community leaders were there to attend the conference. Female participants were also in a good number.

The conference started and as usual, I started snapping photos to post them on our social media account, which I believe is one of the best ways to do documentation of an event. Taking photos, listening to speakers and going Facebook Live sometimes, I was enjoying it. However, I found it interesting when participants started asking questions to presenters. This showed how enthusiastic they were. They were engaged in all presentations and panel discussions. Asking questions, sharing their views, interactions were from both sides. After all the presentations and panel discussions, a token of love was given to each presenter, and t-shirts were given to all participants. Some left the venue and the rest of us went for a group photo. Ohh, group photo and my selfie 😛

After the conference ended, we caught up with Pratap Adhikari again and went to taste Janakpur fish. Don’t know whether I should be saying it or not, but that evening I came to know that strong beer is found only in Terai districts. After enjoying the fish, we went for dinner where Ravi gave us a treat, and I must say that the food was amazing. Later that night, Dietrich and I enjoyed an omelet of a duck egg also.

I must say that my three-day-visit of Janakpur was awesome, and this time my experience was different. My contribution at Digital Nepal Conference was limited, but the conference gave me an opportunity to enjoy and interact with nice people of Janakpur. Hope this kind of event will be organized outside of the valley more frequently.