The Springs of Namje: A Ten-Year Journey from the Villages of Nepal to the Halls of Congress

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Overview

A Peace Corps volunteer’s inspirational story about the power of small change
 
In The Springs of Namje, former Peace Corps volunteer Rajeev Goyal reflects on what he learned from his experiences in Namje, a small village in eastern Nepal, and on Capitol Hill. He candidly considers what qualities constitute an effective activist, and he outlines how the Peace Corps and other organizations must evolve to better partner with local ...

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The Springs of Namje: A Ten-Year Journey from the Villages of Nepal to the Halls of Congress

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Overview

A Peace Corps volunteer’s inspirational story about the power of small change
 
In The Springs of Namje, former Peace Corps volunteer Rajeev Goyal reflects on what he learned from his experiences in Namje, a small village in eastern Nepal, and on Capitol Hill. He candidly considers what qualities constitute an effective activist, and he outlines how the Peace Corps and other organizations must evolve to better partner with local communities. With a focus on environmentalism and on bottom-up rather than top-down activism, Goyal argues that we can no longer rely on outdated models of foreign aid. And he shows how architects and designers, farmers and teachers, builders and environmentalists, and, especially, young Americans are in a unique position to contribute to this new world.
 

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In 2001, 52 days after a brutal mass murder decimated the Nepalese royal family, Goyal, an idealistic and deeply naïve Peace Corps volunteer, arrived in the violently divided Himalayan nation, hoping to better the lives of the people in the remote villages to which he was assigned. Grand if vague ambitions soon stumble over the realities of Nepal in the early 21st century, from the way its entrenched caste system affects all aspects of life to the escalating civil war between the out-of-touch monarchy and the rest of the country. Determined to see the Peace Corps become an even greater force for good, in 2008, Goyal ventures into darkest Washington with every bit of the idealism and energy he demonstrated in Nepal and similar, inexplicable naïveté. In addition to relating his time in Nepal, this heartfelt account addresses his struggles with Washington’s blinkered functionaries, doctrinaire reactionaries, and the frustrating Obama administration, though Goyal’s apparent ignorance about the government of his own nation is baffling. However, despite setbacks and ambivalence about the changes he helped create in Nepal, Goyal remains a persuasive optimist about the effect a small group of highly motivated people can have on the world. (Sept.)
Kirkus Reviews
A Peace Corps veteran recounts his experiences in a small Nepalese village. Goyal, a lawyer, activist and specialist in rural development, narrates his life journey since he arrived in the town of Namje in 2001, discussing the projects in which he was involved and the skills he needed to acquire to become an effective volunteer and teacher in the village, where school-age girls carried water up the mountain from its source. Realizing that he had "to do something about this water crisis" so the children could come to school, he worked on solving the problem with the Peace Corps' help. Recruited by villagers who had heard of his success at law school in the United States, Goyal returned in 2004 to build three schools. When he returned to the U.S. in 2008, he was hired as a lobbyist to work on doubling the Peace Corps budget. In addition to discussing his projects, the author examines similarities between Nepal and the U.S.; in both countries, he writes, "politics is not all that different from community organizing." Congress became his village as he sought out how to get "directly to the highest power," by catching congressmen and senators in corridors, "strategic loitering," networking and using social media to mobilize citizen support. Goyal puts into sharp relief the Peace Corps' funding within the total U.S. budget, and he punctuates his tale with instances of unfulfilled promises and unforeseen circumstances. An interesting adventure with a good lesson: that having lots of money is not a prerequisite to accomplishing great things.
From the Publisher
“The role of a Peace Corps volunteer is subtle. We live in a community for two years, and usually we continue to stay in touch for years afterward. Most volunteers never build anything. Often we teach, and the value lies in human connections that can’t be measured. And there’s a strong tendency for Peace Corps volunteers to be humble about what we’ve done. Rajeev never would have told me about his work in Namje if I hadn’t asked; other people described the remarkable water project he undertook as a volunteer.”—Peter Hessler, from the foreword to The Springs of Namje

"The Springs of Namje tells many stories, including, very movingly, how to try and effect real change in Washington D.C.--it's about idealism and savvy, and it shows how they can mix powerfully."—Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
 
“At a time when Washington is characterized by political gridlock, partisan bickering, and an ideological stalemate, Rajeev Goyal’s inspiring story shows that one person can still bring about enormous change for good.  His story also shows how programs like the Peace Corps provide a pipeline for the kind of leaders our nation hungers for: innovative, passionate, purpose-driven, and eager to contribute to a society of peace and justice at home and around the world.”—Timothy P. Shriver, Ph.D., Chairman & CEO of Special Olympics

“Mr. Rajev Goyal has done a marvelous job in the book The Springs of Namje. He has artistically presented his experience while he was a peace corps volunteer in Nepal. The book illustrates how Rajeev built up strong human relations with the Nepalese people, and how he helped them in the best possible ways.”—Anuradha Koirala, Founder and Chairperson of Maiti Nepal and 2010 CNN Hero of the Year 
 
"An honest and inspiring look at the hard work and reward of development efforts."— Booklist
 
"Engaging account of his failures and successes in both countries is an edifying and inspiring triumph.”—National Geographic Traveler’s “Trip Lit” section

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807001752
  • Publisher: Beacon
  • Publication date: 9/11/2012
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 232
  • Sales rank: 1,320,234
  • Product dimensions: 6.38 (w) x 9.16 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Meet the Author

Rajeev Goyal, a graduate of Brown University and the New York University School of Law, is a lawyer, activist, rural-development worker, and former Peace Corp volunteer. Since 2008, he has served as the national coordinator for the Push for Peace Corps Campaign.  He leads environmental and sustainable agriculture initiatives in eastern Nepal through several NGOs.

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Read an Excerpt

From Chapter 2
Baitadi on Fire
 
Overhead a falcon hovered in a tight circle, peering at the strange new visitor below. The only sound I could hear was a faint whistling from the gentle Himalayan winds brushing against the sharp pine needles. A meaty smell filled my nostrils, which I would later learn was the odor of leopards, known to occasionally devour infants in Silanga village.

On a map Nepal was barely large enough to contain the letters of its name, but from Kathmandu it took us three full days to get to Baitadi, and now the driver was gone and I felt very alone. Holding my dented steel suitcase with both hands as if carrying a body, I followed the faded trail through the forest, hoping it would lead to my new home.

It seemed that before I could put my things down, they were being carried into the spare stone abode of Premraj Pant, the former village council head, who was known to all simply as Pradhan ji ( ji was a commonly used suffix of respect in Nepal), or “the chief.” Silanga village was two lines of mud homes facing each other, with a walking trail in the middle, situated on a bright sunny ridge and surrounded on all sides by fading farming terraces.

Pradhan ji was a wiry, energetic man with a sharp nose and warm black eyes. He always wore a pressed white shirt and a vest, even when working in his cornfield, as if any moment a phone call might summon him back into political office. He had the personality of a pushy salesman, but I nonetheless took an instant liking to him and to his house.

One of my favorite pastimes became peering at the white Himalayas through the bright crimson leaves of the rhododendron tree just outside my  window. The house had a second story where various agricultural tools, including a hoe, and a tall pile of desiccated blue corn seeds were stored.There was a spot in the roof where the clay tiles didn’t quite meet and a beam of glittery light often shot through the length of the whole house.The cramped second story, which had a slanted roof, was where I liked to sit and read. I usually had my morning tea there.

I thought  that in Baitadi I would have a solitary life, but people were always around. In fact, my house had a porous quality. Adjacent to the front door, one of the stones in the wall had been dislodged, and often I would see Pradhan ji’s hand holding a cup of steaming tea. One night when I sneezed and rolled over in my bed, someone pushed a rag through the floorboards.

A few steps from my house was a chia pasal (tea shop), which had an unusually loud radio set that always faced in the direction of my room. Every morning I woke to the familiar patriotic Radio Nepal theme song and the sound of hot tea being poured as a sieve was tapped against a steel cup. Usually when I opened the door, a few old men were seated in the courtyard having tea and talking politics, and sometimes I sat in and listened. It was as if the courtyard of my house was an extension of the tea shop. But when I went for walks, I often found myself standing completely alone on a trail, no trace of life in any direction for miles.

Sri Siddhinath Middle School had approximately two hundred students in. My routine was teaching four English classes a day, in grades four through seven. The classrooms were made of stone and quite simple, without any teaching materials to speak of, but I found it wonderful to teach in this quiet setting. During the breaks, when I wasn’t planning lessons, I sat in on the other teachers’ classes so that I could listen to Nepali and improve my language skills.

Physically, the school was a small L-shaped, whitewashed building that sat on a large field and exuded a feeling of peacefulness. Along one of the edges of the field, a precipitous fifty-foot drop accentuated the serene telephoto view of the succession of mountains. I often took my  class outside. Sometimes I felt like I was teaching everyone in the school, as eyes would be peering at us from all the classrooms. In training, we had learned a simple game of hanging a long string and letting the students use folded index cards to make sentences. It was a great way to teach word order and also the flexibilities of language. There was no library and the modest science equipment we had was locked up behind the headmaster’s desk. Our teachers’ room had a poster of Nepal’s monarchs next to a rather graphic skeletal drawing of the human body, which marked the names of the different muscles and nerves.

The dynamics of a small village school are such that the teaching staff gets very close. The other teachers constantly invited me to their homes for meals, and visiting them was a way for me to learn more about the village. There were two teachers whom I grew particularly close to. The first, Fagendra Pant, was my counterpart and spoke English in a gruff, almost  Germanic style. He seemed to view the language as a way to punish and  humiliate his students. The other teacher was Krishna Air, who had a dazzling knowledge of the language and was always surprising me with the vocabulary he knew. Whenever I was in the teachers’ room during breaks, they would compete for my attention to practice their English.

After teaching all day at Sri Siddhinath School, in the evenings when I came home I would usually find Pradhan ji gently dusting my belongings with a pink feather duster that he had acquired on a business trip to India.

“Rajeev Sir, if I call Lokendra Bahadur Chand,” he boasted one evening while seated on a chair next to my bed, “he has to take my call!” He  looked at me expecting a reaction but I had no idea who he was speaking about. “If you ever need anything done in Kathmandu, you let me know, and I’ll have Lokendra take care of it for you.”
“Who is that?” I asked.

Three times he was prime minister! He is from Baitadi.You just wait and  see: it won’t be long before he’s back in the kursi for the fourth time. He’s the only one who can handle this mess with the Maoists,” he opined.The word kursi, which means “chair,” denotes the seat of power, a reflection of how deeply the notion of kings and thrones had pervaded even the more democratic organs of government.

I was rather surprised to learn that this village in the far western corner of Nepal had access to Singha Durbar (the site of the Nepalese parliament and government ministries). From Pradhan ji I learned how the highest echelons of power needed to plant roots in places like Silanga. It wasn’t all that different from the way in which US blue-blood presidential candidates needed support in rural midwestern states.
Pradhan ji turned out to be simultaneously correct and incorrect about his  powerful friend. In 2002 Chand would again be installed as prime minister by the king, though he would last only a few months before being pulled from the kursi for failing to quell the mounting insurgency.

Pradhan ji’s financial fortunes seemed to waver from making him one of the richest men in the village to utterly bankrupting him. If he could manage to send a truck full of the valuable local pinewood down to the Terai border (where it was usually purchased by Indian merchants) without it being looted en route, his fortunes were up, but this only happened a few times a year. Moreover, Pradhan ji confided in me that one of his brothers was in legal trouble and that the cost of the lawyers had put him in substantial debt. Even in Baitadi, lawyers were loathed.

In Pradhan ji’s mind there was only one reason he wasn’t sitting in Lokendra Bahadur Chand’s kursi, and that was his son, Shivy, who suffered from a mental disability. Though eighteen years of age, Shivy, was only in the second grade. He was the laughingstock of the entire village because of how he spoke and walked. Other young children often imitated his wide, staring eyes and uneasy gait. Of all the bullies, the one Shivy feared the most was his four-year-old sister, Gomati, who went by the nickname Dalli (little fat one). Each day when Shivy came home from  school, the sight of Dalli, who always wore a ragged pink frock, waiting in the courtyard of their home struck terror in his heart.

“Look at my son! What can I do?” he said one evening pointing at Shivy, who had just finished eating a plate of clumped rice with buttermilk with his hand. “This is the son God gave me,” he said shaking his head despondently.
“I think you should be happy. He’s  such a nice person. He never harms anybody,” I said.

“He’s lazy,” Pradhan ji grumbled. “He never does any work!”

Shivy was hard not to like. He always wore a jet black blazer with a single, large gold button on it and dress shoes—as if he was attending a party. He also always seemed to have a wide grin on his face, which instinctively made me smile back. He was probably as clever and cunning as his father, if not more so, though it took time with him to realize this. When people made fun of him in the tea shops or the school, he would laugh the loudest, slapping his knee, and confusing those that were ridiculing him. He had the clearest sense of who was good and who wasn’t, based on how people treated him. By observing him, I came to know a lot about Silanga.

I always found it odd that the Pant family had such a unique wardrobe, which almost felt European, whereas everyone else in the village seemed to wear tattered rags for work in the field. These were signs of the family’s now-lost prominence and wealth. But my arrival seemed to give Pradhan ji a sense that it was time to make his comeback.
 
 
 
On the day the scholarship forms came in the mail, I walked up to the school and told the teachers about the opportunity. A Kathmandu-based organization had requested nominations for two local students to attend college. The cash prize was enough to change someone’s life in Silanga—20,000 rupees, roughly $300.

I initially believed it would quite be easy to determine who the poorest student was, based on obvious factors such as their living conditions, but when I and two other teachers embarked on a fact-finding mission to select the two neediest girls in the village, I realized how wrong I was.

Venturing out into the surrounding hills, I was struck by the simple beauty of Baitadi.We walked through forests that were part of long corridors  of rare species of rhododendrons not found anywhere else on Earth. At one point the two teachers and I came to a forty-foot log no more than ten inches wide that was the bridge over a knee-deep brook ten feet below. When it came my turn to pass, one of the teachers, sensing my trepidation, gave me advice that I didn’t expect:“Look down first so you know the consequences of falling.”

The first house we visited, about an hour’s walk down the hill from Silanga, was a single room with six family members living in it.

“Rajeev Sir, she must be the poorest girl in the village,” Fagendra Sir, my English-teaching counterpart at the school, said. He pointed to a girl who had just walked in with a heavy bundle of firewood. “Look at her family. They have nothing!”

As he said this, we were served a plate of oranges by the mother. Krishna Air was the economics teacher at the school. He seemed more skeptical. “How many cows do you have?” Krishna Sir asked the father. “How many goats and pigs do you have?”
“Three cows, two pigs, and seventeen goats,” the father replied.

His wife corrected him. “Not seventeen, we have twenty-one goats,” she said proudly, slicing more oranges by passing them through a sickle that she balanced on the floor with her toes.

“How  much do you earn from just the milk?” Krishna Sir asked, sucking on an orange and writing notes on a pad of paper.

“Enough to send all my kids to school. I don’t know how much exactly but enough to run the family,” the father said.

But Fagendra Sir seemed convinced that this girl was the poorest one. “Look at this house. It’s falling  apart!” he exclaimed, scratching at the mud on the inside wall. “I need to fix that with some wet mud,” the mother said, embarrassed. She wiped her hands with a rag and came over to inspect the wall. To make his point, Fagendra Sir was pulling a stone that protruded from the wall when several rocks tumbled down. “See? She’s the poorest one.”

But Krishna Sir was not convinced at all. As we left, he walked to the back of the house, determined to find traces of hidden wealth. “Who owns all this land back here?” he asked suspiciously.“Is this yours?” There were acres and acres of orange trees, bamboos, and very valuable sala trees. “Is that sala wood?”

“It belongs to me and my five brothers.We haven’t yet divided it up,”
he said. “It’s all sala.

Krishna Sir gave me and Fagendra Sir a coy smile and said, “These folks have more wealth than you think. That’s probably 500,000 rupees of just wood. We better keep going!”

We kept walking until we came upon the next candidate. This time Fagendra Sir was sure she would pass muster, even though the family’s house was a mansion by Silanga standards, a two-story house with many rooms. We saw several healthy cows in the shed being milked by one of the  daughters. It didn’t seem to add up that someone living in such a prosperous household would need a scholarship, but when the family came out to greet us, I understood why Fagendra Sir had led us here.
There were eight daughters, one of whom had a slight limp. “Come here,” Fagendra Sir commanded. She limped toward us and sat down nervously on a stool, looking at the floor. “Look at her. She cannot even walk properly!” Fagendra Sir said. “And look at how many girls they have to educate and marry.”

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Table of Contents

Foreword by Peter Hessler

Part 1
1)  Royal Massacre
2)  Baitadi on Fire
3)  Gagris
4)  Saacho Khola
5)  The Hats
6)  The Last King of Nepal
7)   Gaur

Part II
8)   American Idealists
9)   The Hill
10)  A Bold New Peace Corps
11)  The Ice Cream Social

Part III
12)  A Road to Namje
13)  Sacred Hill
14)  Why the Peace Corps Still Matters

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 19, 2013

    "The Springs of Namje" tells the story of Rajeev Goyal

    "The Springs of Namje" tells the story of Rajeev Goyal's unyielding work for the Peace Corps, both in Nepal and Washington, DC.  His chronicles are engaging, beginning with his initial journey to Nepal in a time of political upheaval, and the inspired/crazy idea to pump water into a village from a river miles away – a project supervised by a 22-year-old and designed and constructed by rural townspeople, none of whom had any training in engineering.  The narrative reads like a novel, as we follow Goyal overcoming obstacles, falling on his face, and learning lessons which help bridge to his work advocating for the Peace Corps in Washington DC.  For those with any interest in politics, this section is particularly intriguing; the response of well known political figures to Goyal’s unconventional lobbying does not always adhere to expectations or party affiliations.  Again, his successes and failures facilitate his ability to deal with a now-rapidly globalizing Nepal, and his return trips result in a wealth of new ideas and possibilities to help the country avoid a completely paved-over future, which nevertheless may still be its destiny.  

    While Goyal’s adventures allow for the pages to turn quickly, the biggest impact of this book may be as a tool for those interested in bringing about social change, both in the field and politically.  As introductory college or post graduate reading, the story can both inspire and serve as a starting point for discussions on the methods and realities of making change in an increasingly complicated world.  Goyal’s trial and error experiences may not have always been successful, but the lessons that were learned should be passed on so that others can continue to contribute to social progress.

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    Posted October 29, 2012

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