Monday, May 28, 2012

Spinster Diplomacy

As my time in Nepal comes to an end, I've been thinking about the work I've done here and forcing myself to honestly consider whether it's made a difference. While I can't boast about helping the government of Nepal get their act together (the political parties were unable to reach a deal on a new constitution and now the government has dissolved), I do think I've been able to make a small difference in how Nepalis regard America.

One of the controversial parts of public diplomacy work is that it's difficult to measure success. I think one measurement is the willingness of the host country to listen to what we have to say. Over time, our outreach efforts help us build credibility and develop an environment in which the public listens to us when we have something to say, rather than dismissing our message as "foreign interference." Of course, this is much easier to do in a country that is already favorably disposed to America.

I've travelled all over Nepal, engaged with thousands of Nepalis, and established friendships with a handful. While issuing press releases and posting messages on social media reach a large number of people (and seeing my words quoted in a newspaper never gets old), it has been the personal connections that I think have had the greatest impact. Swapping music with teenagers, sharing stories about my childhood at an American Corner, nominating a talented young woman for a prestigious exchange program to the States. These are what I'll remember most about my contributions in Nepal.

Most recently I met a young woman who works for an organization that assists survivors of human trafficking or domestic abuse. We started talking about the customs in that part of the country and what the expectations are for women of her age, religion, caste, etc. After listening to her for a while, I casually mentioned that I have never been married. She considered this for a moment and then her face lit up. "Oh, I'm so happy that I met you!" I don't think she had ever met a women who never married (certainly not one of my age) and to see a real-life example was shocking. She said so many girls are pressured to marry at a very young age, but she wants to get an education, pursue a career in social service, and continue living with and caring for her parents. I think she will fulfill that goal. 

1 comment:

Mom said...

It's sometimes hard for people to see the effect of sending our people abroad when it seems unappreciated. Good post.