postheadericon KUIRE KO KURA: A Quick Environmental Workshop

Yesterday I returned home to the bowels of the valley after facilitating a workshop in one of those wonderful hill resorts dotting the rim, where you can look down onto the KTM population bowl of some 2.7 million peeps, and at night think you are looking at LA’s twinkling lights from Hollywood Hills.

Of course, the reality is anything but.

But the short time in the pines was refreshing nonetheless. The hills that surround our not-so-fair-and-lovely city are decorated not by Tatas and street trash, but by pines and tropical foliage found as backdrops in fairy tales.

The rim of this valley is a place where trees stretch their branches towards the sky, with erect trunks that seem to cry “Mother!” and whose green contrast against a pure white fluff of clouds is almost blinding.

The grounds of the resort where I stayed was immaculately groomed and pruned, although all that was needed was a bit of clearing and trimming to distinguish the grounds from the floor of the surrounding forest.

Here, a stray Wai-Wai wrapper stands out like a sore thumb, and screams to be picked up and disposed of properly. Unlike down in the valley below, where millions of discards are the basis of the land in general, and make up the border of Ring Road: congealed trash, which is now the new soil of the new parts of the city.

This stark contrast boggles the mind, especially when traveling down from the nearly unspoiled hills full of cascading waterfalls through lush fern and ancient Nepali cycas – as old as dirt itself...going from a sweet smelling atmosphere to one of rot and decay in just 30 short minutes is disconcerting.

But during my ride back along the bumpy track cut into the pure red soils with exposed tubers and roots and colored with with vegetation and mosses of infinite variety, I was struck by the nature of human learning, as I had just delivered a workshop on team building to about 40 or so dedicated soil conservationists.

Question: as facilitators, do our PowerPoints and participatory techniques employing colored papers and pens, schoolyard games, and reams of handouts actually have an impact on those things we seek to improve?

Within the KTM Valley, apparently not.

Surely the administrators, project managers and worker bees that are charged with the planning, running, and maintenance of the city have attended countless hours in workshops of one nature or another, no? Workshops on project planning, report writing, monitoring and evaluation, capacity building, etc. etc. to ad nauseam, must have been delivered to thousands of folks for hundreds of thousands of hours in total, yet we still sit paralyzed in the mess we know as Kathmandu.

So today I have to ask, “What’s the point?” to the plenary at large.

What’s the point of donor dollars and our prestigious INGO presence if we cannot clean up our own backyard? Why further clog our gullies with shining new SUVs bearing fancy placards and new blue plates, if in fact, the very ground on which they drive is being poisoned irreparably each and every day?

And what is the point of another workshop on building better teams, bridges, or capacity?

I have to ask myself these questions, being an educator of so many decades, who has spent many sleepless nights before Workshop Day 1 thinking of new ways to inspire and drive others to action.

Just about everyone that I know in KTM, including my wise Nepali wife, has a drawer full of workshop certificates, now molding - or in some cases - thumbtacked to cubicle walls. These emblems of achievements, and I have so many of my own, are reminders of an astringent failure on all our part to collectively solve problems, many of which are now facing the inhabitants of Kathmandu today: clean water, air and food.

And after sitting in a jam up on Ring Road, and just reflecting on the purity of our earth and on what we are doing to her in that regard, I am feeling a tad moronic and deflated over my recent achievement of attending yet another workshop.

I am reminded of what one of my participants once proclaimed: “WWF! Stands for Weekly Workshops Forever.”

As a facilitator, I thought the remark slightly cynical then, but now as “forever” seems almost here for me, I find something enlightening about the remark... workshops may be forever, but mother earth is not.

Published first on 9/30/2011 on
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I'm retired, and I walk my dog... a lot.

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