Reflections from the field:Caroline Damgaard

Caroline Damgaard is a BA student in the Department of Geography and Sustainable Development at the University of St Andrews. She visited our South Asia team in Nepal to conduct research around her dissertation topic of renewable energy. Here she describes her experiences of a field visit to Saptari. 

Renewable World is cooperating with several partners on a Unicef programme to engage adolescents in local energy development (read all about it here: http://www.renewable-world.org/whats-new/blog/giving-young-nepalis-power-succeed). This May, all partner organisations sent representatives to a field site in Saptari in Southeastern Nepal, for an initial five-day training program, and I had the privilege of joining them for three hot days in the field. (I am currently doing research on biogas development and potential in Nepal, in affiliation with Renewable World).

This was my first visit to the Terai (the plains in the South of Nepal). Two impressions really stand out: what breathtakingly beautiful people and elegant colourful dress. And what a heat (and this was even just the beginning of summer)!

Fieldwork wise, this was a great introduction to bioenergy development on the ground – I got to see a biogas digester under construction, observe the initial process of community engagement, and met some key people involved in Nepal’s biogas sector. For Renewable World and partners, it was a successful ‘pilot programme’ and a great learning experience to further improve the adolescents’ engagement programme. Judging from feedback on the last day, the adolescents, too, appreciated the programme; one comment repeated by each group was that they would have liked to learn even more and wished that the programme had lasted longer than the five days – Renewable World and partners continue their engagement in the community throughout the development of the project so, of course, more trainings are to come. Experiencing such motivation amongst these adolescents was absolutely inspiring.

The idea with the training programme was to develop a participatory ‘tool kit’ for engaging adolescents in community energy development and livelihood improvement. During the first three days, eight girls and boys were involved in the training which involved a range of activities, from communication skills training to resource mobilization exercises. On the last two days a total of twenty adolescents took part in the programme. They were divided into groups, each with a group leader from among the first eight participants. Visits were made to the solar water-pump and biogas digester sites, both under construction at the time. This was supposed to culminate in practical exercises on the last day; at the site of the water-pump in cooperation with the plumber, and at the site of the associated fish pond, where the excavator would be put to work. Unfortunately, the plumber never showed up, and the excavator didn’t work, so the last day had to be somewhat improvised on the spot; a typical aspect of any fieldwork, I suppose!

One session did happen as planned on the last day; representatives from the local branches of Nepal Scouts, Department of Women and Children and the District Development Committee joined the training programme and observed presentations by the adolescents. The inclusion of these institutions will be important for the long-term success of the integrated energy and livelihood project and youth engagement, as these will be providing the supportive framework and further training in the long term.

Let me finish off with a couple of, perhaps obvious, observations, but some which really struck me while on site. When you read about biogas development in Nepal, you come across names and acronyms of a whole range of institutions and organisations; AEPC, BSP, NBPA, CRT, etc., and fancy concepts such as ‘community mobilization’. It may seem obvious, but being in the field with representatives from Renewable World, Unicef, Chance for Change, Sappros, BSP (Biogas Sector Partnership) and CRT (Centre for Rural Technology), one thought which struck me was that, rather than “institutions” engaging with “a community”, it is really all about real people engaging with real people, on the ground. In this way, when in the field, one transcends the literature and academic debates, and the topic of research somehow comes to life.

Keep your eyes peeled for Carolines diissertation which will be published on the research section of our website shortly.