Lwang in the Annapurna region of Nepal is a village that while lying in one of the most visited regions of the country has not quite made it to the tourist list. Instead of lodges, this Gurung village offers visitors, both foreigners and locals, their homes for spending the night and having meals. Home-stays gives its guests a glimpse into the lives of its residents as guests sit in the kitchen while meals are being prepared, try home-made aila (alcohol) and makai-bhatmas (a mix of popcorn-soybeans), and chat with the families.
The home I stayed in Lwang belonged to Devi, a 60-year old woman with four children, two sons and two daughters. Her husband had passed away twelve years ago. One of her sons was in the UK, the other one in Qatar; both her daughters were in Pokhara, one of the largest cities in Nepal. She stayed alone in her house, making and selling alcohol to local residents. She said she was too old to work in the field. Her daughters ask her to move to Pokhara, but she doesn’t want to – she says passing days in Pokhara is deathly boring for her: the pollution, noise, and crowd in Pokhara do not suit her. She does not know how long she can manage to live on her own, and she did not want to think of the time when she may no longer be able to look after herself.
Her story is hardly unique in rural areas of this part of the world where migration from villages to cities and beyond is becoming increasingly common. Lack of fruitful employment opportunities and educational institutions have led many youth to move away from their villages. Most of the migrant workers abroad are working in vulnerable situations without any effective legal protection, and time and again their stories of suffering come out, highlighting the challenges they face away from home.
It’s equally challenging for those who are left behind, particularly in a country like Nepal where the state lacks a comprehensive social security system. People rely on their families and neighbors for help during difficult times; parents rely on their children to take care of them in old age. With migration, families are torn apart, leading to an erosion of social bonds and such a form of social security. Paavan Mathema writes at Nepali Times that the government has a pension plan for senior citizens and widows, which offers them Rs 500 per month (less than USD 8 per month), however, the bureaucracy involved discourage most from making use of this plan.
The Nepalese society is fast changing, with an entire generation uncertain about their future as old age is dawning on them. Without the state’s support for old age facilities, the future looks extremely bleak for the generation of those left behind.