The story of social activist Alan Palmer

alan palmer RWA

Social Activists are shaped by their life experiences and personality. My story begins in 1956 on the West Coast of New Zealand.

Social Activists come from many backgrounds. A curious blend of first experiences, positive parenting, strong mentors, and a sense of justice are just some of the influences that may shape these people.

As time passes, other influences such as experience and opportunity become influential. Funding to do work is important, but not so important as passion and a heart-felt connection with the work. Activists need to be ready, willing and able: this is a powerful combination.

My story begins in 1956 on the West Coast of New Zealand. Westport is a coal mining town with a population of 5000 people. My father was an engineer and he was involved in building many of the commercial buildings in the town.My mother was a clothing designer and had a strong social conscience. I was the middle child in a family of 5 children. Sadly my mother died from cancer at 46 years of age, leaving my father with 5 children aged from 5 to 17 years. I was very close to my mother, and her death left a big space in my heart. My older brothers were sent away to school, and I was left to care for my sister and brother while my Father was at work.

As a young man of 14 years, I remember meeting a local church minister who talked to me about working with groupsof people and helping them to develop their potential. He described a technique of ‘active listening’ that is widely used in facilitating community and business groups, and in counseling individuals. In my final year of high school, when I was 17 years old, I went on to organize a youth leadership seminar for students, and established a community service club at high school. I already had an emerging interest in philosophy and religion. 

Also in that same year, I met Joanna. We married when I was 20 years old, and our romance went on to become a lifelong partnership and friendship, spanning 37 years. Our years together include 20 years of working together in our own small business. Family life and parenting continue to provide the most influential, stabilizing and nourishing experiences in my life.

My training supports me in a role as a Social Activist. I am a qualified Quantity Surveyor and I have a Bachelor of Construction Degree. Throughout my training I have taken a humanistic approach tomy work, which has included training in counseling skills and human development. As a Senior Project Manager involved in the rebuild of Christchurch City, after the devastating earthquakes in 2011, I have direct experience in leading programmes of work that involve many small projects all contributing to a major goal – the rebuild of Christchurch city. This experience in master planning is invaluable for the work we do in Partners in Education (www.partnersineducation.org.nz).

Nepal is home to many non-government organizations (NGOs), and I see a major opportunity to coordinate the efforts of other NGOs to achieve best value for money, and avoid duplication of resources. My Nepal story began with a 7 day mountain bike trip to Lower Mustang with Pokhara Mountain Bike in 2010. I chose this company because they support street children, teach children to fix and ride bikes, to speak English and eventually lead bike tours. I liked their philosophy, and formed a strong friendship with the owner, Jagan, which led to a school building project, a library project and now a women’s empowerment project. Jagan said recently “Our friendship is like two wheels on a bicycle”, meaning that we work together for the greater good. 

My passion for Nepal is built on the warm hearts of the Nepali people, my interest in ancient cultures, and the scale of the mountain landscape. On my first visit, I was deeply affected by my contact with a little blind girl who was begging in Kathmandu. My brief contact with her convinced me that I should help children stay in their villages, where they can be kept safe in their communities. 

I strongly feel that I have a responsibility to be a voice for her, and other disadvantaged children. I believe education is the most powerful and sustainable way that I can influence the lives of disadvantaged groups in society, and I have discovered a passion I want to follow for the rest of my life. 

In 2012, this headline captured my attention “Why are women in Nepal killing themselves in such large numbers”. http://www.irinnews.org/report/87823/nepal-why-are-so-many-women-killing-themselves. I was dismayed to learn that suicide is the primary cause of death in Nepali women aged 15-45. On my third trip to Nepal, in 2013, I asked about this wherever I travelled, and was unable to reach an understanding of this issue. 

My friend Jagan arranged for me to meet Durga Adhikari (2013 Social Development Award Winner from Youth Foundation Nepal) for an interview on Radio Safalta to discuss my experiences in Nepal. I was instantly inspired by her passion and success with her radio station, and her Women’s Empowerment project. Back in New Zealand, two weeks later on Mother’s Day, we reached agreement to support Durga in her work. This extends to women’s/girls education programmes, micro funding, health education and a women’s safe house. Our philosophy is that women know best what other women want, and that empowerment of women leads to empowerment of children, strengthening of families and communities, and a society that is fair and equitable for all. We believe that women can do anything and that violence against women is not OK anywhere or anytime. 

The current situation in Nepal should be of grave concern to all Nepali people. Both men and women need to ask themselves:

if I am not part of the solution, am I part of the problem? The challenge is for women to take charge of their own future and support each other to lead fulfilling lives. 

What separates social activists from everyone else? The will to take action. 
Do you have the will? Come and join us. 

Alan Palmer 

I see and I forget, I hear and I remember, I do and I understand. Ancient Proverb

Ready, Willing and Able

« Youth is not a troublemaker. Youth is a change maker. »
says Juju Kaji, a Nepali social worker.
2012. At one difficult time of national history, Nepali people face new challenges every day.
And still, youth is in the game