Regional Meeting of Asia in Kathmandu, Nepal

By StreetNet Media
February 27, 2024
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From January 29th to February 2nd of 2024, StreetNet Asian affiliates gathered in Kathmandu, Nepal, for their annual in person regional meeting. We used this time together to develop a regional strategy and to get to know each other, strengthening our international solidarity!

Rallying for solidarity in Nepal

We were hosted in Nepal by the current Asia Regional Focal Point organization, NEST. Maya Gurung, leader of NEST and member of the International Council of StreetNet, stated “We are proud the meeting is being hosted here in Kathmandu and that it will strengthen our organizations and StreetNet as a whole”. In the past year, NEST has been involved in a fierce battle for the rights of street vendors against the mayor Balendra Shah, and whose members have been suffering evictions, confiscation and violence. It was against this backdrop that we organized our meeting.

In our opening session, our speakers included Binod Shrestha, president of national trade union center GEFONT; Luna Ranjit, Country Director for Solidarity Center Nepal; Shusuke Oyobe, Project Technical Officer for ILO Nepal and informal economy researcher Sudhir Shrestha. We also presented video greetings from President Lorraine Sibanda and International Coordinator Oksana Abboud.

Binod Shrestha, President of GEFONT

The plight of street vendors in Nepal was mentioned by all speakers, and their struggles became a symbol for what our Asian affiliates are all facing in their own countries. Whether we are talking about India, Bangladesh or Cambodia, evictions, violence and harassement are an all too common occurence . On the last day of our meeting, we had the opportunity to visit Sano Bazar market in Jorpati, a fantastic achievement of NEST who after 30 years of struggle managed to secure a vending space for 156 workers, where they can operate without fearing harassment or violence. 

Organizer for Asia Nash Tysmans with Shusuke Oyobe of ILO Nepal

Around the same time as the meeting, however, NEST member Sharmila Bajgain, who worked by the side of the road, died in an accident caused by the persecution of the Municipal police. The participants of the regional meeting collected some money to give to Sharmila’s family as an act of solidarity. 

An opportunity to understand each other’s work

Participants strategizing together

The regional meeting was facilitated by Regional Organizer Nash Tysmans and Aura Sevilla, Focal Person for South East Asia and Older Workers at WIEGO. During the three days we shared together, we got to know more about each other individually as leaders, as each of us was asked to share our personal journey that led us to our current positions. We also could share the journey of our organizations.. Each attending organization shared a presentation about their own work, achievements and challenges. “We get the opportunity to highlight the challenges of our street vendors and learn from the experiences of other countries, which we share with vendors in our country.” said Kamal Siddiki of LIE (Bangladesh). 

In addition to the four StreetNet Asian affiliates (NEST – Nepal; LIE – Bangladesh; SEWA – India and IDEA – Cambodia), we also had as participants potential StreetNet affiliates. “As a possible member, I think this activity is very important to us,” said Flora Santos, of Metro Manila Vendors Alliance (Philippines). “We learned from friends in other countries and many have the same problems, so we must continue to work and apply their experiences in Thailand”, added Preecha Thaisongkrau of Confederation of Street Vendors Bangkok (Thailand).

Developing a regional strategy

Participants sharing the result of their vision for the region

By listening to each other and sharing our experiences, we understood how much we have in common and how we must work together to overcome challenges. We managed to develop a regional strategy, which identified researching the impacts of climate change on street vendors as a priority. “We are very interested in the joint planning and campaigns that we can do to protect the rights of street vendors in Asia” said Vorn Pao, of IDEA (Cambodia). 

We also discussed how we should work together as a region and we established priority topics for advocacy work. We also agreed on the regularity of our virtual meetings and proposed to have SEWA (India) as our new Asia Regional Focal Point organization, pending confirmation from the International Council.

Learning more about media and communication

On January 29th, we had a pre-meeting session about how to use communication effectively as organizations of street vendors, facilitated by Communication and Media Manager Margarida Teixeira. On February 1st, the last day of the meeting, we also had the opportunity to learn from Sergiy Taran, StreetNet Consultant, about basic rules of strategic communication.

Consultant Sergiy Taran during the session on strategic communication

Overall, the regional meeting was cherished by all participants as a space of unity and understanding, and we are sure it will result in a more focused and effective action for the entire Asia region. As Lata of SEWA (India) stated  – “I would like to say to all street vendors: our power lies in unity!”

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