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Photographing Loss

A girl waits for a local bus in Kala Bang, a village outside of Pokhara, in the center of Nepal. More than 80 percent of Kala Bang’s young men are employed in foreign countries, leaving behind kids, women and the elderly. Villages are financially better off today thanks to the income from abroad, but the absence of young men threatens the future existence of the villages: Families migrate to cities once they’re financially able. Photo by Pankaj Khadka/Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

Reporting from Nepal on what the migration of working-age men means for those left behind

By Pankaj Khadka (’16)

IN THIS STORY

Document absence: This was my challenge as a photojournalist in Nepal in summer 2015. I was in my home country to report on the impact of mass migration of male teens and adults from their villages for employment. Since the 1990s—a decade that saw an end to Nepal’s monarchy and its travel restrictions, and witnessed the birth of the economy-crippling Maoist insurgency—increasing numbers of working-age men have traveled overseas for work. Many seek labor jobs in the Gulf, especially the oil-rich nations of Qatar, Kuwait, Saudia Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Women, children and the elderly have taken on new responsibilities at home while worrying about loved ones in the city or abroad.

“I visited locations including Kala Bang, a village that has existed on the western slopes of Nepal for over 250 years. More than 80 percent of Kala Bang’s young men have left the village to find employment.”

I received this travel opportunity as a winner of an International Reporting Fellowship, given by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, COM and other organizations. The funding supports student reporting on global issues the mainstream media rarely covers. As a native of Nepal, having the opportunity to shed light on one of the most pressing issues in this tiny Himalayan nation was a deeply personal experience.

Living among the villagers and reporting on their plight, however, was more difficult than I had expected. I had to ask a widow about raising three children after her husband’s death in an accident in Qatar. I listened to fathers talk about sons who’d left for foreign lands to try their luck, only to return in caskets.

To understand better how villages have changed after remittances started flowing in, I visited locations such as Kala Bang, a village that has existed on the western slopes of Nepal for over 250 years. More than 80 percent of Kala Bang’s young men have left the village to find employment. I reached out to community leaders, entrepreneurs, recent transplants, former (and hopeful) migrants and families of migrants. I did my best to show how lives are transforming as young men place the burden of a village on those who remain—the people who accept the challenge of sustaining and improving the standard of life there. And I am motivated more than ever to use journalism to give a face to the forgotten.

Every year, one COM student and one from the School of Public Health receive an International Reporting Fellowship from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, COM, SPH and BU’s Center for Global Health & Development. Read work by the Pulitzer Center’s student fellows.

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