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Visible, Invisible

Global citizenship in an era of uncertainty

What does a goat farmer, a mother of two young children from a village in Nepal, have to do with the rest of the world?

Rupa lives in Palpa, in western Nepal. After years of working on someone else’s farm, she urged her husband to move to the Middle East to work as a laborer to help the family survive. Now, he sends money home periodically, which allows her to invest in her own small goat farm and earn enough to send her children to school.

I met Rupa about a year after graduating from Swarthmore while working at a nonprofit that accelerated micro-businesses of rural entrepreneurs in my home country of Nepal. Many of the farmers we worked with were returnee migrant laborers or had family members abroad. In peripheries of the world economy, people like Rupa and her husband are not uncommon. Migrant laborers like her husband have toiled in American military base camps during the Iraq War and built World Cup soccer stadiums for the world to enjoy.

But they are hidden: They do not yet have an equal voice to shape the global world order, even as they are a critical backbone to it.

A glimpse into their world was a practical extension of my theoretical education at Swarthmore. In political science and anthropology classes of professors like Ayse Kaya and Christopher Fraga, I learned to understand and ask critical questions about global interconnectedness. I learned that the actions of large multinational corporations, or the policy decisions of developed countries’ governments, can be felt in the remotest corners of the world.

Using the global lens I learned at Swarthmore has made intuitive sense to me, perhaps because of my own family’s transnational experience. When I was just a few years old, my father migrated abroad in hopes of upward economic mobility.

In the mid-1990s, even after the introduction of multiparty democracy, Nepal’s economy was struggling and a civil war was looming. As the tourism industry came to a standstill around him, my father felt compelled to leave his family behind and travel for work to places like Malaysia, Mauritius, and Papua New Guinea. As a toddler,

I remember my mother putting my sister and me to bed early to wait for my father’s monthly phone call. Sometimes, I would wake up at night to find that my father was home, after not seeing him for a year or longer.

My parents’ sacrifices, my education at Swarthmore, and the struggle of people I have met (like Rupa) have made me aware of inequalities on a global scale. They have also made me hopeful that we can translate this awareness into action to make this global system work: realize the basic right to have a decent living for all and address abject poverty and inequality.

I believe it is exactly in these uncertain times that we should strive to move toward those made invisible by today’s global conversations. In uncertainty, the instinct may be to return to one’s shell and try to cling to boundaries and identities.

But a female farmer from one corner of the world is a member of our global political and economic community, whether she is visible or not. In these margins and peripheries, we can find hope and purpose for a more equal and inclusive world.