A tribute to Ghana Shyam Sharma
A tribute to Ghana Shyam Sharma
Ghanshyam Sharma, the longest serving Nepali staff in UMN finished his time with UMN on July 15, 2011. Becky Thorson who has served with UMN since 1984, had an interesting interview Ghanshyam one day during his last week of work, and discovered many fascinating things about him and his early days with UMN.  We would like to share that. 

Did you know that Ghan Shyam grew up in Burma? He was born in 1953, the eldest child in his family.  His father and mother had migrated to Burma around 1929, before the Second World War. They were originally from Gulmi, on the border of Palpa district.  Ghan Shyam’s father was a businessman and a political leader in Burma, representing the Nepalis who lived there. GS says his father was very hard working: he would go to his office early in the morning and come back late in the evening, after GS had gone to bed.

When Ghan Shyam was 11 years old, they moved back to Butwal, Nepal for political reasons. Up until then, Ghan Shyam had been studying in Burma, and was in Class 5. He knew English, Burmese and they also had classes in Nepali so he could read and write. However, he was not able to fit into the school system in Nepal.  His father could not find suitable work, and was not used to doing manual labour. So Ghan Shyam ended up being the main supporter for his family for several years.  His first job was to plant rice along with women, who didn’t like him working among them.  Later he was offered work in a Tharu village, teaching children to read and write Nepali. He was given one rupee and one kg of rice from each child, which would greatly help to feed his family (A rupee was worth a lot back in 1965!).

Ghan Shyam’s connection with UMN goes way back to 1968.  When he was around 15 years old, he heard about BTI (Butwal Technical Institute).  BTI had a technical training programme for people aged 14-16 (but some were as old as 20).  First they gave the applicants some tests, to see what area they might be best suited for: office work, mechanical or wood-working.  Then they put each person in a work/training programme in that area for 6 months. After 6 months they were recommended to stay in that area, or move to one of the other areas, or to leave the programme. 

The students didn’t have much say in what area they were to work in. Ghan Shyam very much wanted to be trained in auto mechanics, but he was channeled into office work. After his 6 month initial period, he requested to be switched to mechanics. Od Hoftun, his first instructor, moved Ghan Shyam to the auto mechanics section, where he learned the theory of mechanics, but was still working in office procedures. This was all a bit frustrating.

Ghan Shyam recalls that BTI was driven by Od Hoftun. If you go to Butwal today, you can see a road sign “Od Hoftun Road” at the location of BTI.  Hoftun was ambitious, a trainer at BTI, and a houseparent, and also the builder of Tansen Hospital.

During the four year training, Ghan Shyam was in a hostel with 8 boys.  They had to do all their own work: shopping for food, gathering wood for cooking, cooking their own food and washing up afterwards.  Ghan Shyam says that they each took turns and did all the work one day a week. On the other days, they felt they were rajas!  But some boys did not like all this work, and the strict rules, and did not stay in the training programme because of it.

During the training programme, Ghan Shyam was paid fortnightly, and was able to give Rs. 5 to his family, and used the other Rs. 5 for his own needs.  His father had started working a bit, and his sisters were as well.  The family had realized they could not depend totally on Ghan Shyam for their support. 

In 1972 the training was over and it was time to receive certificates.  What should the certificate say?  The BTI managers (all expatriates) wanted to say “Clerical work”. However, the trainees objected, because this kind of thing had very little meaning in Nepal, and it was as if they had spent 4 years doing nothing. The expats said that “Clerk” was a very respectable title in their own countries. But finally there was a mutually acceptable compromise, and the title “Accounting Clerk” was put on the certificate. 

Around this time, BTI was divided into two sections: The mechanical and the wood-working units. Ghan Shyam was selected to be an accountant for the mechanical unit.  It soon became a company and was called “Butwal Engineering Works” (BEW).  Ghan Shyam worked there for 10 years, eventually being promoted to Senior Accountant.  During this time he also was married and had a son and then a daughter. 

He was looking into further training, and wrote to Paroshottam Nepali, in the training and development section of UMN.  He and his boss (who had also come from Burma) were both given the opportunity of study in Madras, India. They were only there a month, when the people who had replaced them at BEW brought up some accusations of some kind of mishandling of goods and obtaining of kick backs. These accusations were found to be untrue, but there had to be an investigation, and Ghan Shyam and his boss had to return to Nepal to defend themselves, prove they had not done anything, and otherwise sort things out. So he did not continue with the training in India. 

At this time the manager of Himal Hydro asked Ghan Shyam about joining UMN headquarters finance team in Kathmandu.  So Ghan Shyam wrote to Erling Wennemyr, who was the Treasurer of UMN at that time.  He was called in for an interview along with one other man.  The “interview” was extensive, and involved various tests and questions. They explained that it would be different than in Butwal – in Kathmandu you would have to interact with many expatriates from many different countries.  It took the team of Erling, along with Fran Swenson and Colin Law 2 days to make the decision. They offered Ghan Shyam the job, but the salary was the same as he was making in Butwal. He told them it would be hard to support his family on that same amount, as Kathmandu is more expensive.  Then something happened that Ghan Shyam will never forget.  Erling Wennemyr looked him in the eye and said, “Will you turn me down?”  Erling was a respected and high level person, Ghan Shyam could not say no and replied, “Yes, I will come”. 

It seemed the best thing to resign from the position at BEW, and this caused a period of uncertainty and confusion and more paperwork.  But it all worked out and he got the job at UMN HQ.  After he started, he realized that 6 or 7 Nepali staff in the Thapathali finance team had all resigned at the same time. This had meant that the 3 expatriates who had interviewed him had been working night and day for quite some time and still all the work was piling up. They eventually moved 2 staff from Shanta Bhawan to HQ at the time it was shifting to Patan Hospital.  They were Chandeswor Singh and Dan Bahadur Singh. Raju Chhetri also joined soon after. 

When Ghan Shyam moved to Kathmandu, he began work immediately and didn’t even have time to find a flat. He stayed in a hotel in Sundara until the first weekend, when he went searching and found a dhera in Dhobighat, behind the old brewery.  They wanted 6 months rent in advance, which was impossible, but he was able to bargain down to 3 months rent and managed somehow. 

He had left his wife and small children in “Kanchi Bazaar”, near the BTI grounds, in their little mud hut with a tin roof.   It was 3 or 4 years before he could bring his family to live with him in Kathmandu.  He did not have the courage to approach his immediate line manager – as he was quite stern and strict.   But when this person went on furlough, Ghan Shyam got up courage to speak with Erling Wennemyr.  He said, “Maybe I should go back to DCS as I can’t afford to continue to pay for my own living here and the rest of my family’s needs in Butwal”.  They talked some more and Erling offered Ghan Shyam a raise, and his family was able to come to Kathmandu. 

Over the years Ghan Shyam has worked with many expats from many different countries. He has experienced all kinds of different personalities and cultural backgrounds. He has learned that each person has different expectations, but that it is good practice to learn and adapt to provide what people need.  

It is hard to imagine that there is anyone, either expat or Nepali, who has been as dedicated to UMN or who has worked as many years with UMN as Ghan Shyam has. The total comes to 43 years!  Ghan Shyam thinks there might be some staff in Tansen who have been with UMN this long, but it can’t be many. Ghan Shyam had several opportunities over the years to leave UMN and work for another INGO for a much bigger salary – but he says there are things that are more important than just money. 

Ghanshyam says he will never forget all the immediate line managers/directors he has worked with through the years and he said “I would like to thank them for whatever they have done to bring me to this capability. Without their cooperation and trust in me I would have not become what I am today.” 

Now that he is retiring from UMN, Ghan Shyam is planning to spend some time in Butwal. He is not sure where he will settle down. His son is now living and working in the USA, and his daughter and her husband are here in Kathmandu. His mother is getting quite aged, and lives with two of his handicapped siblings in Butwal.  There are many transitions and decisions ahead, and we pray that God will be with Ghan Shyam through each step on his onward journey of life. 

Ghan Shyam deserves our deep appreciation for his patience, adaptability, hard work and loyalty to UMN for so many years. Thank you Ghan Shyam – we will miss you!

Write a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *