On the road with Rabindra
His journey from the mountains of Nepal to driving success
What does it take to become the United Nation’s best driver in Southeast Asia? Experience on some of Asia’s toughest roads, being able to stay calm under pressure and the support from an entire office.
Three World Food Programme teams recently got behind the wheel to test their driving skills at the Driver Recognition Programme finals, held in Pattaya, Thailand. They competed against the top 10 teams from across Asia to recognise the vital role that drivers play in keeping humanitarians safe every day. Ninety teams applied to reach the finals, with the best teams chosen to complete a range of tasks from changing a tyre to braking at high speeds.
The World Food Programme’s Nepal’s team of Rabindra Khadka and Rabina Sherchan came second place by a mere half a point but were proud to become the United Nation’s best driving team in Southeast Asia.
The road to the finals
As a WFP driver for more than 20 years, Rabindra has driven through the Himalayas, been held hostage and negotiated with rebel groups. He has also kept his colleagues safe and ensured that life-saving food can reach some of Nepal’s most isolated communities. Read more of his story here.
On his first ever trip overseas, Rabindra was confronted with a new challenge in Thailand— staying calm under pressure.
“This was the first time I participated in an international event. Everything was overwhelming. This event was like the World Cup to me,” Rabindra said. “There was a lot of support from the Nepal office and I felt a lot of pressure to win.”
His co-driver Rabina was responsible for keeping him focused, even during the most stressful moments of the competition.
“He needed to be as natural as possible so the result was really his effort. I had to keep him calm, support him and yet not intervene too much.”
“I was worried, at the first challenge to change the tyres, he just jumped straight in. I had to remind him that we can’t just jump in to do things how we have done them in the past. The challenge was to carefully follow the instructions provided for each challenge for which we had to think, plan and execute carefully so we could score points on exactly what we were being assessed,” said Rabina.
“Additionally, as we would move on to the next challenge, he would worry about the mistakes he made on the previous challenge/s. I would try to keep him high-spirited, tell him to forget about it and focus on the next one. He’d already given the best he could,” Rabina explained.
Throughout the one-day event, Rabindra was tested on speed, accuracy and safety, but his favourite task was the one that reminded him of home. “The emergency braking challenge was the one I liked the most. It was about control and is most like the driving I do back in Nepal,” he said.
Preparing for new challenges (and road rules)
“None of this would have happened if it wasn’t for the support of senior management in Nepal. They believed in empowering our drivers whose hands are so important in keeping us safe. This was a great opportunity for our drivers. We had 9 drivers compete in the Nepal Country Office for the chance to go to Thailand and compete, and Rabindra was the winner,” says Rabina.
After he was chosen as the finalist, Rabindra and Rabina met once per week to prepare.
“We don’t follow normal traffic rules in Nepal. Instead, traffic police direct you and tell you where and when to go, move and stop. I would teach him about the correct traffic rules, traffic signage and symbols, what different road lines meant, lane discipline, where to break and zebra crossings. I also gave him homework — we had to prepare for everything. We practiced for 2 months,” explained Rabina.
“I watched YouTube videos on braking until 11pm. I learned a lot from watching YouTube. I realised that after working as a driver for 20 years I still had much to learn,” said Rabindra.
Taking knowledge home
After months of preparation and a long day of competition, the WFP Nepal team are enthusiastic to share what they have learnt with their colleagues.
“It’s important not to lose the momentum from this. Taking back my knowledge to my colleagues is an important part of this competition. We have shown that the UN has a good reputation for hiring safe and skilled drivers,” said Rabindra.
“It’s not just about winning but taking back my knowledge to Nepal. I didn’t think that I would achieve this. It has been a big opportunity and a platform to encourage my team. I encourage everyone to participate next time.”
The WFP Nepal team are proud of their achievements, Rabindra says the competition really changed him. “Now I have a second life. It is not like yesterday. I feel like I have won a really big challenge. It’s hard to know I lost by half a point. I’m definitely not the same person as yesterday.”
“I have a lot of certificates, but this is my first ever medal. I have already won in the hearts of my family.”
The Fleet Forum Driver Recognition Programme Finals were held to recognize the critical role that drivers play in humanitarian operations around the world. Drivers are on the front line of keeping staff safe in some of the region’s most challenging conditions. Read more about Fleet Forum’s work here.
Read more about WFP’s work in Nepal.
Story written by Jessica Lawson