A Difficult Journey for Education: Village Life in Nepal
by Nabin Aryal, Rukmini Foundation
Every Spring, our foundation welcomes a new group of girls to become Rukmini Scholars. Our mentors, program officer, selection committee members and other volunteers visit villages surrounding the Pharping area (Pharping is roughly 20 KM South of Kathmandu, Nepal) to identify girls whose families may be facing hardships in trying to continue their schooling. During the selection process for this year, the key feedback we received from various community leaders was that we needed to venture further out from the Pharping area to find girls that need our support the most.
We are venturing further away from our base in Pharping to more remote villages because the needs are greater in these villages.
Various community members described how the poverty levels in certain villages meant that girls were dropping out of school or in some cases not starting at all. The dropout rate and low enrollment rates were attributed to economic hardships for the girls’ parents and resulted in girls either working at home or in the fields, and in some cases getting married to start a family of their own.
These villages lie in one of the more remote parts of Kathmandu District and a majority of the villagers are ethnic Balamis and Tamangs, which happen to be socially and economically underprivileged minorities in Nepal. Most of the villagers live on the top of the hills and everything from farming to fetching water is a daily challenge.
Girls like Pooja Balami are joining us from villages further away. The girls and their parents are pleased to have the support.
With all of these challenges, life can be tough for the villagers. While education is considered a way out of poverty, many miss out on school not only due to economic challenges, but also because of the logistical challenges of getting to school. For example, while most of the villagers in certain villages like Dandikhel and Hudu live on the top of the hills, the only school in the vicinity is usually at the footsteps of the hill. This makes the daily travel to school quite the journey.
Even getting to the homes of the new scholars is a bit of challenge, but our Didis (Nepali word for elder sisters) take this challenge on with a smile on their faces.
Many of the students from these villages need to walk for close to an hour to reach the school, and the trip back home up the hill requires even more time. Because of the travel time and distance as well as the lack of ability to afford essentials for school like an uniform and other school costs, young people from this area has seen a higher dropout rate than other areas. The dropout rate is especially a big issue for girls from this area because the opportunity cost of the time required to attend school and the perceived lack of value of the education means that parents see their girls as more valuable to the family as workers and caretakers for younger children.
Smriti is another one of our new scholars who comes to us from one of the more remote villages surrounding Pharping
As a foundation, educating the parents and the community about the true value of education and especially the importance of educating girls is one of our key objectives. Together with our new partner school, Setidevi High School of Talku Village Development Committee, we have made a strong push to encourage the girls of these villages to stay in school at least till they graduate from high school and pass the national School Leaving Certificate (SLC) examinations. In some cases, like Pooja’s, she had to move closer to school so she could attend without having to make a long journey every day. However, the girls are determined to continue their education and their families seem to be very supportive of them. From our efforts to reach further out, we now have new three new scholars who are attending Setidevi School: Pooja Balami, Smriti Balami, and Susmita Tamang.
We are very excited to welcome Pooja, Smriti, Susmita as well as all of the other new scholars. Some photos of the selection process and our 2014 scholars.
We understand that simply providing scholarships alone will not solve the problem of a high dropout rate and the other educational and social issues of the region. However, by removing the economic barriers for education and by demonstrating the potential future that is available for these girls, we have been able to convince both the parents and the girls that continuing school is important.
We believe that our foundation will need to keep reaching out to even more remote villages and conduct more awareness programs so that parents — who often have little or no education themselves — appreciate the importance of providing education to their daughters. We are already headed down this path by continuing to discuss the key social issues and needs with community leaders, motivating and training local teachers, and providing the necessary assistance in the form of scholarships and financial support for school materials. We believe that these efforts will result in increased enrollment for girls from these villages, more high school graduations in the future, and fewer child marriages as well.
Foundation Mentors (Didis – elder sisters) speaking with Susmita and her mother as part of the selection process
Susmita is one of many girls who are happy to take the long journey to school because it is a path to a brighter future for her and her family
I can see the foundation going further away from Pharping in the coming years to reach the villages situated in the border between Kathmandu and Makwanpur District to support even more girls that need our support. The road to a better future is a challenging one for most families in rural Nepal, but we are committed to finding ways to help them along in this very important journey.
You can help us reach more girls and empower even more future leaders in Nepal by supporting us.
Nabin Aryal is the Program Manager at Rukmini Foundation