Stories falcha Girlsâ€™ Education Program
Room to Read Nepal
Run Srijana, Run
inners are alchemists. They convert obstacles into opportunities, into stepping-stones. They laugh at seemingly impossible odds as they set out to conquer their fears. These seemingly impossible odds are as unique as fingerprints â€“ every individual face a custom made, tailored to their, for the lack of the better word, preference. For Srijana Khadga this obstacle came in the form of a 10 KM hike to her school. One way. Every day.
THIS PAGE: Every day Srijana has to cross a small rivulet that feeds in the Bagmati (pictured) on her way to the school. During monsoon, it swells up making it difficult for her to cross the stream. In the photo, Srijana takes in the scenery before continuing her journey.
THIS PAGE: Srijana walking to the school. Every day, she walks around 10 km to reach her school.
I hope to represent my country in the Olympics someday.
rijana Khadga lives in a village in Dukuchhapp, around 30 KM away from our Kathmandu office. Even relatively near from the capital, her village is still light years away from the national mainstream development process. Her village severely lacks adequate infrastructure, such as schools and decent motorable road, among others. She has to hike 10 KM everyday to go to the school..
“I’ve always walked to school,” says Srijana. “It was either that or stay at home. I didn’t mind the walking. It’s something that I have come to love. I actually looked forward to it every day.” Srijana’s walking ritual started when she was in the fourth grade.
She completed her primary grade in the local school before changing schools after enrolling in our Girls’ Scholarship Program. “I knew the odds when I enrolled in the program,” she says. “The school I’d be going to after the enrollment was definitely better than my old school, but it meant I had to walk everyday.”
For few months, she moved in at her aunt’s place, a stone throw away from her new school. It wasn’t easy for her. She was mistreated by her aunt, who insisted that she prioritize domestic chores, not her studies. She got up earlier than her cousins, and slept only after taking care of the domestic chores. Despite the added responsibilities, her results were always immaculate – her grades never dropped and she was a permanent fixture in the top ten list of her class. She was not satisfied with the arrangement, however. “I was spending more time during chores than studying. I returned home, explained the situation to my parents. I was ready to brave the 10 KM walk every day, I told them,” she says. Her parents were concerned, but Srijana’s dedication and her commitment to studies convinced them. “The idea of walking ten kilometers to school every day was daunting at first. The roads stretched forever and it felt like eternity walking by myself,” she says. Soon she started to enjoy it. The solitary walking session grew on her. “It helped me to focus and cleared my head,” she says. Sometimes just for fun of it, she’d jog to the school and time it. By and by, she noticed she was keeping good time, her stamina and her endurance had also increased. “I enjoyed it immensely, but hadn’t given serious thought about competing in any track and field events,” she says. It wasn’t until a chance competition in the sixth grade before she started thinking seriously about making a career in the athletics. Her school was participating in the district-wise level track and field events. On a whim, she signed up for it. “I surprised my teachers and my parents, and even myself. I hadn’t participated in an organized event before.” She borrowed Rs 100 from her not-so-convinced father to enter the race, on a promise to return that back with interest.
THIS PAGE: Srijana with all the medals she has won through the years.
was an inexperienced player, against the school champion and other experienced athletes,” she says. After a nervous start, she picked up her speed and accelerated past others during the halfway mark in the 3 KM marathon. She finished second, pushing past her school’s reigning champion who was there in the top ten tier, but not on top five. “It was the one of the most amazing moments in my life,” she says. “I can still hear my friends and teachers erupting in wild cheers. I remember my parents beaming with pride when I returned home with a trophy in one hand and a cheque for three thousand rupees in my other hand. I felt so proud.” The spur of the moment decision opened doors for her. It put her on the map, so to speak, and kickstarted her journey. Min Krishna Maharjan, a member of the Regional Sports Council, noticed her talent and encouraged her to participate in regional and national tournaments. She did. It was during one of those events that she had the chance to meet her mentor. While participating in the 6th National Games few years ago, she trained with Baikuntha Manandhar. Manandhar is an award winning athletic and has represented Nepal in numerous International Events. “It was a dream come true,” she says. “I improved a lot under his guidance. He is very humble and very encouraging. Few months back, I participated in a 3 KM sprint. Halfway through the marathon, I heard a familiar voice to my left. He was riding a cycle, cheering me on. It meant a lot to me.” Srijana, not surprisingly, scored the top position. Srijana plans to nurture her dreams – she wants to represent Nepal in the international arena, and continue her studies. She recently passed School Leaving Certificate Exams (SLC exams are the national level examination every tenth grader in the country has to appear in) with flying colors, and is pursuing higher secondary grade in the Management stream (I like business accounting, she says).
To fuel her dreams, she plans to coach upcoming athletes in the school level. She has already coached few athletes in her old school. Her training has already started to show results. In numerous events, her students have started to win the coveted spots. She dreams to play with the Army Club, and is training hard for it. “I want to play for the Army Club and then participate in national and international games, like my mentor,” she says. “I am training with all my might to achieve my dreams. “I hope to represent my country in the Olympics someday,” she says. “I want to bring home the gold.”
ABOVE: Srijana with her proud parents.
Chasing Her Dreams
rem Kumari has come a long way, both metaphorically and otherwise. She hails from Pokhara where she and her family work on the sand banks of the Seti River for a living. “If Room to Read had not supported my education,” she says, “My dreams of getting educated would have been washed away by the Seti.” Girls’s Education Program supported she and her sister’s education from the secondary level. Both of them attended Shree Kalika Higher Secondary School in Pokhara. It was in this school and under the guidance of our program team, Prem Kumari kindled her dreams, her ambitions. Back in 2008, when this scribe first met her, she wanted to be a teacher. She had recently cleared School Leaving Certificate (national level exams all tenth standard students have to appear in). She was just starting to explore her options. By 2010, Prem Kumari had found her calling. “I want to be a nurse,” she said to John Wood, in the home visit program during our anniversary and inauguration of 10,000th school library trek. Impressed, John pledged to help her attain her dreams. She had just finished her higher secondary levels. A family tragedy shaped her decision to pursue nursing. Earlier in that year, her father had passed away. Owning to their weak financial condition, her family was not able to afford medical care.
ABOVE: Prem Kumari (right) and her younger sister Ishwari (left) looks on as John Wood autographs his first book for them. “That book is my most prized possession,” she says.
ast forward to three years – Prem Kumari is already a second year student in the Proficiency Certificate Level in Nursing in Dhulikhel Hospital. The hospital, which is situated in Dhulikhel municipality, two and half hour drive from Kathmandu, is one of the reputed teaching hospitals in Nepal. After clearing the higher secondary level, she started preparing for the entrance examinations for the nursing classes. She prepared for the exams diligently. “I prepared a lot for the exams,” she says. “I was afraid that my weak foundation might hold be back in the exams.” She overcame her fears to prove herself. She applied for entrance examinations in three prestigious academic institutes: Dharan Teaching Hospital, Dhulikhel Teaching Hospital and CTEVT (Council for Technical Education and Vocational Training). Out of those three, both Dhulikhel Hospital and Dharan Hospital welcomed her with open arms; the exams for CTEVT were scheduled much later than other two institutions. She chose Dhulikhel Teaching Hospital.
“It was a dream come true,” she says, “I was enroute to Palpa when my sister informed me about the result. I jumped up with joy! It was the happiest moment of my life.” Despite securing her position in the college, her initial fear of failure slowly crept in. “It was difficult initially,” she says. “I had long hours of hospital duties, equally taxing classes and by the end of the day, I was very tired. At the back of my head was a nagging feeling that I might not be able to succeed.” She dealt with the fears of failure by working hard. She persevered until she was finally able to cast her fears aside. “I feel very comfortable now,” she says. “The atmosphere is very inviting and I have great friends.” More importantly than that, she has her dreams to hold onto. “I cannot let fears stop me from achieving my dreams,” she says.
Makings Of A Star
he buzz, whisperings escalated when Pooja Sharma took to the makeshift stage. She politely smiled at the gathering and promptly introduced herself as the GEP Alumnae.
song titled ‘School Pathsala’ and was looking for a female lead to play a college student. Pooja was the right choice. Encouraged by her musician uncle, she gave it a chance.
“I am a GEP scholar, first and foremost,” she said, “It certainly comes before me being a Video Jockey, a model and an actress.” The faces in the crowd breathed a collective sigh of recognition.
To say she was nervous in the first shoot would be an understatement. “I walked into the shoot, feet trembling and all,” she says. “The team was very accommodating to the hiccups of a beginner. They cheered me, encouraged me to give my best performance.”
“I saw you in a music video once!” cooed one of the participants. “I loved that song!” “Did you know that song launched my career in this field?” said Pooja. “Let me tell you all about it. But before, let me tell you how Room to Read supported me and gave me enough confidence to purse my dreams.” Pooja spoke at length about her dreams, her aspirations during a daylong program organized by the Girls’ Education Program. Her audience included recent scholars who had just graduated from our education program. To inspire the scholars and to help them navigate the course of their lives after Room to Read, the team has requested few of our successful past graduates to share their experiences. Pooja, along with her fellow graduates, had taken the stage to speak about their experiences with Room to Read and how they found their calling. On hindsight, Pooja’s story exemplifies why a book shouldn’t be judged by its cover. “She was weak in academics and the school wanted to drop her from their list,” said Reema Shrestha, Program Manager, Girls’ Education Program. “They were only concerned with the immediate issues, not really seeing her inner strengths and drive. We thought otherwise. I knew she was a motivated individual and talked with the school to see our side of the argument.”
The song, along with the music video was well received. Her skills were praised by the team and crew members. Their confidence in her skills got her thinking. She could have rested on her laurels; No, she decided to hone her skills. She auditioned in a local television station for the post of anchor to strengthen her screen presence, enrolled on acting and dances classes. “To be appreciated for what you do is one of the best feeling,” she said. “However, I wanted to hone my acting and dancing skills, skills that are vital in the Nepali film industry.” As her confidence in her skills improved, so did the film offers. Her recent film is called ‘Madhumas’ where she plays th e lead. To be able to play the lead in the second movie speaks volumes about her talent. Despite the early success in the industry, she is keeping herself very grounded. “Fame doesn’t last forever,” she said, “I am also continuing my studies alongside my movie career.” Currently, she is pursuing an undergraduate degree in Hospitality Management, focusing on international ticketing, something that she wants to purse after she is satisfied with the course of her acting career.
The school relented and allowed Pooja to appear tenth grade national exams with them. Needless to say, she aced it.
Alongside, she wants to continue mentoring scholars from our education program. “I want to share my experiences with them,” she said.
Pooja reined her weaker subjects during her School Leaving Certificate Exams and delivered a result that resonated with the GEP team’s belief in her. “I felt proud when she announced her results,” said Shrestha.
“Room to Read has always supported me in my every endeavor. I want to assist the Girls’ Education Program in any way I can.”
During her eleventh grade, she was ‘spotted’ – industry speak for finding a new talent, by Sugam Pokhrel, one of the best loved Nepali singer. He was making a
THIS PAGE: Asha with the cycle she and her sister saved up to buy. During weekends, she works as manual help in the booming construction sector in Nepalgunj, where she earns around Rs 200/day. The cycle on the other hand costs around Rs 6000.
live with my mother (Sukani Tharu, 63) and my elder sister (Laxmi Tharu,22) in the squatter’s area in Panditpur Village Development Committee in Bardiya. My father passed away when I was small. My mother is visually impaired. Even though both they haven’t gone to school, the importance of education was not lost on them. They’ve always encouraged us to attend school. In fact my sister and I are the first generation in our family to step inside a school. My elder sister Laxmi Tharu is pursuing her higher secondary education. I recently cleared my School Leaving Exams from Shree Nepal Rastriya Sambhu Saran Higher Secondary School, Khairapur, Gulariya. My sister and I earn for the entire family. The land we farm doesn’t yield much and we have to work as manual labors to sustain our family. In the weekends, we look for work in Nepalgunj, where we hope to find work in the booming construction and housing sector. We do odd jobs, mostly hauling bricks and other materials in the construction site. We earn around NRs 200 per day.
My life, In my Own Words I only work during the weekends, but my sister often works during the weekdays too. During this past few months, my sister worked solely, allowing me time to prepare for my SLC exams. Our teamwork has produced good results: I cleared SLC with excellent marks. When I was five years old, I started working as a Kamalari, an indentured servant . I worked from sunup to sundown. The landlord I stayed with for a year was very strict, and allowed me a cup of tea at six and then lunch around noon. Even then, I was not allowed to eat to my heart’s content . They always gave me leftovers, and sometimes they gave me half-finished meals their guests’ had left behind. I worked all day with little time to rest in between. I remember spending many a nights crying because I couldn’t attend school like other kids of my age. I was extremely elated when I was rescued. I returned home. When Room to Read stepped forward to help us with our schooling , I knew that my dreams of getting educated would be fulfilled. I have worked hard to make the most of it .
he way I grew up also has to do with why I feel that way. When I was working as a Kamalari, I was always occupied with chores. I had to put aside my studies to complete it . So now when I have free time, I want to utilize it to the maximum by studying and not wasting it by pursuing other trivial matters. My dream is work in the medical field. My mother’s health is very frail; she too worked nearly all of her life as a bonded labor. I want to care her and others like her who are too destitute to afford a good health care services. I am aware that Room to Read will support until my higher secondary level. Even after their support, I will continue my studies in any circumstances. I’m pragmatic, I know my situation and where I stand. I am prepared. Even now, we are working to sustain ourselves and our dreams. I will try to get a stable job as teacher or put more hours as laborer to fuel my dreams. We are aware of our fragile economic conditions. But we are not yet giving up on our dreams. We have made this far – my elder sister is pursuing her higher secondary levels and so am I. We’ll work hard to kindle our dreams.
THIS PAGE: Asha studies in her house. Three of them live in the small house; directly behind her is the hearth.
ABOVE: Smriti Bhujel chooses library cleaning duties whenver she can. “I FEEDBACK get to read new books before my friends do,” she says. firstname.lastname@example.org
A Thousand Miles To Go Before I Sleep
Facing hardships early on hammered the importance of education in Purnima. “I learned that education is the only thing that forever stays with you,” she says. Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Program played a pivotal role in helping Purnima to kindle her dreams of getting educated. “Despite hardships, I had always dreamed of pursuing my education. Room to Read’s support was invaluable to realize my dreams.”
or as long as she can remember, Purnima Joshi had wanted to be a health professional. “A nurse,” she says, “I want to become a nurse.” As the youngest child, she grew up caring for her physically challenged parents. Her father is paraplegic and her mother’s vision slowly started to fade when Purnima was only two and half years. By the time Purinma could comprehend her mother’s condition, she had completely lost the light of her eyes.
She participated in the program from 2006, and the achievements she made during these seven years nothing if not spectacular. In early 2013, her story appeared in CNN. In the same year, she cleared tenth standard national exam in flying colors. “My mother was very proud of me,” she says of the day when she returned home with her SLC results. “I will treasure that day for the rest of my life.” She utilized the three months vacation after the exams by boosting her computer skills, and improving her language skills. It was something that had troubled her a lot.
Disability attracted discrimination. Her family was ostracized, and nary was a helping hand extended in their direction. Looking back at the past decade, Purinma bears no grudges. If she has learned anything during that ordeal, it was that education is important. “Our society is not educated,” she says, “If it was, then anyone with physical disability would be better treated.”
“In school, I was very conscious of my inferior language skills,” she says. “My friends spoke English splendidly, while I was muttering at best.” Others might have cocooned themselves in their weakness, but Purnima worked hard to improve her language skills. “I took small baby steps to improve my language skills,” she says. “I read whatever I could find, spoke with my English teacher who helped me to master it.”
er hard work paid off splendidly. In 2010, when the 10x10 documentary team interviewed her for a documentary they were working on, she amazed them all with her perfect English skills. Her shyness evaporated once she faced their camera. She spoke at length about her struggle to stand where she is right now. Needless to say, they were impressed. It is her drive to learn and prove herself again and again that separates Purnima from others. She and her three siblings grew up in abject poverty, and they know how to make the best of what life throws at them. “My dreams are not mine only,” she says, “My sister worked in the carpet factory and pushed me to study, achieve things that they could only dream of. I have enormous responsibilities on my shoulders. I want to be able to face life, conquer its hardships and achieve my dreams. “I have a wonderful opportunity, out of all my siblings I am the first to step inside a college,” she says. “I want to make the most of it. I want to learn and excel.”
THIS PAGE: Purnima with her mother in their rented room in Bhaktapur. Her motherâ€™s impairment drives her to pursue her dreams as a nurse.
Published on Feb 4, 2014
Room to Read seeks to transform the lives of millions of children in developing countries by focusing on literacy and gender equality in edu...