When the schools shut down, hopes shut down.
Sept. 30, 2020
2015. Teach For Nepal placed Fellows for the first time in Dhanusha which is part of the vast southern plains that border India. Rich in agriculture, the land stretches all the way to the horizon, with seasonal crops growing, mango groves, peepal trees, ponds, and irrigation channels cutting through the farms. Classrooms are often overcrowded even though only half of the students who enroll show up to school every day. Schools are under-resourced and during summer, the small classroom without any fans makes it impossible for any learning activities to happen in the afternoon.
2017. Radha (name changed), was one of the students studying in 10th grade in a school in Dhanusha. She’d had Teach For Nepal’s Fellows for three years and was progressing well in her studies. She’d joined a girls volleyball team, the first-ever girl’s sports team initiated by Fellows in that school.
But early that year, her family wanted to get her married. She wanted to finish schools and hoped to be able to attend college. She reached out to the Fellows for help. The three Fellows who were there took it onto themselves and made several visits to the family, informed them about the child marriage law, brought the school and community into the conversation, and pleaded on behalf of this girl to stop the wedding and let her complete school. All that battle just to enable her to continue school for one additional year. Fortunately, she was able to complete additional 2 years of schooling and give her 10th-grade board exams and graduate with first division.
2020. Samikshya Shrestha, English Teaching Fellow placed in the same district Dhanusha, was calling her students as a part of her routine follow-up during the lock-down period. That is when Manisha (name changed), a 17-year-old student, suddenly broke the news: “Miss, my family has finalized my wedding dates!”
Manisha is the class monitor. She paints, sings, and is exceptional in debates. She wanted to be a nurse.
Once married, we all know too well, that her achievement and aspirations will no longer matter.
“The dowry is fairly less for us to afford and the in-laws seem like a good fit for my kid. Manisha’s father also wants to see her as a bride as he is going through chronic health issues. We cannot afford to miss this opportunity especially during this present context,” Manisha’s mother told Samikshya.
Manisha is just one of the many girls who are being pulled out of school to be married off during this time.
In the context of communities where the economic and socio-cultural barriers are already very high for female students, the pandemic leading to the shut down of schools further exacerbates the situation. The hope and determination to persist through the very many challenges and continue education begin to dwindle. The uncertainty becomes overwhelming and poverty so pressing that families and students are forced to make desperate choices.
It takes a battle to keep one girl child in school long enough for her to complete the 10th-grade board exam.
Until the final week of September, Fellows have started returning back to school and community so that they can support their students more closely and enable them to continue learning, persist through the many challenges, and hold on to their hopes and aspirations.
2021. This story, however, will not be complete without mentioning Asmita Mandal, one of our students from the same region of Dhanusha; she was raised and brought up in a similar economic, social, and cultural context. She was taught by Teach For Nepal Fellows for 3 years. After completing her 10th grade, she won the Samanata Foundation Fellowship to complete her 11th and 12th grade. This year, she won a scholarship to United World College in Norway. When the flight resumes at the end of this year, Asmita will take off to a new horizon in 2021 and become the first in her family to get a college degree and a role model in her community.
For all of us at Teach for Nepal, she will remind us of what is possible for every child despite the several barriers.