Written by: Nitin Naren Singh (National Volunteer, VSO Nepal)
Edit: VSO Netherlands
Pratibha Tharu, a twelve-year-old girl from Baijanath Palika in Banke district. In her first year of primary school her parent had to stop her education due to the lack of money. After a 4 year break she could finally start school again, thanks to the support form VSO. Now she’s a second grader on elementary school and is making plans for the future. An amazing result made possible by the ENGAGE (Empowering New Generation of Adolescent Girls with Education), a project with the aim to provide as many girls as possible with a good and inclusive education.
Pratibha lives with her parents and brother, her brother has a physical disability and is also part of ENGAGE. Her mother looks after the household while her father, who is the sole breadwinner, works occasional labor jobs in their village. Since Pratibha’s father is unemployed for long intervals the family has an uncertain and unreliable source of income.
At age seven, Pratibha was ready for first grade, but unfortunately, her family could not keep up with the various school costs such as: uniforms, books, and stationery. So her father reluctantly withdrew Pratibha from school during her first year. From then on, she helped her mother manage the household.
The biggest obstacles
While difficult to process for most western people, the reality remains that one of the major barriers to education for young girls in Nepal is the burden of work. It is customary for families to expect daughters to work hard in an effort to support their family. This is especially common in rural areas. Where girls will cook, wash, look after younger children, and help manage livestock. As a result, without access to education, economic opportunities are limited and these girls and their families are trapped in a cycle of poverty.
Gender-based violence is also extremely common and is cited as one of the most frequent human-rights violations in Nepal where women and girls may face early marriage, abortions, unwanted pregnancies, sexual abuse and harassment, sexually transmitted diseases and even death.
What does VSO do?
In order to tackle these problems and prevent these negative outcomes, VSO Nepal is leading the government funded project ENGAGE with the coordination and technical support of Humanity and Inclusion Nepal, Disable Empowerment, and Communication Center Nepal in the Banke district. Banke is one of three districts VSO Nepal is implementing the Project.
They’re aiming to enroll and improve attendance of marginalized and disabled girls, increase empowerment of marginalized and out-of-school girls, strengthen school governance, improve teaching quality and improve and promulgate Inclusive Education practices in learning facilities.
“being able to study at school has brought me great happiness and delight. I wish to become a nurse and treat people in my community fight disease. I want to grow up to be an educated, independent woman!” – Pratibha
How does it work?
As one of the key steps in the Project, Pratibha’s parents were approached by our Community Volunteers and the importance of education for girls was discussed in a number of counseling sessions. The parents were enlightened on the positive effects of formal education as a means to a bright, prosperous future and agreed to enrolling their daughter in school.
However, before this could happen Pratibha had to make up for her four-year school gap by attending remedial classes for nine months. These classes are one of the Project’s main components and not only serve an academic purpose but give the student the confidence they need to go back to school and sit alongside their peers.
Also integral to the project’s success are information and awareness raising sessions that are conducted on a number of issues including: gender-based violence, child rights and protection, harmful social norms, complaint response mechanism, and sexual and reproductive health in order to empower and raise understanding amongst the students in the school.
How are things with Pratibha now?
Pratibha is now a grade two student in Nepal Rastriya Secondary School with regular attendance. The ENGAGE project has provided Pratibha’s family with financial support to purchase school books and uniform, supplies, and stationery. In order to provide support at home and empower their Little Sister, the Project’s Big Sisters keep in touch with Pratibha and her family. Conducting mentoring sessions when necessary.
Big sisters are a part of the educational project Sisters for Sisters. This project aims to help girls from rural and/or poor area’s to go to school and stay in school. Read more about Sisters for Sisters here.
Pratibha’s teachers and Big Sister are all in consensus that Pratibha is a bright student in academics and very focused and keen to learn at school. She is a good classmate and helps others by sharing what she has learned and answering any questions her friends may have. Her teachers remain optimistic that she will be able to move up a class if she continues this steady rate of progress.
Pratibha herself has shared, “Being able to study at school has brought me great happiness and delight. Before, I had to spend my days looking after goats and helping my mother cook and wash. Now, I only focus on my studies and plan for my future goals. I wish to become a nurse and treat people in my community fight disease. I want to grow up to be an educated, independent woman!”