We have chosen the region in the far west of Nepal to begin our ambitious Matchbag project, which aims to keep an at-risk girl in school with school supplies against a backdrop of high school dropout rates due to the harsh circumstances of absolute poverty and gender discrimination.
The far western region is the poorest region in all of Nepal, although Nepal itself is one of the poorest countries in the world.
On the cold morning of Nov. 2, we packed our bags into the car and set out on our journey. After 18 hours of non-stop driving over 600 km of highway, our eyes rejoiced and our hearts were amused by the scenic beauty that greeted us all along the highway, and on the other hand, driving by hand became tiring and sometimes frustrating given the poor condition of the roads. Finally, we finally reached Kailali district at midnight without having any idea where exactly our destination was, as neither Google Map was working there nor we could find people to ask. With exhausted bodies, we 3 companions went into a deep sleep so comfortably even in a confined space in the car as soon as we rested the car on the side of the road.
The chirping of birds in the morning opened our eyes. We continued the drive and in another hour we finally reached the village.
This village is mainly inhabited by most improvised and landless ethnic groups and untouchable community. Most of them have only a piece of land on which they have built a tiny house with one or two rooms, with thin walls made of mud and bamboo and a roof made of straw. They either go to neighboring India as seasonal workers or work as farm laborers in the village. Earning is so low that a meeting always remains a massive challenge in the end.
Because of the poverty, education is not a priority in the family. Work to earn money and money to buy food to stay alive is the top priority. That's why girls in particular have dropped out of school. And in this covid pandemic, when schools have already been closed for 6 months and the already weak economy has been affected. In such a grim situation, we thought that our small initiative to provide school education materials would help the community revive the sense of the importance of girls' education.
On the same day, we organized the event. Each girl received a school bag and notebook and other educational materials sufficient for one school year. We talked to parents, teachers and girls about the importance of education and expressed our commitment to support education every year. In turn, the school and parents also committed to girls' education. Thus, we partnered with the community to promote girls' education.
We learned that many girls received a school bag for the first time. Some girls even realized that these bags are so sturdy and waterproof.
Yes, these school bags are made from used rice bags by our empowered women of Shakti Milan Nepal. As part of this initiative, girls' education is the central theme, while ensuring a continuous flow of work for our women is another beautiful motif. Moreover, the bag brings a whole new concept of upcycling to the corner of the country.
Although Nepal is unparalleled in natural beauty and biodiversity, it equally suffers from social issues such as poverty and gender inequality. Girls are less favored and have fewer opportunities to thrive in life. In such a state, enrolling girls in school and keeping them in school is a major challenge. When girls are not in school, it increases the likelihood of child labor, child trafficking, and other abuses. So keeping at-risk girls in school is one of the noblest acts we could ever do.
One mother happily told us that now she would not have to worry about how she would manage to get her daughter a notebook. She went on to say, "I will continue to send my daughter to school even though I have no chance of getting an education.
It is hard for many to believe that even in the affluent era of the 21st century, a child cannot continue to go to school simply because her parents cannot buy a dozen notebooks and pencils. Sadly, this is the undeniable truth of the moment that could painfully hurt any human heart.
After distributing the bags and writing materials, indigenous songs and dances were performed to thank us for our support.
Yes, they are economically backward and poor. But they are rich in their culture and hospitality. Moreover, they offered us typical local food at every moment, every second, keeping in mind our comfort and convenience.
With fulfilled hearts, we resumed our journey back to Kathmandu and promised the children that we would come back with school supplies.
Shakti Milan Nepal is taking this initiative with a mission to equip 10,000 girls with educational skills within 5 years. It has partnered with Access, a Nepal-based non-governmental organization against child slavery, for effective implementation and sustainability.