Hello and Namaste. I am Laxmi Aryal and I server as an honorary Chairperson for the Rukmini Foundation. First of all, I want to welcome you to our site and blogs. I hope that you will find our articles and stories interesting, thought provoking and maybe even inspiring. I wanted to share some stories about my childhood and my road to education.
I grew up in the early 1950’s in a rural area of Nepal, not very far from the capital city of Kathmandu. Most people in our village were poor and earned their daily bread by working in their small plot of land or working for people who owned large plots of land. All family members including children had to work around the house and in the fields. Caste system was very strict at that time and it put Brahmins on the top of the class system.
My family was not very poor, but we were hardly wealthy. However, I was born into the Brahmin caste and because of that our condition was slightly better off than others. My grandfather was a scholar of Sanskrit who got his education from Banaras, India. Many people came to study Sanskrit from him in order to be able to perform religious rituals. Teaching Sanskrit and religious rites was a means for many Brahmins to earn a living. Being himself educated, my grandfather wanted his son to be educated as well, and sent his son to study in Kathmandu.
My grandmother worked around the house cooking, cleaning, fetching water from a stream half a mile away, and also feeding the cows and goats. My mother had to go to the jungle (where leopards, cheetahs, bears and tigers lived in those days) to bring firewood or loads of grass for the cattle and goats, or at other times work in the field to cultivate the land. It is difficult to explain to people of today the kinds of hardships faced by people, especially women of those days. However, for many women living in rural areas of Nepal, this is still the reality … without as many tigers to worry about though.
Men of all ages came from around the village to study basic Nepali alphabet and Sanskrit from my grandfather. I used to stay very close to him and watch closely what was being taught. I seemed to pick things up quicker than those who came to learn. Seeing this, he began teaching me the alphabets KA Khas Gas (Nepali ABCs) by drawing the scripts with a twig on a wooden board covered in dirt. Gradually he taught me the entire alphabet using a borrowed book from one of his students who had given up trying to read.
At that time, no girls in that area were educated. Sending girls to school did not even enter peoples’ minds. Girls were considered to be born to serve their families until a certain age and then given to serve their husband’s family.
Besides Nepali, my grandfather also started teaching numbers and not long after that, I learned to add, subtract, multiply and divide simple numbers. This was my only background in math and I did not see any other math for a very long time.
My education might have concluded there had my father not encountered a scene where a man was beating his young wife for not carrying a big enough load of firewood from the jungle. Frightened with that scene, he thought of his daughter and promised himself that he would educate his daughter so that she would not have to face such a fate. That very evening, he came home with my first book of English. Maybe because I was encouraged by my grandfather to learn the Nepali alphabet at an early age, I also began learning the ABCs very quickly.
This is how my early education started. I was given this English book while my female cousins were given a little scythe to cut grass. While I was learning to read, they were learning to work around the house and work in the fields. I became the first female to get a chance for education in that village and surrounding areas for a long time. No female cousins of mine or girls of my age from that area ever had the chance to be educated.
Nepali girls in cities now have much more access to education. However, after a half a century, girls in rural areas especially among economically and socially disadvantaged families still face the challenges I had to face. It is sad to think that we have come so far, but are still leaving so many poor girls behind. I was very fortunate to have been given a chance, and I want to do everything in my power to help those girls not as fortunate as me. I can’t give my female cousins and my friends of that time the opportunity that I had, but I can make a difference in the lives of young girls in rural areas in Nepal today. That is why I am involved in this foundation, and I hope that these girls will turn out to have a successful life full of promise based on education.
I will write more about the challenges I faced as a girl in school during that era on my next blog. Namaste.