I wanted to share with you a story of a young girl to hopefully illustrate what the Girl Effect
evokes in my mind. The girl was named Rukmini and she was born in Nepal in the early 1900s. Rukmini did not get to enjoy too much of her childhood because when she was ten, she was married off to a man who had difficulties bearing children with his existing wife. In effect, she was given away to bear children.
She bore two children, but only one child survived. By the age of 19, Rukmini was also widowed. It is difficult being a single mother anywhere in the world, but to be a single mother in a country in an era where women have virtually no voice or power, it was an immense task. Rukmini’s strength of character kept her going, and she persevered. She fought to get a small share of the land for her to build a house for herself and her young son. Although uneducated herself, Rukmini knew that the only way for her son to avoid the cycle of poverty and to have a chance at a good future was through education. With what little money she had left from the land, she sent her son to school. Her son eventually finished school and became a highly respected teacher at a boarding school in the area. He was happy to be able to repay his mother’s devotion to him by being a successful teacher, but he was sad because there were hardly any local students in the school. Education was considered a luxury and most of the villagers could not afford it.
Seeking to correct this, and remembering how his mother had dedicated her life to making sure he was educated, Rukmini’s son along with a few teachers set about to open a school in the village that would make education accessible to local students. They were successful and soon people from the local village had a place to get educated. In fact, the local school was becoming academically competitive with the pricey boarding school. Rukmini’s grandson, has carried on this effort and has since helped to open a school that promotes education to girls and to people who are typically discriminated against by society. The results have been impressive, but there is still much to do.
Even after a 100 years since Rukmini was born, issues like child marriages and girls being forced into early motherhood instead of being educated are still all too common in the rural areas of Nepal. Unfortunately most of those stories do not have a inspirational or happy ending like that of Rukmini. On the contrary, the story is much grimmer for many girls in Nepal and the statistics demonstrate the sad state of poor girls in Nepal. From the more than 10% gap in literacy rates between males and females, to the percentage (32%) of girls already married between the ages of 15-19, to the staggeringly large number of young girls (estimates range from 10,000 per year or more) trafficked out of the country into a life of sexual slavery, the data is truly frightening.
Having known most of the statistics and knowing a bit about how the recent conflicts had resulted in even more problems for many, especially underprivileged girls, I thought I knew how bad the situation was. However, it wasn’t until I visited Nepal recently, after having lived in the US for 22 years, that the statistics became real, and the problems all too apparent. In the village where I was born, there were still many kids who were forced to work at home or in the fields instead of going to school because that is the only way they could support their parents. It is not that these parents don’t care for their children, but they see educating their kids, especially their daughters, as a cost instead of as an investment. If any of the children end up going to school, it is usually the son because the family sees that as an investment in their own future.
Worse sights were to follow for me when I visited the cities of Kathmandu and Pokhara. In these cities, there were many “dance bars” that employed young girls, usually trafficked form remote rural areas for the enjoyment of locals as well as foreign travelers. Nepal is fast becoming a destination for this kind of nefarious activity. Seeing this in person made me angry, sad, a bit helpless and even hopeless.
However, I still have the inspiration of Rukmini to guide me, and because of that inspiration I cannot give up hope that there are things that can be done to help those most vulnerable. Guided by the memories, I have been working with family, friends and close associates on building a foundation that is developing a holistic program of quality education, physical wellness and supportive mentoring programs for vulnerable girls in rural Nepal. It was in doing research for this foundation that I stumbled upon the Girl Effect’s “The Clock is Ticking” video. I was immediately blown away by the how beautifully and elegantly the message was portrayed. The problems were so clearly defined and the idea that we could do something to make a change made me feel invigorated to step up our efforts.
I would like to thank Ms. Tara Sophia Mohr for organizing this great effort. I would also like to thank the people of The Girl Effect and their supporters for the work they are doing because this truly is one of the most important issues in the world today. It is very uplifting to see so many people who care about this issue.
I believe in the Girl Effect because I am living it. My family was kept together by the strength of that young girl, my great grandmother Rukmini. Her dedication to education for her children ensured that our family had a way out of poverty. Now we seek to honor her memory by providing disadvantaged girls an opportunity to pull themselves, their families, their communities and their nation out of poverty through education.
There are many ways to get involved starting today. You can support organizations like The Girl Effect, Rukmini Foundation and others that focus on helping girls help themselves. Additionally, you can join a blogging campaign like this one organized by Ms. Tara Sophia Mohr where you can write your own Girl Effect blog posts – during the week of October 4-11. If you are interested in doing so, please visit:
Thank you and Namaste,
CEO / Co-Founder