Namaste and welcome back. This post is the final in a series of blogs about my difficult road to education as a girl in 1950s Nepal. If you haven’t had a chance to read those already, take a look and follow along the path I took towards education. In my first post, I discussed my background and the environment for girls in Nepal at that time and in the second post, I talked about my rough start in school.
Despite my inauspicious start to school, I finished high school and passed the School Leaving Certificate (SLC) examination. I was a high school graudate, and for many in my village, it was an unbelievable achievement. I, however, had developed a taste for learning and wanted to keep going. After SLC, I was enrolled in a women’s college in Kathmandu. High school had been very difficult and almost felt like torture at times, but I felt much happier in college. I actually understood what was being taught to me now, and I also had some sense of direction about what I wanted to study. I also did not have to commute more than 4 miles each way to get to school because my father had a government job in Kathmandu and we lived pretty close to school. In college, I also made quite a few friends, and I finally felt like I belonged. I was doing well in my studies, but my shyness from my earlier school years had not left me completely yet. I could read and write well and passed all of the exams, but was still not very successful in expressing myself in public. The scars from the initial school years were still there.
I finished my Intermediate of Arts (IA), which is roughly the equivalent of an Associate Degree in the US, and graduated in the second division. In Nepal, there are three divisions for passing graduates, where second division is generally considered very good and first division graduates are rare. I was very satisfied with my achievements, and my family was very proud of me as well. I had exceeded all of their expectations, but now I was beginning to set higher goals for myself. After completing I.A., I wanted to keep going further. I got admission at the same college for my Bachelors of Arts (BA) degree. Because of my rural background and due to my academic standing, I was awarded a full scholarship. Nobody could consider me an economic burden now, and my education was opening doors to bigger opportunities. I completed my BA, and on the national test for graduating BAs I scored second among women nationwide. I felt a tremendous sense of pride and joy about my achievement.
During this time, I also met my future husband Basu, but at that time I only knew him as a family friend. My father and his father were good friends, and we were in college at the same time, but studying different things. My father admired Basu because he was a diligent student who was studying Science at another college. We were pursuing our education in different fields in separate colleges, but we sometimes met on the way to or from school. Knowing that we seemed to like each other, the two friends, our fathers, arranged our marriage. I happily accepted because I too felt it was a good match.
My husband’s family were pioneers of education in their village, and fittingly I was the first educated bride in that village at the time. A primary school was being converted into a middle school and locals, including my new family, were involved in building the school house. My father-in-law and brother-in-law were working with the Education Ministry in order to obtain governmental approval for the school. After a year of hard work, the school was completed and I became the Headmaster (or Headmistress) of that school where I served for 4 years. My husband was in government service in Kathmandu, and after my time as Headmistress, I too decided to join the professional labor force in Kathmandu. I was lucky enough to get a position as an Administrative Officer at Nepal Electricity Corporation.
When I was working at the Nepal Electricity Corporation as an officer, the other employees would address me as “Sir” because they were not used to seeing female officers. This was the only way they knew how to address an officer.
While working in Kathmandu, I decided to complete the second part of the Masters program in Economics because I had already completed my first year at Tribhuvan University before getting married. After serving for a decade as an administrative and personnel management officer of the company, I was awarded an amazing opportunity to go for a personnel management training program in the United States.
I wanted to take the chance, but many friends and family had reservations about a woman leaving her family to pursue education in a far off land. However, I had support from my immediate family, and I had a great desire to continue my education, so I was convinced that I had to go. I am very glad I did because eventually I was able to bring my children to the US, and now all of them have opportunities that they would otherwise may not have had.
The education system in Nepal has changed tremendously since my time. The schools in Kathmandu and other major cities provide a comprehensive education, and there are many girls attending and doing well in these schools. However, in the rural areas and for girls from poor families, the situation hasn’t changed much even after a half a century. Girls still face discrimination when it comes to access to education, and daughters are often left behind while sons are given opportunities to learn. Early marriage, early pregnancies, and poverty is still the way of life for many girls in these situations.
My father saw the need to educate me in order to prevent me from being vulnerable to the dangers that uneducated girls face. Parents in many rural areas send their sons to school while sending daughters work in the fields, marrying them off at an early age, or encouraging them to seek work away from home. This is due to a lack of education among parents, coupled with social and economic conditions prevailing in the society. While the education system has improved, the real situation for many underprivileged girls is much more deplorable today than in my days. Stories of girls being sold by their families, girls accepting foreign employment in the hope of a better life but ending up sold into terrible consequences are too common. Large issues, such as: infant mortality, women’s health, child trafficking, rise in HIV can be tied back to a fundamental lack of education. An educated mother raises a healthier, wealthier and wiser family. This results in development of the community and the country. This is what I would like to contribute to because I was fortunate to have had a chance to learn. I want to share my story, my passion, my motivation and my efforts to bring about these changes.
Life was much simpler back then. It wasn’t easy, but it feels like there are bigger problems the young people of today, especially young girls, face. When we used to walk in the early morning darkness through the jungle to get to school, we were afraid of the thought that a tiger might jump out of the forest and attack us. Today the jungles and tigers are gone, but are replaced by kidnappers who snatch children for ransom or to sell them into a life of slavery. Somehow the tigers seem less frightening to me now.
Hope is on the horizon
There are some signs of progress in Nepal. Women’s literacy has increased drastically since my time. Many young people from Nepal now have the ability to go abroad for education. The challenges may be different and may be greater, but without education many in Nepal have very little hope. Sadly, something as important as education is not something that everybody can afford. For many it is seen as a luxury. This is the kind of thing I would like to help change. This is why I am now involved with the Rukmini Foundation. I have been fortunate to have a family that supported education, even for women, and to marry into a family that values education for all. Rukmini was my grandmother-in-law, but she was much more than that. She was an inspiration. She gave us strength, and now we want to give strength to girls that may feel vulnerable or weak or hopeless.
I hope that the girls who will come through our program will have stories of success like mine, except without the hardships I faced. We are confident that if we provide these girls with an opportunity and also provide them with support and guidance, they will grow to become future leaders in their communities and the country. In the US, people are currently celebrating the holiday of Thanksgiving, and in the spirit of this holiday, I wanted to give thanks for the opportunities I received in my lifetime. It is my sincere hope that through the works we are trying to accomplish with the Rukmini Foundation, I will be able to give something back for the things I have been fortunate to receive. I am also thankful for the readers of my blogs. Thank you for listening to my stories, and I would love to hear what you are thankful for. Please do not hesitate to write in with your comments.