When I went back to Nepal in 2011, after being away for over 22 years, I had no idea what I would encounter, and even less of an idea of how it would feel to be back. Although still a Nepali citizen, after being in the US for most of my life, I was certainly not prepared for the sights, sounds and a rollercoaster of emotions. The crowded streets of Kathmandu and the constant noise of the honking of vehicles contrasted with the stunning natural beauty of the surrounding mountains. When I made it back to the small village outside of Kathmandu where I was born, I was surprised to see that even this place seemed to have changed drastically in the 20 odd years. There were many more houses than when I was a young boy and many more vehicles … although the streets were no wider and hardly any better paved. Nepal had made many positive strides, but many challenges still remained, especially in terms of gender equity and equality for people of all ethnicities.
Despite the hardships, Nepalis are a resilient people, and I saw more examples of hope and determination than I did despair and apathy. After seeing so many young kids, especially young girls working hard at their family’s shops or working in the fields to help the family instead of being in school, it was clear that something needed to be done in order to change the cycle of poverty and discrimination for these girls. Along with my brother Nabin and other family and friends, we committed ourselves to creating a foundation that would provide opportunities for girls from disenfranchised communities to pursue education through a scholarship program. The focus had to be on the girls because when families have to decide how to spend their limited income on education, the daughters usually got shortchanged. We also knew that simply providing access to education was not enough, as there were “free” government schools, but the challenge was to convince the parents that there was tremendous value in keeping their girls in school as a means to ensure their security and future. When parents don’t see value in the quality of education their children get in school, they see more value in keeping the kids at home for work instead. Poverty affects women and girls at an alarmingly disproportionate rate, and this impact is felt for generations. The positive changes we want to implement will hopefully reverberate through the generations as well.
In order to successfully deliver on our mission, we needed to get community buy-in and establish partnerships with respected local institutions. Thankfully, the foundation had the help of Shashi Sharma who has been working to improve the lives of the local population in and around Pharping for over 40 years. We also had the help and support of local leaders like Kedar Nath Acharya who has been an educator and advocate for spreading education to girls and people of all castes and ethnicities in the area. Having such connections allowed us to establish partnerships with a great school system like A School for Community (ASC), which is a community-backed school that has been working to improve access to education for people of all socio-economic backgrounds in the Pharping area and Manmohan Community Hospital, a vital medical facility providing care for all in the region. Getting community buy-in and establishing strong partnerships with respected local institutions are certainly some of our biggest successes of the first year. As we look back on year 1 of the foundation, here are a few things that we can be proud of:
- Selecting 10 deserving girls and ensuring that their education is paid for. Learn more about the first 10 Rukmini Scholars.
- Partnering with local institutions in Nepal like ASC, Shikharapur Community School and Manmohan Community Hospital to ensure that our students are receiving the best possible education and physical care.
- We had an ambitious plan of implementing three programs: Quality Education (Gyan), Physical wellness (Aayush) and Mentoring (Didi). We were able to get all three programs kicked off this year and will continue to hone and enhance them over the coming months and years. Read about the Health Camp we held this year and our first interactive mentoring session.
- We have been increasing our reach in terms of advocacy and awareness through our social media outlets like our Facebook Page, Twitter Page and through our pictures on Flickr and videos on YouTube. We have also gotten more and more people involved through the various events we have held:
- The biggest success for us will be how well the students fare in school and how they develop as individuals throughout this program.
While it is still early to be able to gauge our success effectively, we do see promising signs of the scholars’ maturation. They are becoming more open in their communication with their mentors and the foundation staff. They are doing better in their academic work and are also taking part in events where they have showcased their artistic skills.
- Another aspect of our success has been the talented, enthusiastic and diverse staff and board we have been able to organize.
- We are developing creative solutions to problems like a lack of books in the library by providing students with eBook readers like Kindle and Nook. Our honorary chairperson, Laxmi recently delivered these devices to the girls in Nepal.
- Finally, we are also slowly establishing partnerships with like-minded organizations that aim to provide opportunities to those that are most impacted by poverty and discrimination. LitWorld, and organization whose mission is to use the power of story to cultivate literacy skills in the world’s most vulnerable children through Education, Advocacy and Innovation, is the type of organization that Rukmini Foundation will partner with in order to advocate for education as the foundation of empowerment.
Our proudest moment: being able to tell these 10 girls that we will look after their education, physical well-being and spirit.
The successes we have enjoyed have only been achieved by overcoming many obstacles and challenges. Our friend Stormy Sweitzer published a series of posts about the challenges of a young nonprofit using Rukmini Foundation as a case study on her blog.
Looking back after more than a year since my trip back to Nepal, I can honestly say that it was a life altering experience. As I got back in touch with my roots, I learned a lot more about the home I left so many years ago, and I also received a huge lesson on perspective in the process. The struggles and sacrifices of my great grandmother Rukmini and the challenges my mother faced as she became the first girl from her village to go to school, were perfect examples of how education can have a positive impact through the generations. I was lucky to have had such strong female role models in my life, and now we are hoping to nurture the next generations of Rukminis and Laxmis through our foundation’s work.
We would like to thank our donors and supporters for making this possible. Your generosity is providing the support these girls need as they look to transform their lives through education. On behalf of everybody at Rukmini Foundation, we want to thank you for your continued support. As we wrap up the first anniversary celebrations, our entire team is looking forward to the exciting possibilities that lie ahead for the girls of Rukmini Foundation.