Village girls of Nepal shine at New York Summit

A few months ago, we heard some fantastic news from our partner organization and friends at LitWorld about our Rukmini scholars. Smriti Shrestha, Krisha Shrestha and Reekita Basnet from our village Pharping, Jasmine Sapkota from Kathmandu and Rojina Bhandari from Bhaktapur were all invited to attend Global HerStory Summit – a global summit in New York organized by LitWorld and Global G.L.O.W. Our scholars were going on a trip of a lifetime where they would get an opportunity to share their inspirational stories with the rest of the world.

Girls on their way to the US

Nepal Delegates smile with excitment at the Kathmandu airport on their way to New York

Our joy knew no bounds when we heard of this opportunity for our girls. Some of these girls had only traveled as far as Kathmandu and leaving the country to go to one of the biggest city in the world was probably inconceivable to them. However, we were also somewhat worried as there were a lot of things that had to happen – most important of all was getting visa approval from the US government. Thankfully, due to the leadership of mentors like Prakriti Nepal, all of these challenges were overcome and this dream became a reality for the girls and two mentors that were going to join them.

The Nepal delegates consisted of five LitClub members from 4 LitClubs across various schools (Niharika -Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, and Seti Devi -Sokhel and Shikharapur – Pharping). LitWorld’s Nepal regional coordinator, Jamuna and two volunteer Didis of Rukmini Foundation – Prakriti and Manisha were also part of the traveling team. There delegates were going to be joined by other participants from many different countries and different states in the US. The grand finale of the program was scheduled for March 22nd when they were participating at the the United Nation’s International Women’s Day conference.

As soon as the Nepal Delegates’ travel plan became final, Bibhuti (RF President), my husband and I made a plan to visit New York and meet our wonderful scholars. For us, having seen these girls in their usual setting in the villages of Nepal and now being able to see them perform in the world stage was very exciting. We were extremely proud and beaming with joy at how far our scholars had come. It made me think about my own journey to the US in the 80s, when I left my village home to come to Pittsburgh to study at University of Pittsburgh. For these young girls, I knew their world was going to change forever, like my own world had when I made the journey. While meeting the girls was the main goal, I was also anxiously waiting to meet our partners LitWorld and Global GLOW because I had only heard of them in conversations and emails, but never actually met in person.

Statue of Liberty

Girls enjoying the sounds and sights of New York – photo courtesy of Monet Eliastam

We arrived in New York on Saturday the 19th, and our friend Ana Stern of LitWorld was kind enough to invite us to meet with the girls after their day’s programs were completed. We were eager to see how they were adjusting to an atmosphere they could have hardly imagined. They were young village girls who had never traveled this far away from home. No matter how excited they were to get the chance to come to the US, travelling across two continents was a major challenge for them. Being in a completely different country and meeting people from different parts of the world and living with them is not a small matter for many adults. I know from my own experience how challenging this new experience can be.

We reached their Hotel at 8 pm, but our delegates had just gone up to their rooms. While we were waiting for them, we got a chance to speak with our friends from LitWorld. My husband and I did see a familiar face – Jennifer Estrada, one of the leaders of this summit who was also one of the guests at the inauguration of the LitLibrary in Nepal. After a few minutes, all of the girls and mentors came down to see us. They looked happy, but more than that they seemed very sleepy  after a long journey. We learned that most of the girls suffered from flight sickness, and also had difficulty eating new food and adjusting to the time difference. We were initially worried that they may not be able to participate in the program, but we were so relieved to hear that they were doing very well.

Our scholars were participating actively in every event, making friends with girls from different countries including girls from South America who did not speak any English. The thought of girls communicating in Nepali and Spanish made me smile. Everyone from LitWorld and Global GLOW seemed to be pleased with their confidence and attitude displayed by our delegates. They also spoke very highly of Prakriti’s guidance and leadership, which made us extra proud as she is one of our key mentors in Nepal.

With Colombianas

RF Scholars wearing traditional Nepali clothes are sharing their culture with girls from Colombia

For me, being at this summit brought about many feelings, but also memories of my own time as a young girl in Nepal. I vividly remember my school years when I was their age, where I was shy and timid, afraid to speak in the class and make friends. I feel like I still haven’t been able to break out of that fear. However, looking at these girls and hearing about their performances, I see in these girls just the opposite of me – bold and confident; and ready to take on the world! This made me very happy as this is exactly what we hoped to bring out when we started Rukmini Foundation.

As our delegates were ready to fall asleep we let them go to their room. We also recognized that the program organizers were also equally tired, but they were gracious enough to spend time with us to talk about the program and and about our delegates’ performance. Meeting and listening to these ladies, we felt lucky to be collaborating with such a great team who have great devotion and passion for working towards the betterment of girls’ cause around the world. A personal highlight for me that first evening was meeting, Pam Allyn, whom I had followed through websites and her blog posts. When she asked me to share my own story with the girls as part of the summit on Sunday evening, it was such an honor, but I have to admit that I was very nervous.

With Pam and Jennifer

Nepal Delegates with LitWorld founder, Pam Allyn (front and center) and HerStory Director, Jennifer (back right)

That Sunday, I made it to the summit, after getting myself lost in the city for a while. Despite my fear about speaking, the program was fun and relaxing. All of the speakers were given 5 minutes to speak at each table. After the program, my husband and my son joined me and we met with all of the leaders of LitWorld and Global GLOW to reflect on the past couple of days. We shared some stories, but also a common hope that we can build on the success of our partnerships to keep providing great opportunities like the HerStory Summit. We had a lot in common because we share the same beliefs that educating underprivileged girls can change their lives and the lives of their communities for the better. We left with a huge sense of gratitude for their help and sense of accomplishment in what we have been able to do in fostering this great relationship over the past four years, which made this opportunity for our girls possible.

Girls at the Beach

Seeing the ocean is just one example of a life-altering experience for these girls

Sadly, we had to say goodbye as we were not able to take part in the last two days of their program. On March 22nd, the delegates were taken to attend the UN summit on the status of Women. We learned from Prakriti that our delegates Jasmine and Rojina gave powerful speeches on women’s rights. They showed such confidence and courage to speak in front of the UN. Jasmine’s words were highlighted and echoed by many others. Learning such performance by our delegates made us so proud. For me, being a village girl who had the opportunity to come to the US, this summit meant a lot. I felt like these girls were living my own dreams. Seeing the confidence in their demeanor and the way they were able to make new friends and inspire others, I was very proud of them. I know what the value of an opportunity like that is, and I am grateful to our friends at LitWorld and Global GLOW that made it possible. I am equally grateful to our team in Nepal that continue to inspire the girls to dream big. Dreams do come true, and seeing these girls from the villages from where I came from to speaking at the UN is proof of that. Let’s all work together to build on this so we can make more dreams a reality.

Laxmi Aryal
Rukmini Foundation Special Advisor

About Laxmi Aryal

Laxmi was the first female in her family to receive an education. While the education she received was limited, she was able to make the best of it and became the first person from her family and village to complete high school, undergraduate studies and eventually a Masters degree. She eventually earned a Masters Degree from the University of Pittsburgh in Public Policy. Hers is an inspirational story that the Rukmini Foundation hopes to replicate. She serves as an inspiration for the foundation and its leadership.
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