Stepping into the Unknown
Last January, when I boarded the plane to travel to Nepal, I had no idea how much of our lives would change. I had been visiting Nepal for the past few years. During my trips, I often visit Rukmini Foundation office, meet with Rukmini scholars (bahinis), and often go to home visits to see how the scholars are doing. Unlike on my previous visits, I could not do physical visits due to the coronavirus restrictions. Schools remained closed. There were either lockdowns or restrictions on free movements.
When it seemed that the foundations’ key activities would be severely limited by this pandemic, our Nepal Team did remarkable job through social media or other means to keep in touch with our scholars. I was also following them how they were doing. Considering the lack of technical infrastructure in remote areas of Nepal, I was really impressed with the foundation’s work. I was equally impressed with our scholars as well. Among all of our scholars, the story of two sisters – Sanjita and Ganga stood out the most for me. After reading their stories, I believe you will be impressed also.
Sanjita and Ganga in Rakaskhola
Sanjita and Ganga were born in a small village of Rakaskhola, not that far from the capital city, Kathmandu. However, the contrast to the metropolitan city of Kathmandu could not be any starker. This economically challenged village of mostly hills and mountains is without any modern conveniences and services.
Life in Rakaskhola is hard. Since the passing of their father, life gets even harder for Sanjita and Ganga. They live on top of a mountain with their mother and siblings.
Becoming Rukmini Scholar
During one of Rukmini Moms Club’s door to door campaigns at Rakaskhola village, they met a woman named Sumitra working on a farm. She explained that she has two daughters who are attending schools. However, she was having difficulties in continuing their education because of financial hardships. While listening to Sumitra’s story, our team learned that the hardship goes beyond the schooling of her kids. Sumitra is suffering from breast cancer and receiving treatments. Her two daughters were helping her getting treatment and continuing their education. Our team decided to help her and scheduled a home visit to meet her daughters.
At the home visit, our team saw in them a strong desire for education. How do they live in Rakaskhola and go to school miles away at Pharping? What do they do to help their mom and run the household? After all, they are still children.
Ganga said that she worked in a hotel to save money for her education, and Sanjita helped their mother at home and looked after their small farm. At times, they took turns attending school so that one of them could stay home to help their mother and the other would go to school so that they do not miss assignments and exams. Our team found their condition very compelling and recommended to support both sisters – Sanjita and Ganga. This was our (the foundation’s) first introduction to Sanjita and Ganga. They became Rukmini Scholars from the academic year 2018.
Excelling as Rukmini Scholars
At the Rukmini program, they learned many social skills from LitClub (now GLOW Club). They attended all the special programs like Didi program, Health camps and awareness programs. At Didi programs, they hear personal and encouraging stories from guest Didis. Sanjita mentions that this is her favorite program. Sanjita learns that every successful person has to face difficult situations and endure hardships to achieve something. Ganga loves our Health and Awareness program. She practices what she learned about healthy habits and preventive methods to stay healthy. They believed that regular checkups can prevent serious health problems. Their social skills also improved significantly with GLOW club’s programs.
While these sisters are thriving in Rukmini foundation, their mother still faces difficult road ahead in her cancer treatment. Besides spending time at various programs at the foundation, Sanjita and Ganga are determined to provide treatments for their mother. They approached many local agencies, individuals and churches to raise money for their mother’s expensive cancer treatment. It is unimaginable for young girls like them to find the courage for doing so much.
During the lockdown, they worked on their farm, planted corn, vegetables and beans, some for their use and others to sell in the market. Our Nepal team member Mrs.Lalita Lamichhane made a visit to check how they were doing? And, she met them working on their farm. Here is the short video:
During lockdown we have planted many vegetables and corn. Right now, the markets are down. We are plucking weeds in our cauliflower farm. We need to do this from time to time. We also can turn the weeds to organic manure and use that in our farm. We do not have a good situation for studying at home. Some students are taking online classes. We are not able to take online classes because we do not have wifi, so we are little behind in our studies. We hope that school opens soon and we can go back to school. If that happens, We could manage to go to school, do household chores and look after the farm. But for now, we are mostly working on the farm and going to Mela around the village.
NOTE: Mela is a Nepali word for a laborer who goes to work for other people when they can as paid laborer.
Outside of working on their farm, the sisters also worked as day laborers to earn money when schools were closed. During the lockdowns, their school was running a few hours of online classes. But, they could not attend, as they did not have internet access. They wished that schools open soon so that they could go back to school.
They are grateful to the foundation for the help they have been getting for their education. However, they needed more to run their household. So, they were on a continuous lookout for any work where they could make some money for their mother’s treatment. Our team knew some students in the village could not take online classes (due to lack of internet access). So, our team asked them if the sisters could tutor those students. They were very pleased with that offer.
We provided basic necessary items like floor mat, one white board, markers, and notebooks, masks, sanitizers, and soaps in order to protect themselves and the children. They already knew how to take safety measures to protect themselves and others
I have been getting updates about them from our Nepal Team since I came back to Pittsburgh. Now the schools are open, and kids are back to school. They are continuing tutoring them after school helping with their homework. There is so much to their story to capture all in this short article. I find it so unreal how these young girl’s get their strength to continue their education, look after the household and take care of their sick mother while in hospital and at home. It blows my mind how they managed to do such an immense task at such a young age. Their strength, determination, courage, helpfulness and sense of responsibility towards one another are such admirable qualities that not many people have. For me, they are not just my heroes, but superheroes.